A Strengths-based Approach in Myanmar

By Rachel Johnson
June 14, 2017
Peace Corps adheres to a strength-based approach, meaning that recognizing one’s (and one’s partners’) idiosyncratic abilities and how to share them is an integral component of pre-service training (PST).
MM2 with school Uniform in Regional Education Office
Rachel (second from right) with fellow trainees in the regional education office.

The first full group of trainees in Myanmar will work in the education sector. We are learning how to develop a support network among experienced teachers, utilize our technical abilities, and acquire strategies to overcome challenges we might face in the classroom. This time is also meant to contemplate more abstract concepts. For Myanmar Group Two (MM2), we are visualizing how we will fulfill our role as education Volunteers. 

MM2 Volunteer Rachel with her counterparts
Rachel presents a certificate to her counterpart.

On a sizzling summer afternoon at our training site, Hay Marn, the Peace Corps Myanmar Programming and Training Specialist, entered a classroom of fifteen trainees. She prompted a discussion with the question, “What qualities did your favorite teachers have in school?” She split us into groups and gave us a few minutes to brainstorm. As we shared our ideas, Hay Marn mapped out our discussion of ideological islands on to a sea of poster paper: “passionate, humorous, and knowledgeable” were all mentioned next to more complex expressions of what it means to be a teacher. Trainees especially remembered teachers who were able to challenge them with new ways of thinking, who were interested in their personal lives, and who always seemed to be learning alongside their students. Hay Marn is responsible for instructing us trainees about the specific skills that will be necessary for teaching in a Myanmar classroom. However, in this activity she also constructed a framework within which trainees were given the opportunity to reflect on what type of Volunteers we will be.

Rachel and Hay Marn
Rachel and Hay Marn

Together, Hay Marn’s session and the Peace Corps’ strength-based philosophy are my biggest sources of inspiration for shaping the approach of a productive Volunteer in Myanmar. In a perfect world, I would sail along on an idyllic sea made up of all the qualities listed by MM2 that day--whether inside or outside the classroom. However, it is unrealistic to believe a single person could embody all the traits a group holds in its collective psyche. Instead, it demonstrates that the role of the Volunteer follows an ebb and flow of perpetual adjustment, i.e.: constantly reassessing the needs of one’s community and acting accordingly. During PST, I have realized that the challenge of being a Peace Corps Volunteer will be striving not to try and attain perfection during service. Rather, it will require a Volunteer’s flexibility alongside a steadfast commitment to recognizing and building on the strengths of the Volunteer’s school and community. I can’t wait to get started!

Volunteer Rachel Johnson

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