Category Archives: Country Profiles

Is it Burma or Myanmar?

Last month, I tweeted the following message:

Bamboo People was pretty amazing.  I appreciate it when we have books for students that encourages them to relate to others. It frustrates me that many adolescent books now try to “relate” to students and their current circumstances  by adopting current diction, circumstances, fashion, trends, etc.  It seems overly direct, uninspiring, and “dumbed down.”  I feel that there are so many universal themes that transcend culture and time, and teens can understand that if they are given the chance to wrestle/dig into a text that may initially feel unfamiliar!

Mitali Perkins does a GREAT job with providing this “rising to the occasion” opportunity for her readers through her books.  They each draw out universal concepts through characters set in seemingly different cultures, situations, and/or countries.  Love it.  <aside>Love her!  She came to speak at a class, and she was so bubbly and engaging… I can totally see how she can appeal to middle school BOYS even. a Very difficult audience. </aside>

Anyway, the MOST important thing Bamboo People accomplished for me was including a final blurb on Burma in the end.  Until I read this book, I knew very little about Burma/Myanmar.  In fact,  I called this country Myanmar.  After all, the name was officially changed; “Myanmar” is “current”.  Even though I never knew WHY the name was changed, I just went along with it.  I’m sad to say that when all the media concerning Aung San Suu Kyi exploded, I didn’t look into ONE headline.  I didn’t even know how to pronounce her name.  From 2009-2010, I worked at a school that raised money for a Burmese orphanage, but I did little to research that country.  (Confession: sometimes, I appease my conscience by just sending money, rather than trying to understand the fundamental issues and focus behind the funds.  It’s lazy, feel-good charity.)

Basically all these examples are to make it very clear that I knew NOTHING.  But now that I do know SOMETHING, I want to share it with you.

  • Burma used to be a thriving land; literacy, languages, diversity, resources — you name it!
  • Today 90% of the people live at or below the poverty level
  • Burma became an independent parliamentary democracy a little over 60 years ago.
  • In 1962 (14 years later), the military led a coup and took over the country and brutally crushed resistance and demonstrations led by students and workers.
  • The government killed many opposition leaders and put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in 1989.
  • Despite natural disasters, the military government refused international aid at first.
  • There is a HUGE gap between the rich elite and the poor.
  • In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name from “the Union of Burma” to “the Union of Myanmar.”
  • The USA, UK, and Canada are among the nations that refuse to recognize the new name, even though the UN switched to Myanmar.
  • Many newspapers and magazines are split (or confused).
  • Most Burmese people use “Burma”.
You know, it’s not as if there isn’t information on Burma in the media.  There is.  It might be that we are inundated with so many other issues going on, so we ignore things that don’t really hit close to home.  That’s understandable, and all I want to do is let you know that this IS going on in the world.  A few weeks ago, I read this small newsflash on possible change in Burma (September 22, 2011).  I figured that a small voice is better than none.

Other Recent Articles:

Basically, the Burmese government appears to be reaching out, but much of the West and Aung San Suu Kyi are skeptical and cautious buuuut willing to see where these talks are leading.


Weak-End Wisdom #4: Updating your country profiling jargon

Earlier this year, or perhaps last year, I found out that the terms “first world” and “third world” for describing countries were very passé, perhaps even border-line un-PC.

Rather, the terms to use for describing a country’s economic status are “developing” and “developed” .

  • Developed countries are countries like the US or South Korea; relatively wealthy, industrialized, technologically advanced, better infrastructure.  The criteria isn’t set in stone, but the general gist of the term is pretty clear.
  • Developing country is the term that has been increasingly preferred to the term “Third-World Country” (according to the OED) to describe countries that are more impoverished and economically underdeveloped.

It was pretty interesting delving into the etymology of “First World”, “Second World”, and “Third World” since until I did so, I always assumed that a rich country = First World, a poor country = Third World, and anything in between was Second.  Yet actually, this “Three-Worlds” theory (which came from Mao Zedong? (I’m a bit skeptical about using the Chinese government website as my main source)) categorizes countries based on economic and political status.  In fact, Second World doesn’t really mean a country that’s somewhere in the middle of First and Third, but refers to countries that used to be communist-socialist.  So interesting!

Anyway, to summarize, Developed and Developing are the words to use when describing rich and poor countries, respectively.  I guess that makes logical sense, doesn’t it?

Yet honestly, in my opinion, people should stop pouncing on words and jargon (and of course, they should stop feeling offended for others’ sakes when the wrong terms are used), and just get to work  on practical means of assisting in development.

Lastly, to put things in perspective for us, developed-country citizens, check out the Global Rich List to see how you compare.

Even with my meager part-time income, I still show up in the whopping top 14% richest person in the world category!

Proposal: Project Bangladesh

One day, while reading Nick Kristof’s blog (one of my favorite Op-Ed bloggers btw), I saw that he basically devoted an entire entry to an idea he had.  I then realized, I could do the same thing!  I mean, thousands of people read his stuff; I’m sure some of them will have his ideas brewing in the back of their minds, and one day, POP! perhaps Nick Kristof’s proposal will become a reality!  And, with all 6 of you reading my blog, maybe one day, POP! something related to this proposal will become a reality!

With that said, Bangladesh!

Located in Southern Asia between Burma and India, it is a country that is slightly smaller than Iowa.  The humidity, heat, and monsoons do little to increase its attractiveness, and the droughts and cyclones that routinely inundate the country with troubles during the monsoon season are no picnic either.  Other issues include:

  • flood-prone land
  • waterborne diseases
  • water pollution
  • water contamination
  • intermittent water shortages
  • soil degradation and erosion
  • deforestation
  • severe overpopulation

Despite its size, it’s the 7th most populated country in the world with an estimated total of 158, 570, 535 people.  Sadly, a third of this population is below the age of 14, while the median age is 23.3 years.  Roughly 50% of the people over age 15 can read and write, and the economy is super stinky (I know, eloquent) – basically an estimated 40% of the population is below the poverty line.  *

Basically, yikes!  (silver lining: Bangladesh is supposed to be the furthest along of all South Asian nations toward meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals for 2015**).

From the BBC articles I read, I was under the general impression that many young kids drop out of school, and they make about $1-2$ a day working either in factories or as hawkers.

Now, my proposal is to start a school in Bangladesh for grades K-8.  I would pay the families of the students $30/month and feed the child if their child has good grades and perfect attendance.  In addition to classes, there would be both art and vocational education offered.  I was thinking anything from keyboarding, computer applications, photography, music, video, and web design would be great electives that would also provide students with the ability to gain upward mobility.  Finally, to keep kids out of trouble and to keep them fed, they would be at school from 8-5.  They would not be allowed to take jobs in hazardous conditions either.

Lastly, I hate the idea of being dependent on sponsors and grants.  I really want this to be self-sustaining.  So, I was thinking of some sort of kids teaching kids kind of thing, where Bangladeshi students creates an “introduction to South Asia” curriculum that could be purchased and downloaded from the internet by teachers all over the world.  In general, people are generous towards philanthropy, especially if children and education are involved.  I think it would be super cool, actually, to be a teacher in the States and be able to download a mini curriculum that is supervised by a credible teacher and created by student peers.  What an awesome way of encouraging global stewardship and international awareness!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s no way I’m going to sustain a school with peanuts from the internet.  So, I’m hoping that the first school that I would have already started before moving to Bangladesh would be balling enough to support this one.

Okay fine, maybe I’m hoping for a rich benefactor.

And no, there’s no reason for Bangladesh except the BBC focused on them and I got interested.  And yes, I could go anywhere.  It’s just… you have to start somewhere!

*All authoritative statistics and facts were from the CIA World Factbook.
**I got this smidgen of information from Operation World.