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First Contact

Posted by Michael Yuen, Chairman.  Oct 2013

I have agonised over this, my first blog post on the My Place website, for a long time. How do I capture what My Place is all about and summarise what started us on this crazy journey? More importantly, how can I ever do justice to the remarkable and inspiring stories that are the lives of the children we have the privilege of meeting and serving all the time?


While I was looking for inspiration, I came across an email written to some friends during my 2nd trip into Yangon back in early 2011 and realised that I have found, though unbeknown to me at that time, the genesis of My Place. On March 10, 2011, while still a wide-eyed and naïve tourist, I was introduced to a children’s home and was deeply moved by the houseparents’ dedication and the resilience of the children, but yet appalled by their lack of resources at the time. Within a few months, this home became the first home that My Place sponsored.


That same night, I was able to meet some more remarkable children, this time on the streets of Yangon, and they left me with such a deep impression that, from that day on, something like My Place was an inevitability. Below is how I described that fateful encounter to my friends at that time:



There are quite a few children around the hotel where I stayed who seem to spend their whole days chasing after tourists, acting cute and in relatively good English, telling the foreigners that they are hungry and need money to buy food. I had already succumbed to their charm a couple of times previously and bought various ones meals at the street stalls. One of them is a friendly and chatty 11 year old girl called M. When I met her one night at around 9:30 pm and bought her something to eat, being the naïve kind-hearted and responsible adult that I am, I said to her, ‘You shouldn’t be running around this time of the night. You really should be in bed sleeping by now.’ She said, ‘I have to wait for the cinema to close.’ I said, ‘Huh?’ She continued, ‘That is where me and my little brothers sleep, on the steps outside.’


As tonight was the last night I was going to be in Yangon, I went out looking for the kids I had met before to buy them a meal for the last time. As we headed towards the food stalls, a quiet boy carrying his baby brother and dragging another toddler along started to follow us. While I had seen this boy before, I had never bought him any food because I was not happy with him endangering his baby brothers by carrying them around with him for sympathy while he zigzags through heavy traffic chasing after the tourists…and he is not as charming and friendly as the others.


However, as it was my last night there, I let him and his little brothers join us…and when the food came and I watched him gently feeding his baby brother in between gobbling down food himself, I suddenly found immense respect for him as I realised how wrong I was in my initial impression. I realised that the reason why he dragged his little brothers around with him as he begged from the tourists was because it was the only way he could ensure that his brothers got some too when an opportunity like tonight arises.


After the food was all finished and as I took some money out to pay the food seller, the tiny hand of his 3 or 4 year old brother instinctively came up with an open palm as begging was the only thing he had ever known. However, as soon as he realised that the money was not for him, he flashed a big smile and the little hand reached for mine instead. He held on to my hand as we walked away from the food stall.


A lot of people would say that one should not give anything to or even feed begging children. They say that they probably make more money than a lot of other more needy or more deserving  children. That may well be true. However, if you had seen them eat, you would have agreed with me. These children WERE hungry. Some people would also say that helping them or feeding them would just make them more dependent on foreigners and vulnerable to predators. That may also well be true. However, tomorrow maybe something has to be done to help them be safe from predators. But today, I saw the least amongst us hungry, and the words of Jesus had left me with no choice whatsoever as to what my response had to be.


Prologue : I ran into M a year and a half later in a workshop run by an NGO. She was working and studying there, and learning to sew. I was told that the 3 brothers had just disappeared from the streets one day. It is my prayer that they are OK and that I will be able to find them one day.

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