Guest post by Helen Frost.
Fort Wayne, Indiana has one of America’s largest communities of citizens from Burma, now called Myanmar. The local library has been looking for ways to offer books for these families. Through a Friendship City relationship, whereby one American city forms cultural and strategic ties with a city in another country, Fort Wayne established ties with Mawlamyine, in Mon State, Myanmar.
Several delegations of Fort Wayne citizens traveled to Mawlamyine, and a group of five students and their chaperones, traveled from Mawlamyine to Fort Wayne. Since shipping books internationally is very expensive (spoiler alert: books are heavy!), these travelers carried them in their in suitcases. The Allen County Public Library donated some books, Fort Wayne authors donated others, and the Fort Wayne Sister Cities organization offered funds to purchase more.
While I was looking for the best, most culturally appropriate, books to purchase and I found Kitaab World—someone had done my research for me! And everyone I corresponded with was lovely and helpful.
With suitcases full of books to take to children in Mawlamyine, we trusted that we would find the right people to get our books into the hands of children there. As we met with representatives of several educational NGO’s, that part turned out to be easy, but we weren’t sure how to fulfill the second part of what we hoped to accomplish: bringing back books for our library that would be just right for Burmese families living in Fort Wayne.
We had a wonderful tour guide, Moe Thu Zar, who accompanied us to several meetings and heard me asking for suggestions of good children’s books for this purpose. I was hoping to have a list of books I could take to a bookstore so that I could purchase books there. But Moe had an even better plan—on the last evening of our trip, she surprised us by donating multiple copies of bilingual sets of books, one copy in Burmese and another in English! She had purchased them to donate to children in Myanmar but said she would like to donate some for the Burmese children in Fort Wayne.
One year later, students traveling to Fort Wayne from Mawlamyine brought books to donate to our library, and a few weeks later, Fort Wayne students traveling to Mawlamyine carried books for children there. One morning in Mawlamyine, all eight students from both groups, good friends by that time, took books to read and donate to children in a Mawlamyine orphanage, an experience that was both fun and meaningful.
This kind of generosity and enthusiasm continues to characterize our Friendship City relationship. Hand to hand, book to child, one book at a time, the citizens of two cities grow closer and the world becomes a little brighter.
Helen Frost worked for about twenty years as a poet and teacher before publishing her first poetry collection. Her books now include nine novels-in-poems for children and young adults, two collections of poetry for adults, and five picture books for younger readers. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA, with her husband, Chad Thompson.
BOOKS ON BURMA
M is for Myanmar: Two young girls journey back to their parents' homeland and recount the Shwedagon pagoda, the majestic monastery, meditating monks and delicious foods in the sights and sounds of Myanmar sure to entice young readers.
I See the Sun in Myanmar (Burma) : A lovely introduction to Buddhist culture through the eyes of a young girl. Tracing her days through simple phrases and the lush beauty of her surroundings, this book serves as window into a world rarely seen.
My First Words at Home: A young one's first introduction to words around the home - from the kitchen to the bathroom and onto the outside!
Bamboo People : A coming-of-age story of two boys on the opposing sides of an ethics conflict in Burma. When pitted against one another, these boys are faced with struggles of conscience, their own prejudices as well as the a way to redefine friendship and learn the meaning of courage.
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