The Report of Thabarwa

The Ranik Report

Thabarwa Center, Yangon, Myanmar

Prelog: This report is a private observation I had, while the issues for volunteers are listed down below, that need to change, in order to establish a decent exchange with volunteers, coming from Workaway. I have agreed with the host, to remain in his Monastery (Thabawa Center) for two weeks. After one week, I have learned about several incidents, that have happened here and have put me into unease. Whether events have changed or not, this is a report based on the 24.03.17, without an update of the situation. This report had been written, in the solely intention of protecting volunteers and human rights, by pointing on critical circumstances, that have to be looked at, in order to establish a brighter future in the Thabawa Center.

The Host and the Monastery

This Monastery is owned by a famous Bhuddist, who is spreading his idea of Bhuddism all around the world. The Host is a female Monk called Kema, who is working here. It is a Monastery, where you can meditate AND arrive if you are in need for help. That’s why, you have children and teenagers, coming from all kinds of critical situations to this place, in order to receive a minimal amount of support. Many of them are on drugs, running around and in rare occasions fighting volunteers, and often locals and themselves. Elder or homeless people are having in this center the possibility to receive their last days in a better enviroment and get treated for free with food and medical assistance. The Monastery recommends to meditate, instead to help by activities in the village, however, I am working freely everyday in Medical care since the day on arrival. This is a place, that does more good than bad to mankind, however, there are critical issues, that need to be looked at, in order to work.

This report had received intense critics, for the negativity it delivers. I got recommended, to write the report with positive aspects as well, but this report is about the negative aspects of this place. THIS IS NOT AN ENTIRE DESCRIPTION OF THE THABARWA CENTER! This is a sole report about the bad circumstances in the center. If you want a general review about my times in the Monastery click here on my blog called The Experiment.

This place is a Monastery, ruled by the Buddhists and they are declaring several rules, such as strict dress codes, which not even all the locals tend to follow. Behaving restrictions, that have several times no sense in cultural exchange. Even though, this is a Monastery, where they can establish their own rules, they miss the target of WorkAway, of making this place a “Cultural exchange”, as they are ignoring the culture of westerners and only accept us with their rules.

There is a Cast system available here and volunteers are suffering from it as well. The monks treat others with an indifferent glance. Needs of street children, and some patients and all volunteers get neglected by the Monks of the monastery, as they are playing a lower part in the culture.

The Structure of the Host

The Host has no limits to volunteers, as there were 70 volunteers stationed in the Thabawa center. Even though the Host is Kema, the place is an absolute experiment, as all activities are being held and presented solely by volunteers! The host is only the voice between the Volunteers and the Monks. All activities such as Patient care (treating old people with life threatening diseases, and washing handicapped people), Art (Drawing with patients), Cooking or Village school (playing with children in a small bamboo hut), are all organized by single volunteers in the past.

Every evening, all volunteers gather in the office, to discuss, who will join what on the next day. Many volunteers are lazy, some work, while some work a lot. That’s the system of this Workaway.

The Financial aspect

This Monastery generates an unofficial/rumored donated amount of 400.000 USD, per month, however, many monks tend to steal donations and spend them on private occasions. Even though, the Monastery already saves countless lives in the center, the Monastery refuses to help in other countless life saving important occasions, and don’t invest more from their own budget. Several donations from volunteers get misused and lost. Even though, people are living under minimal circumstances, I believe, that “taking care of people in need” is only the slogan, they want to inherit, in order to gain better profit in a financial aspect. They expand their buddhism in quantity instead of quality. Less people would suffer from different health problems and die, if money would be stored properly and organized.

Every morning, the monks go out in several trucks for alms with volunteers and collect money in the city of Yangon. Rumors say, that volunteers get abused as commercial on the streets, in order to make more money. That’s why, volunteers get asked every time to join the alms, even though we are busy with other activities. The volunteering project was rather something, that got started as a random project. The Monks never wanted the foreigners to begin volunteering projects. It was the volunteers, that started the whole system with volunteers. The Monastery wants foreigners to meditate and to convert into Bhuddism.

Volunteers are NOT liked by the monks, because many are not here to learn from the Monastery’s meditations, but to volunteer in social engagement. This is crucial and gives me personally, a disgusted taste.

Street kids, Animals, Patients.

  • The unofficial number of 80% of children here are streetchildren in this Monastery. Some recently got beaten to the floor by monks in daylight, while we are not sure wether we have a right to interfere. I interfiered, and protected a young kid from three adults, who wanted to carry the kid away from the public eye. The child’s name is Sengo, I made him cry on the first day, as I took away his “Superglue bottle” from him (it is the main drug for young kids here (Very cheap and very toxic, when inhaling the gas.)
  • Animals get no Sterilization here, some dying people in pain get no pain killers here, due to their Bhuddism rules. Patient “Corner guy” is famous patient among the medical care team, for being the most difficult patient with surreal injuries around the lower body and suffering continously, without being treated with pain killers, but screaming in pain, while treatment. Currently, I am working everyday in a strong smelling environment, that has insufficient protection from diseases with other volunteers on several patients, also on “Corner guy.” One Pagoda less, but better quality of the “Elder care” would be certianly a wise decision.

The Issues for Volunteers in Thabawa, for Workaway

  • Without any warning, the volunteers in this Monastery get exposed to serious diseases such as Scabies, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and other several unknown infections. Also, Tubercolosis and HIV patients are available here, but we tend to stay away from Tuberculosis and HIV patients, even though, I still had not been getting information, where they are stationed at.
  • A previous volunteer donated to the other volunteers a washing machine in order to wash our cloths properly. However, as he left, the host explained me yesterday, that only the sheets from the beds of volunteers shall be washed by the Monastery in the washing machine, while the volunteers have no allowance to use it, because of financial issues. Currently, I am washing my infected cloths by hand. I asked the host to accept money for a washing, or to make an exception for volunteers, working with infected people, in order to secure the safety of volunteers (infections), but she conciously refused.
  • The Volunteer Dorms can all be unlocked with a code on their locks, everyone can obtain at anytime. Recently, a tablet got stolen from our dorm at night, as the robber even closed the lock again when leaving. Except a locker on the second floor and in the reception (100 meters away), Volunteers have no locker in their rooms, and no security for their goods or themselves. Anyone can come in anytime and take anything. We are soon receiving locks, which were donated from money of the volunteers, as the Monastery and the Host decided to deny the importance of a closed dorm or a locker.

I will not recommend a host, who disregards consciously the safety of volunteers in the matter of health, or physical security. Especially, without sufficient warning or attention, while making financial profit from their engagements in humanitarian work.

Normally, a host can have the ability to change the faults in their hosting, but this place has no intention of taking changes since their existence, because this place is a Monastery, ruled by the Monks. They normally don’t change their mentality, this is a supported opinion by several long term volunteers here.

Thank you for reading and I hope appropriate actions will be taken by Workaway.

Written and published on: 24.03.17

Ranik Mayer, Workaway Ambassador

5 thoughts on “The Report of Thabarwa

  1. Hi Ranik, I am so disappointed by this… I was planning on volunteering in the Thabarwa center this summer, and already bought my plane ticket. Do you know if local schools in Yangon receive volunteers? I am so worried now, especially since I read a review not a long time ago saying that the food you don’t eat is given to other people instead of throwing it up. That’s just a simple detail that caught my attention, they apparently are not careful with the contamination and spread of diseases. Are you still there? What do you recommend to people in my position?

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    1. I am still recommending the center, as it is an unforgettable experience. my blog calles The Experiment is an overall explanation.

      Every place with a larger income has it’s flaws, but that should not mean to be scared of this place. I would still recommend the place, if the three issues for volunteers I wrote about in the Report got fixed. It is Myanmar and has third world standards, but it was one of my greatest adventures on my journeys. 🙂

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  2. I’m sorry to say that nothing has changed. I agree in all the parts I’m reading in this report. Often it takes time for big changes; usually changes take place slowly, very slowly. that’s normal. But I can see a strong resistance, very strong resistance by the Host and the Permanent Volunteers. Buddhism preach non-attachment, but they are the first to be attached to their beliefs and rigidity. There would be the potential to make structures and services efficient and safe, but i have the feeling there is no will.
    They open other centers in the world, they expand and become larger without creating quality. That quality that gives dignity to people in need who are guests of the center. Evidently it is more important for them to expand (which is nothing more than a mere form of conquest of territory and guaranty of income) that the improvement of something that already exists and which is in extreme need of care and maintenance. I find that this way of doing and acting is the precise human expression of that form of EGO that Buddhists, like all of us, would like to overcome but of which we are obviously not free.
    And I completely agree with you when you say: “One Pagoda less, but better quality of the” Elder care “would be certainly a wise decision”.

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