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A reason to smile: Documenting a Rotary-funded nonprofit's two-week mission in Myanmar
A man walks a down an alleyway in the former capital of Myanmar, Yangon. - photo by Micah Green

As I was walking back to the hotel in Myeik that morning, I got caught in the rain. It was monsoon season in Myanmar and most of Southeast Asia, so these bouts of rain were not  uncharacteristic, but, of course, I was ill-prepared.

I had my camera with me, so I tried to cover it with my shirt and started jogging. 

The rain began to pick up and so did my speed, but as I turned a corner I heard an indistinguishable shout. I turned to see a man sitting at what I can only guess was a make-shift bus stop: tree limbs and metal poles tied together with a plastic sheet with an advertisement on it draped over the poles.

The whole thing was leaking except for one little dry spot in the corner, where the man sat.

He motioned me over and patted the small, dry space beside him. I sat down.

We were crammed so close our legs were touching. He pointed towards the hotel, the nine-story building that towered over the rest of the small coastal fishing town, as if to ask if that’s where I was headed. I nodded.

After that, it was quiet.

We sat there together and watched it rain.  

I had come to Myanmar with Alliance for Smiles, a Rotary-funded nonprofit that performs free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries in under-served areas of the world. My duty was to document the trip and take before and after photos of the patients, who were mostly children. Despite these surgeries being relatively easy for a trained plastic surgeon and mostly cosmetic, they are life-changing for the patients and their families. The stigma that comes with looking or sounding different is gone.

After about 20 or so minutes, the rain had subsided enough to continue my walk back to the hotel, but I strangely didn’t want to leave. I got up anyway, did my best to convey my gratitude with several head nods and a smile and went on my way. The generosity and simple compassion is something I witnessed over and over again in Myanmar. It is something I'm now looking for a lot harder back home.

Here are some other things I saw.