By Nina Ornstein
Travel today is much more than a vacation. Over the past decade, travel trends have shifted from the perfect lazy getaway, to adventure and fitness oriented experiential travel. This year I learned the term “transformational travel” at the NY Times Travel Show, and it is all the rave. Transformation can mean many things, and the term transformation is a highly personal concept. To transform is to make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of. This is not to say that people are traveling to fix a midlife crisis; more to travel deeper, to explore culture and to engage with the world on a introspective level. The all-inclusive era has passed. We want to walk away not only learning something about the destinations in which we roam, but how we are all connected and to improve upon our shared living experience. Voluntourism is on the rise and has brought new light to the concept of traveling with the focus of giving back. There are many opportunities out there to make a positive impact in the communities that welcome us. I am always looking for ways to give back, and learn more about how cultures are progressing on a grassroots level. When my mom and I visited Myanmar, we spent an afternoon at a girls’ orphanage in the Mine Thauk Township on the eastern shore of Inle Lake. We had a chance to sit down with the head mistress “Sue” to discuss her goals for the kids she is essentially raising.Sue might as well be a saint. This is woman who has dedicated her life to transforming those of others. Her commitment to the children who have lost their parents or come from extreme poverty is humbling to say the least. Her admirable wisdom and mission are powerful, heart warming and inspirational in so many ways. Myanmar has experienced dramatic shifts in the last 15 years. Until 5 years ago the country hardly had cell phones, wifi and internet were non-existent and oppression was a huge issue. The ongoing civil war between tribes and government has left many orphans without refuge. Many families unable to raise their children and thus many of these children have found their way to facilities such as the Mine Thauk Orphanage.Education is key, and not just book smarts. Sue is extremely focused on teaching empowerment to the young girls she is raising. Her mission to simple: to provide a happy, safe environment where young girls and women can blossom into their full potential. Child slavery and sex trade continues to be a prominent issue today, and creating this safe haven is essential to the growth of the next generation of the Myanmar people. They are now joining the rest of the world in the information era, they are exposed to pop culture, have cell phones, internet, computers and the potential to see themselves become active contributors to society.Many of the girls who have been raised at the Mine Thauk Orphanage go on to trade schools. They become nurses, work in hospitality, or sustainable agriculture. While the children attend public school during the day, after hours Sue is teaching them to compost and garden, how to become a tourism professional, teaching them computer science and programming, fashion design, secondary language skills and how to have fun while doing so.Every little bit helps, and while we didn’t have a lot to give, what we did donate was very appreciated. My mom and I brought first aid kits and school supplies, as well as a seemingly small financial contribution that would apparently feed these girls for a month! If you would like to make a contribution from home, you may easily do so by contacting the assistant teacher Sue Rosenu at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Better yet, join me on an adventure to Myanmar in 2018 where we will spend two days leading workshops in economics, marketing, public health and global studies. I look forward to bringing groups back to Myanmar, to sending individual travelers to experience this magical country and will encourage everyone to visit the orphanage and sit down with Sue. This is where change begins, with human beings that believe in small acts of kindness that will highly impact the lives of many.