Better Burma: The story of Joah McGee

Joah McGee doesn’t like to talk about himself. In fact, his name is not to be found anywhere on the website of the charity he founded: Better Burma. He just wants to tell the story of the people that stole his heart and who have been silenced by violent oppression. His vision: To bring support and warmth to the Golden Land.

But on a day at the beginning of November 2023 he stands before us at a Zoom gathering of Mitgefühl in Aktion (MIA), the german branch of Buddhist Global Relief, an organisation founded by the famous monk and translator Bhikkhu Bodhi, who is also present and gives the introduction.

Joah has come to introduce Better Burma to the supporters of MIA, who have so kindly raised funds for food-distributions to those in need inside a country torn by violence. The quiet Native American man seems a bit uncomfortable to be put into the spotlight. Usually he is the one who listens and shares the stories. But today he makes an exception and he talks about himself, first hesitant but then more confident, and sometimes emotional, as he progresses.

Joah has spent 15 years living in Myanmar and in this time he has learned to love the country and it’s people. He talks about the days after the coup in 2021, when he could withdraw into the safety of a western country, but it was a country that was no longer his own and where life seemed almost meaningless and irrelevant in the face of the suffering of his friends back in Burma. Being called by friends on the run or in hiding, hearing of others being arrested or killed, he felt helpless. Fueled by his background in Buddhist practice and meditation, inspired by the bravery of the Burmese people themselves, he decided to use his podcasts, his wide network of friends across Myanmar and his understanding of the Burmese culture to try and help, to tell the stories of those who otherwise remain unheard, and to raise funds for a variety of projects to help a people in crisis.

Over the last 3 years Joah has built up a charity that can bring relief where larger organisations can’t with the help of Burmese locals on the ground who risk their lives every day to bring food and medicines to people who are starving, whose houses have been burned down and whose livestock have been killed. He brings the stories of people within Myanmar and raises awareness of their plight. He supports soldiers who want to defect and not fight their own people any longer.

Joah talks about how Buddhist meditation is supporting him in his work and how the Burmese find strength in the practice, even in the most harrowing of circumstances. And how Buddhist practice is about helping others and not about closing your heart. Joah has made it his life’s work to bring a little bit of support and warmth to the Golden Land.

You can find the entire transcript here.

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OMG you’ve made a transcript of the entire talk? (And including Dutch and German translations, how cool!) That’s so amazing and wonderful! Thank you so much for telling his story here, it truly deserves to be told! :pray:

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The English and German transcripts were made by others. I just did the Dutch translation.

Thank you @sabbamitta for your translation that evening. Hats off for that!

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I felt honored to translate for him, even if perhaps I couldn’t do full justice to the task. It was a very moving evening for me!

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