Wut Thin: Burmese volunteers

There are many salient features in our Burmese community, especially in the rural areas. But in this article, I would like to bring forward one important feature in small town communities. It is Wut Thin (၀တ္သင္း), which is a volunteering or service group in a town.

Actually, Wut Thin is not related with any government activities and its function is similar to the one of NGOs in recent days. However, they are very different in several aspects. Wut Thin is essentially a religious group who volunteers to help with collecting the offerings and donation from laymen to monasteries, to maintain Buddhism and for the upkeep of pagodas when needed. Moreover, the members of Wut Thin also participate in a community’s religious activities such as Novitiation ceremony, Kathina festival, etc. Therefore, Wut Thin can be considered as a local religious NGO team.

What are the members called?

Members of Wut Thin (၀တ္သင္း) are called Neik-ban-saw, literally translated as ‘Ushers into heaven’. Almost all of the members are active young minds that live within the community. They are willing to make a special effort to inspire and urge others to do good deeds and make merits according to Buddha’s teachings. Their job is like a reminder, as people sometimes forget to do good deeds. Therefore, this group can also be called ‘collectors of donations.’

What do the members do?

Once a week, these Burmese volunteers go around town and in other neighboring villages to collect alms and donations. Most of the households give and donate depending on their wills, it can be a bowl of rice, a bunch of fruits or a spoon of oil! They collect all donated items and keep them in a monastery’s kitchen in an appropriate way.

Their activities are always associated with music and dances which vary from town to town. For instance, in Mandalay, the royal city of Myanmar, they choose a majestic style of music as they walk to collet alms. Most of these volunteering groups use simple traditional Burmese musical instruments like bamboo clappers, flutes and drums to make their music. However, the most important item of the task is the tray used for collecting alms. Each Wu-Thin group decorates its trays beautifully and during the collecting round, two men carry the yoke by each ends with their shoulders with the tray hanging in the middle.

Wut Thin walk (၀တ္သင္း) is usually led by two men carrying a yoke with a huge triangular brass gong on it, and during the walk, one of the men hits the gong to have people’s attention and awareness of the parade. Anyone who’s willing to make a donation has time to prepare their offerings ahead of time the parade is in front of their houses.

Wut Thin, an honorable symbol for Myanmar youth

Being a member of Wut Thin (၀တ္သင္း) is an honorable status for young people because the members are greatly appreciated by the community. However, with changes in people’s lifestyles because of today’s ongoing advances in technology and influence of the Internet, how people perceive Wut Thin is not all the same as it was. Taking part in Wut Thin (၀တ္သင္း) activity isn’t anymore what every youngster dream of doing. Sadly, a tradition might be dying.