Fund-raiser aims to help beleaguered in Myanmar

Posted: December 05, 2013

As fund-raisers go, it's hardly extravagant - a donation of $10 a plate for dinner at Rangoon Restaurant in Chinatown.

But a couple thousand dollars can buy plenty in Myanmar, the poor Southeast Asian land emerging from decades of military rule. And for Whispering Seed, an orphanage run there by Penn Valley's Jim Connor, the money means everything.

"Even the smallest donations go a long way over here," Connor said in an e-mail from Asia.

About 50 people have signed on for a Wednesday night banquet that organizers hope will be the first of many. The event came about almost by accident, through a series of connections bringing together a diverse group of city dwellers and suburbanites; the athletic and the sedentary; and Christians, Jews, and Muslims, to help children they have never met in a land most have never seen.

"Originally, we had no idea that Whispering Seed existed," said organizer Steve Ettinger, an Elkins Park financial planner. Now, he said of the fund-raiser, "I want it to be a regular thing."

In September, he read an article in The Inquirer about Whispering Seed, which works in a country where many children have little opportunity and the government is suspicious of social workers.

It turned out that Ettinger's wife, Jean, knew Connor's mother, Cindy, both of whom are members of the Philadelphia Flying Phoenix Dragon Boat Team.

Steve Ettinger then asked members of his Masonic lodge: Why not hold the monthly gathering at Rangoon, the well-known Burmese restaurant, to help Whispering Seed? It would build on the lodge's history of supporting orphanages.

The lodge members agreed. Donations came from the Ettingers' synagogue, Kol Ami, and from neighbors in Elkins Park. Members of the dragon boat team signed on, along with Connor's parents and sister.

Connor had cofounded the agency in 2004, settling a 12-acre farm in western Thailand. The center provided emotional, medical, and learning support for up to 25 children, many of them orphaned, abused, or neglected sons and daughters of sex workers.

Because the children were not Thai, they had little chance for jobs or education. Whispering Seed sought to teach them skills that could later be used to earn a living.

This year, Connor moved Whispering Seed into central Myanmar, so children could obtain legal identification papers in their own country.

Money from Wednesday night's banquet may help with that. The group also needs money for government registrations, along with clothing, games, and learning materials.

"Every bit," Connor said, "makes a huge difference over here."


To attend the banquet, contact Steve Ettinger at 215-635-3623 or at plgrmettinger@gmail.com.

jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906 @JeffGammage

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