On This Day

When Helen Keller Visited Myanmar

By Wei Yan Aung 12 May 2019

Sixty-four years ago today, deaf-blind American author, activist and lecturer Helen Adams Keller arrived in Myanmar as part of her international tour to support the deaf and blind. She and her secretary Polly Thomson flew from Bangkok and arrived at Yangon’s Mingaladon Airport on the afternoon of May 12. They stayed at the Strand Hotel.

During her stay in Yangon, the 75-year-old met with President Dr. Ba U at his Presidential Residence and commented that the president was a thoughtful person after touching his face. At a meeting with Prime Minister U Nu, she requested his support for the deaf and blind as part of his efforts to encourage creative and informative literary translations through the Burma Translation Society, in order to enlighten people. She also met with Gen. Aung San’s widow, Daw Khin Kyi, who chaired the Committee of the Union of Burma Council of Social Services at the time.

Helen Keller touches the face of President Dr. Ba U during their meeting.

Keller also visited Shwedagon Pagoda, St. Michael’s School for the Blind in Kyimyintdaing Township, and the School for the Deaf.

On her last day in Yangon before heading to Hong Kong on an early morning flight, she gave a speech at a Rotary Club luncheon at the Strand Hotel. As a mark of their appreciation, the city’s Rotarians presented Keller with an embossed and inscribed Burmese silver bowl. Fingering the bowl she tapped it gently and remarked, “It is not only beautiful, but musical as well.”

Keller is well known in Myanmar; her biography is included in the “Encyclopedia of Burmania” and the English reader for 11th grade students. In 2016, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi received the Helen Keller International Humanitarian Award from Helen Keller International Europe for her commitment to humanitarian causes.

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