A Week in Myanmar
June 20, 2015
In Mid-May 2015 I headed north in Thailand to join my friend, Treasure Shine, in Mae Sot for a brief stop before we traveled across the border into Myanmar. There in Mae Sot we visited SAW (Social Action for Women) to see the safe house, orphanage, and crisis center they operate. They are doing great work that seems to be adequately funded, at least for the time being.
Moving on into Myanmar, our first stop was the town of Hpa-An, the capital of the Karin State. There we first visited a Karin Village called Lakhana so we could meet with a very strong and well-organized women’s group, committed to building a new school for their village. With 210 families living in this village, there are over 100 children that have had to terminate their education at grade 5! There simply is no junior high school within a reasonable commuting distance. The only high school is even more distant.
What these determined women have accomplished so far is to accumulate a pile of bricks, a pile of rocks, a pile of sand, and a few lengths of construction re-bar. That’s a start, but a tiny one. Once they are able to accumulate enough construction materials, they are confident that the men of the village will provide the labor to construct the school they so desperately want. Their total budget for this new school is a modest $10,000. So, while meeting with this group, I offered to match dollar-for-dollar the next $1,000 they could raise from that point on. They seemed pretty thrilled with that offer. Two weeks later I again met with Treasure who let me know that these energetic women had already raised an additional $1,200 since our visit. Amazing performance in just two weeks! They did that by going door to door throughout their village, and the adjoining villages, telling of the matching offer and calling on their villagers to now help themselves to create the school they all agree on as a high priority need.

Now the piles of construction material will grow larger and larger. They still need about $6,000 to make this school a reality. If you’d like to step up and help them reach their goal, you can click on our Donate Page. Let’s get this school built.

Later that afternoon we visited another Karin village called Phutakit. What a stark contrast. We were not welcomed. There was no leader there to talk with us. We could see that much of the village energy and resources were dedicated to religious ceremonies. Seemed like there was very little interest in education – at least not the kind of education we support. So, we moved on. I’ll even spare you photos of this dreary place. Okay … well … just a couple then …

The next morning we visited a school called Kabahlon run by some very dedicated Monks. (I’m told Kabahlon means “the world” in Burmese.) The head monk there, called Yu Sandaw Bada, was most welcoming and encouraged interaction with his 90 students – 60 girls and 30 boys. These kids come from very far away, from places where there are simply no schools available. The kids are happy there. Their families can come to visit them, and twice yearly they return to their villages during school breaks. Thus they keep contact with their families and their cultures.

Here are two recent graduates from this school that will now become teachers at Treasure Shine’s Mee Eashin Development Foundation (MDF) in Rangsit, just north of Bangkok. While teaching, they will also attend university and work towards a Bachelors Degree and their teaching credentials. Great opportunity for these girls. Great resource for MDF. Everybody wins.

So, the monks house these children, feed them, and educate them to the best of their abilities with the limited resources they have available. And, as if that weren’t enough, these fine, service minded monks also run an impressive (and free) health care clinic adjacent to the school.

After spending several hours there, talking with the kids, participating in their lessons, sharing a meal with them, and visiting the clinic we came away with the clear sense that this is exactly the kind of village project our Foundation needs to support.

The need here is great. As you can see from the accompanying photos, the building is a long way from “finished”. The immediate priority is to get the roof enclosed before the rainy season hits. So, I made the same dollar for dollar matching offer. No report yet on how they are doing, but knowing these Monks I expect they are making some decent fund raising progress. That will be a good start for them. But a lot more is still needed. If you are interested in helping with this project, here’s the place to donate and support this fine work.

Later that evening, Treasure and I met with some of the Board members (a building contractor, a retired policeman, a local businessman, and a local politician) from the Hpa-An Education Foundation. Wow! What an impressive group this is. {Should have taken a photo} Comprised of over 200 members from the local community this group focuses all their energies on providing education to the children of their community. Directly involved with their communities they are working “hands-on” to build better schools and to equip them with competent teachers. Here is another fine organization deserving our support. I’ll meet again with these folks when I return to Myanmar in October so we can determine the best way to help them with their community based activities.

The next day we traveled to Mawlamyine, the fourth largest city in Myanmar – and one that I’ll admit to never having heard of. There we joined up with Nyen Shwe, a colleague of Treasure’s and very active in education and community development in his own right. First thing in the morning we boarded a “ferry boat” for the hour-long journey on the huge Thanlwin River to Giant Island. (That journey on what seemed to be a vastly overloaded boat was a trip in itself)!

Our first stop was to visit a Baptist Day Center in Chaungsone Township. Once we learned that essentially they were providing a fee-for-service day care center for local working parents, and not a school as we’d been led to believe, we gracefully made our exit.

From there we traveled the short distance to Natmaw Village where the local community leaders are looking for ways to complete the construction of their local school and to then expand it so they can educate more children. While meeting with the village leaders comprised of local businessmen, teachers, an accountant, and several from their youth group, I became impressed with the strong collective desire they shared to strengthen the educational opportunities for their young people.

They asked for help with fundraising. Venturing the opinion that that was too narrow a conversation, I suggested instead that we talk about community outreach. After doing a mini-workshop for an hour or so, they asked me to return and do a day-long session so they could go deeper and practice some of the concepts we discussed. We’ve already got the day for that marked on our October calendar.

As with several of the other organizations we visited I offered some dollar for dollar matching money so they could complete the construction of their school building. We’ll see how they are doing when I return in October. My expectations are that they will have raised the $2,000 they need to complete construction. If you’d like to help these folks realize the school they dream of here is the place to do that.

While we were there on Great Island, we visited several community-based businesses. One of particular interest was making rubber bands. (There are a lot of rubber trees growing in this area.) Impressive process. Here’s a couple of photos showing how a group of mandrils is dipped into a vat of colored molten rubber, and then stripped from the mandrils to become a long tube of rubber.
The long tubes are then hung out until they are completely dry. Then they are manually fed through an ingenious cutting machine to form the individual rubber bands.
The picture I’m not showing is how much hand labor is then required to cull out all the bad cuts, end pieces, and other flawed bands. All-in-all, quite the local enterprise.
The following day we drove to Yangon, by far the largest city in Myanmar. After a trip fraught with car troubles and military (both National and Ethnic) checkpoints we finally made it to our first destination – a community development project by one of the organizations we support – Women for the World. Here, this powerful women-led group has subdivided their parcel of just over one acre into small plots and provided the financing so that 68 families are able to own their own home. Beyond that, these women have created a community complete with ground rules about cleanliness, alcohol consumption, smoking, noise, and perhaps most importantly – domestic violence. Truly a community, these women see to it that their “village” functions in the best interests of all its residents.

These houses may look modest to our western eyes, but let me tell you this: the contrast between these clean, orderly homes and the squalid squatter shacks from which these folks relocated is HUGE. And what is most amazing to me is that one of these homes can be provided for just $1,000 in capital. There is still space for four more homes in this particular community. Who would like to change the life of a deserving family … all for the one-time contribution of $1,000? Are you are one of those people?

On Friday morning we met with a fellow called Cyrus. Cyrus runs a small orphanage called House of Hope in the village of Mawbe, about 1-1/2 hours from Yangon. Since we did not have the time to travel to Mawbe that day, Cyrus came to visit us at the Bike World Guest House where we were staying. Once again we heard about and saw photos of a place in great need of help to continue caring for the 14 children living there. We agreed that the first step would be for either Treasure or Nyen Shwe to visit the location to be sure that it is what Cyrus represents it to be. That will most likely happen in July or August. More to follow on this one.
That afternoon, we visited with Sister Rebecca at the Good Shepherd Sisters main facility in Yangon. Impressive to say the least. In support of patients receiving cancer treatment at the general hospital across the street, they operate a 30-bed resident care facility. In addition to that, they also run a day care center for about 50 street kids, and a trainng center so local women can learn sewing, nursing, and computer skills. That gave us an excellent opportunity to get acquainted and to finalize the arrangements for the week-long training sessions Peter Scontrino and I will be conducting in October.

The following morning it was time to be off to the airport so I could bid goodbye to Myanmar (for the time being only) and move on to the remaining activities of this trip, including an 11-day trip with our Together We Can Change The World (TWCCTW) group where we visited six locations we support in Bangkok, Rangsit, and Chiang Rai, Thailand – and in Siem Reap, Cambodia. More about that in another report.

Life is Good … at least for some of us it is. Others need a bit of help … and together … we can provide them exactly the help they need.

100% of Your Donations Will Go Directly to Benefit the Causes We Support