Safety for Girls – Koenawin Monk School
February 7, 2016

As a long-time advocate for educating girls, it is gratifying to visit the various Monk and Nun schools to see first-hand their fine work being done in this regard. Up until this recent trip to Myanmar I have heard very little about this issue of “keeping the girls safe”. I heard a lot about it during this trip. As I learn more about this concern it becomes apparent that the various armies (national and ethnic) roaming around in this area – sometimes fighting; sometimes not – have a shown a pattern of “marrying” girls when, in fact, the girls have absolutely no say in the matter. Not a pleasant life prospect for these girls. Not at all.

Never was that issue made more clear to me than when I visited the Koenawin Monk School in the township of Kamamaung and met the education monk, Pannase. Now I understand more clearly the need for the safety the Monks provide as an important facet of their education programs for girls. Protecting the girls has become a number one priority.

Pannase is an interesting fellow with a highly unusual career path. He first came to this monastery as a senior military officer in the national army. He intended to stay for nine days. Five years later he is still there – as a Monk – leading the educational program for 361 kids, and intending to stay forever. I am told that had he remained with the army he would most certainly be a general by now. (Some of that military training is sure evident in the orderliness and regimen for the school).

The numbers continue to grow as more and more kids from the far distant, highly remote villages are seeking education. So, in they come and attend from grade three all the way through grade 11, the last grade of high school in the Myanmar system. The kids can get grades 1 & 2 in their local village schools (such as they are), but that is about it.
All 361 kids live there in the monastery school. The 20 Monks provide everything for them, including a healthy vegetarian diet. The clear majority (perhaps 65%) are girls – well-protected girls. The living conditions are sparse, but getting better step-by-step. There is a large (40’ by 140’) new building under construction to house 100 girls, but much more will be required.
Among their entrepreneurial enterprises to help themselves care for their village children, the Monks make and distribute the candles so essential to the practices of Buddhism. They produce a lot of candles and generate $800 to $1,000 in revenue monthly.

In my eyes they are doing an admirable job of caring for these 361 kids that would otherwise have absolutely no hope for an education. No hope at all.

They seem to be managing the daily operating costs pretty well. What they really need is more secure housing to keep the more than 200 girls safe. They need to match the girls’ building currently under construction with another one of at least the same size. The current one is costing $50,000. With a little adjustment for the rapid inflation here in Myanmar, I’d estimate a budget for the next building to be $60,000.

What we really need here is an Angel to come forward and not only educate, but also protect hundreds of these girls so they can grow to become self-sufficient, independent young women.