A Story of a Very Industrious Monk
April 3, 2016
I’m delighted to share with you the story of one of the finest Monks I’ve ever met. This man is named Ashin War Thithta. He is the Head Monk, called the Sayardaw, for the Kabahlone Monastery in Hpa-an, Myanmar. That is my good Myanmar friend and our Myanmar Country Director, Treasure, in the background.
I first visited Kabahlone in 2013. At that time, one of the other monks was running the boarding school serving 165 kids from impoverished local villages where education is simply not available. That monk needed a lot of help, including putting a roof on the building. Thanks to our generous donors we were able to take care of that. The building got a roof – but still needed a lot more. Here’s what the building looked like at that time.

Fast forward to last week. That monk is no longer in charge of the school. The Sayardaw has stepped in and taken charge. Has he ever! By rallying widespread community support, and engaging the Hpa-an Education Foundation (another organization we support), big things are happening. The school is getting walls and windows right now. The basement level, formerly used as a kitchen, will now be refurbished and used much more productively for dormitory space. The school should be rebuild and ready for occupancy by the beginning of the upcoming school year, provided we can support them with another $5,000 to complete the school construction. Knowing this man as I do, I’m confident that will happen.

Here’s what the school looked like when I visited about 10 days ago. Amazing progress in such a short time.

Now, let me tell you more about this industrious Monk. In addition to his boarding school for over 200 kids, and his health clinic serving over 100 patients each day, he also operates a mine that produces stone, gravel, and sand for the local construction companies. Here in Myanmar we have a true Social Business! (I might add that construction is booming now that freedom and democracy are emerging in Myanmar.)

I visited that mine. It is huge. Difficult to photograph and show scale, but maybe you can get a good idea from the photos below.

One hundred and twenty (120) local people are employed here – every single one of them at a living wage. That is truly significant considering the multitude of extremely low wage jobs (many under $2.00 per day) common in this region. Some employees even have housing provided at the mine.

The big issue facing Sayardaw right now is the main rock crusher for the mine. That’s it in the center of the picture above. The current crusher is very old and frequently breaks down, severely limiting production and, ultimately, sales – and jobs. A brand new rock crusher will cost $8,500. Further conversation with the Sayardaw revealed that he was quite agreeable to the notion of sharing 10% of the value of increased productivity from a new crusher with the Hpa-an Education Foundation thereby expanding the reach of enhanced education for the kids from Hpa-an and the local villages. All-in-all, this looks like a very sound arrangement that would result from an $8,500 investment in one rock crusher.

Later that same day, the Monk showed us his idea for making low cost, lightweight concrete building blocks. By adding styrofoam beads and other recycled plastic materials to the concrete mix he has produced samples of his lightweight, very strong concrete building blocks. And, he has done so in a variety of shapes and sizes. I’m really impressed. Here is a product that can be produced at a lower cost than the red bricks traditionally used locally, all the while recycling the styrofoam and plastic that has become a scourge on the environment in these SE Asian countries. Plus, new jobs will be created in the process. Looks like a winning proposition all around.

Of course , there is an investment to get this new Social Business up and running at scale. Shredding machines will be needed for plastic recycling and preparation for the mix. Mixing machines must be purchased. Reusable steel casting molds in a variety of sizes will be needed. And, there will be some palletizing and material handling requirements as well – although it is surprising how industrious these people are, and how much can be accomplished with manual effort.

A preliminary budget for getting this new business up and running is estimated at $15,000. Quite the bargain, I think considering the new, living wage jobs that will be created, the environmentally conscientious recycling program, and the additional education and community health care this new revenue stream will support.

Here’s a photo of my colleague, Peter Scontrino and me with the Monk. His mine is in the background.Later that day, we learned that the Monk has a second mine some distance away. Amazing! We have not yet visited this one. There they also produce rocks, gravel, and sand and employ another 150 people, also at living-wage jobs. For sure we will look into opportunities in that location during my next trip to Hpa-an.

Meanwhile, here is the opportunity for funding the current good work of this industrious Monk.

  • Finish construction on the school building $5,000
  • Purchase and install a new rock crusher $8,500
  • Fund the development of a new light weight block business $15,000


Every single dollar contributed to the SE Asia Foundation to support this fine work is tax-deductible to U. S. taxpayers and will go 100% to the field to support the Monk. Nothing will be taken for our fundraising and administration expenses. We cover that personally. Donation information is here.