Take a peek at "Bainbridge School Reaches out to Students in Myanmar".
Kitsap County's local papers, Kitsap Sun and Islander, published a lovely story this week about EE's literacy exchange project between local Hyla Middle School and Shule Nunnery School outside Yangon.
Take a peek at "Bainbridge School Reaches out to Students in Myanmar".
Children in school uniforms, monks in saffron robes, horse-drawn carriages, crowded markets, temple spires, beautiful sunsets, crowded city streets. So many images are playing a continuous slideshow in my head after returning home.
I can hear the clop clop of the horsedrawn carriage taxis in Bagan and the monks chanting over loud speakers for Buddhist Lent; I can still taste the wonderful tea leaf salad served everywhere and the fresh yummy papayas; I’ll never forget the views from climbing the ancient temples, or watching the water rush past from the boats we rode on Inle Lake.
But it always comes back to the children: I can still hear the kids in the crowded classroom singing and acting out “Where is Thumbkin?” in Burmese with big smiles on their faces. Or hearing the teachers tell us that some students don’t even have a pencil to write with; watching the happy looks on the teachers’ faces as they read the culture projects that students here created, and seeing the kids there complete their own for us to bring back to share. The warm handshakes from our partners, and their dedication and caring; the way that so many Myanmar people give back in any way they can, and how they were supportive of our work and mission.
All these things confirm and reinforce our dedication to bring books and teacher support to the classrooms and to learn more about our partners and support them.
Thanks for joining us on our journey.
These words only start to describe our first impressions of Inle Lake.
No matter where we stepped this afternoon, a distinctive sound resonated – clip/clop of the weaving looms, chanting of the monks, rumble of the long boat engines, hissing of the water spray as we skimmed across the lake, chattering of the birds nesting in our cabins, singing of the young Shan men silently paddling their canoes– each sound creating a memory more vivid and indelible than any photograph.
Approximately the size of Bainbridge Island and sitting at an elevation of 3,000 feet, the shallow lake is located in the mountainous Shan State, which produces the bulk of Myanmar’s fresh produce. With its homes, stores, and schools built on stilts above the water and its back alley waterways, it resembles a city living under flood conditions. Yet, this is their world, and they are extremely creative and progressive in their use of options and waste reduction.
All commerce, fishing, floating gardens, school transport, and young lover dates occurs by boat. It is a fascinating, tranquil way of life for the local Intha tribe and Shan people.
We three were truly transported to another world for a couple of days.
Each morning at 6, I go for a run to feed my endorphin needs and explore different parts of this city Yangon. With so many people literally living on the streets, the communities are awake and busy early in the day. I can go for miles in any direction and see the same scene of decaying British architecture intermingled with tin, tarp and wood dwellings. The sidewalks are risky even at a walk, with uneven wobbly blocks of concrete and whole sections missing or open to the sewer below. The middle of the street is safer early in the day when I only have to dodge the ubiquitous dogs, 3-wheeled bicycles and occasional ancient taxi.
We are staying in the heart of the original city, as laid out by the British, close to the Yangon River. I can run along the river on a concrete road that has no traffic and no view of the river, but is used by pedestrians, more dogs, impromptu youth soccer teams (playing barefoot with rocks delineating the sidelines and goal posts), semi-permanent fresh produce markets and an occasional motorcycle that, for unknown reasons, can only be used in Yangon by government officials.
Although my early morning run provides a certain unique perspective, the most powerful impressions have been from our meetings with the Myanmar people, especially those with the resources and education to act as ‘agents of change’ for their country. The commitment to giving back to their communities is a universal theme among these individuals. At the same time, they have a sense of urgency, excitement and trepidation, given the current window of opportunity to improve obsolete systems and bureaucracies. One of our contacts organized a nationwide conference on education reform for this last weekend in Yangon. During the same time period, he spent two days with us visiting nunnery schools that serve the country’s poorest children.
The work to improve education for Burmese children with the greatest need, using nontraditional methods, aligns well with my day job back in the U.S. It reinforces for me the universality of the commitment to education as a tool for improving the lives of children while sustaining their communities.
Today, International Teacher’s Day, we visited our two partner nunnery schools with flowers in hand to honor and recognize the teachers’ dedication. Even though our rosebuds wilted in the heat, we were greeted with gratitude and warmth.
Our first stop was Shule Myint Zu school, our designated literacy exchange partner. The enrollment is 200 students, grades 1 through 5, with a staff of six paid teachers and three volunteers, all female, plus the Head Nun. Some of the children are orphans, some come late after working with their parents in the morning, and some are novice nuns.
When we arrived, the students were busy working on their versions of the Hyla culture frames, templates with hand drawn pictures of themselves, information about their homes and villages, their families, and their daily lives.
We sat with the Head Nun and teachers to ask about their challenges, needs, and priorities. All agreed that classroom materials and salary supplements were at the top of the list.
The teachers are excited to participate in our literacy exchange, their faces lighting up with smiles and animation when we gave them the Hyla culture frames. They eagerly looked at pictures of American kids, and they will translate the culture frames both ways.
Myaing school is located outside the city in the factory zone. The road and housing conditions were a visible indication of the extreme poverty in this township. The Head Nun, eager to provide an education for all children, cannot turn away students, resulting in an enrollment of 600 students spread over 12 teachers. It’s a common dilemma here – poor education for many or quality education for a few: tough choice.
Sandy shot video at both schools – can’t wait to see the finished product! With a few hundred sweet faces surrounding us – and their beautiful teachers, we can’t go wrong!
What an energizing day – a productive and stimulating exchange of ideas and project plans with EE’s two Burmese partner organizations, Yinthway Foundation and Banyan Tree.
Yinthway conducts training for teachers in monastic and nunnery schools, focusing on instilling cultural identity and critical thinking via a child centered approach. EE is partnering with Yinthway to provide books, classroom materials, teacher training, and teacher salary supplements. As the average monthly salary for teachers in these poor communities is $20/month, we hope to improve their retention with supplemental income for these women who devote their lives to empowering children through education.
We’ll also be actively seeking funding to send Sandy back here to Yangon in January to video tape teacher training modules, an effective train the trainer approach to be used in the upcoming school year.
It was wonderful to finally meet face to face with Nwe Nwe, Yinthway’s director, and formalize specific project activities – also a delight to realize that both of our organizations are on the same page with priorities and goals.
Next stop, meeting and dinner with our school partner, Banyan Tree. These twelve committed, young Burmese educators walk the talk in their quest for democracy. They have no formal leader so all decisions are discussed and resolved as a democratic group. This isn’t always easy for them, but they are determined to make it work. They are passionate and totally devoted to changing their world through quality education.
We’re thrilled that their team is enthusiastic to join Bainbridge Island’s Hyla Middle School in an international literacy exchange. When we visit their nunnery schools tomorrow, the students will be introduced to the Hyla 6th grade students via the students’ ‘culture frames’. Each Hyla student sent a photo surrounded by drawings representative of their life and interests. We can’t wait to see the reaction of the Burmese students tomorrow!
Our discussions with both partners exceeded our expectations and hopes for collaborations to fulfill EE’s mission. It was a terrific day!
The Land of Myanmar
In the words of Rudyard Kipling, “this is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about."
It’s difficult for me to explain why this particular country and people have so touched my heart. However, for me, Burma (Myanmar) is different and I am thrilled to be back here again – especially at this amazing moment of historic change.
The energy and life here is vibrant and intense. We are jet lagged and a bit staggered by the heat and humidity. But it is exciting to be here and to begin carving out the path of our new venture to bring books and literacy to children and teachers in this amazing country.
Tomorrow, we meet with both organizational partners – finally, face-to-face conversations to determine where our ideas intersect with theirs. Ultimately, our impacts will only be successful and sustainable if we listen to their needs, capabilities, and creativity. It’s a partnership.
Today, we wandered the streets, acclimating ourselves to the bustle of daily life in Yangon. Tonight… a real night’s sleep.
On October 1st Melody, Laurie and I leave for Myanmar as ambassadors for Educational Empowerment. We'll visit monastic schools in the townships around the capital of Yangon and meet with teachers and monks. Meetings have been arranged with local children's book authors and publishers. We're also excited to meet our local partners at Yinthway Foundation where we published our first book, The Day When the Tsunami Came. (See our Pilot Project page) So stay tuned here and on our Facebook page for more details and photos from us on our journey.
After a year, I returned to Myanmar today. Politically, it appears that a lot has changed. I’m interested to see the reality of all that.
Arriving in Yangon, I was met at the airport by May from the Golden Lotus travel agency. As I have just four hours in the city before flying up to Bagan for the weekend, I enlisted the assistance of an agency for logistics.
My wish to May was granted – a one-on-one session with a monk at the Chanmyay Yeiktha Meditation Center. For the next two hours Sawaday Jutika spoke to me of loving kindness and meditation. An amazing teacher with a quick wit, he literally walked me through the stages of sitting and walking meditation. This was a memorable entry into Myanmar.