Event: Myanmar Trip, January 2013


January 2013 Trip Journal 

Yangon, Myanmar

January 23, 2013

Visit To Htet Kei Kwin – potential MBSPF school site

We went by boat from the docks in Yangon (half hour in a fast boat, $350) to Htet Kei Kwin where 240 children now attend school in two government built buildings that are two years old. The school is currently Mulan (middle school) but with new buildings will move to Alodar (both Primary and Middle Schools).

The village is on the river and, between the tides and monsoons, floods a couple of times a month. Therefore our contractor Maung says the new building needs a higher, more solid foundation than we usually build. There is currently one toilet for teachers and a double toilet for the kids but with only plastic sheeting for walls, no roof and no holding tanks when it floods. Four new toilets are needed.

The village makes its living by fishing (70%) and growing rice (30%). Three villages will use this enlarged school. The two current buildings are 40 x 30 and each needs a new plywood ceiling as the plywood ceiling in one is too thin and does not exist in the other.

Grades 6/7/8 would be housed in the old building, as would the office.

Now teachers have to take turns teaching because the classrooms are so crowded and there are no dividers.

The Education Officer visited with us. He is on side with the proposal so teachers will be supplied and paid by the government. Head Mistress Daw Zin Ma Tun has been here six years and lives in a house in the village. There were only 86 students when she first came.

U Ye Tun, the village chief, said the villagers would help with construction. There is enough room for a playground.

There are 320 houses in the village, and other villagers are a two-mile walk away, whis is not an unusual distance.

Villagers will have to sign over land to the Education Department, who will provide a document with their approval of the school.

We left Frisbees as a gift for the children. John’s group, who came with us to see the school, distributed books and uniforms.

We went back by boat to the Strand for a drink. Nice hotel. Very posh. But the Classique is home.

January 24  Mandalay Area

Up at 4 AM and off to the airport. Two flights leaving for Mandalay at the same time on two different airlines. John explained why: cronyism, I believe was the short answer.

Stopped briefly in Bagan and most of the tourists left, then a whole new crowd got on. Leaving the airport in Mandalay, John drew a gasp of excitement from the waiting drivers when his longi slid to his knees as we exited the airport. General laughter followed as the Burmese don’t wear underwear. Luckily, John does.

Yge Nge School, Pyin Oo Lwin – MBSPF 2012 School

We drove to Pyin Oo Lwin on a pretty good road- only a couple of detours now. Lots of road building going on, some of it mechanized, but much, as always, done by women and children carrying buckets of stones on their heads. The pay is good.

We went to first to Yge Nge where we built a 120 x 30 school and four toilets last year. We have a wonderful history here: of the three buildings, we built two and fixed up the third. It is a good school and they are happy with all that has been done. There is really nothing more for us to do here.

The new (almost finished) building will house two grades 8s and a grade 9 plus an office. Partitions will be installed (not by us); these will allow for a big community room. MMG will move the old toilets down to the corner of the property so they will no longer overflow across the yard in the rains. A wall around the school to divert water is also needed to finish here.

They have gone from 444 students to 506. There are 14 teachers and a new teacher will be hired next year. There are 26 blind students who have special teachers. They are at Yge  Nge two days a week. We handed out uniforms and notebooks to the primary grades; the older children will get theirs on official opening day, likely in February. We met with the villagers and asked them to paint the school if we pay half the cost of the paint. They agreed.

All the broken windows have been fixed by Maung. (There were several). We mentioned this to the villagers and they were reminded that they must maintain the school. They agreed. 20 men from the village were there. Their families had each donated money to build a section of wall around the schoolyard.  There were plaques with their names inscribed, Burmese style.

The education officer, Oo Thein Soe, was there. He visits monthly and is ‘very happy’ with the new building.

One of the teachers, Oo Maung Ngwe, speaks good English and the headmaster is Oo Kyew Myint.

Roger threw a frisbee around for a while with the children. Then, with the head master, the education officer, and several villagers, we went on to…

Inyer –  potential MBSPF school site

A half-hour drive from Pyin Oo Lwin, in a fertile valley, a school of 250 students and 28 pre-schoolers with 8 teachers paid by the government. The school is currently housed on monastery property. This is no longer satisfactory and the school is to move to a nearby 5 acre site owned by the village. The site has already been leveled by a bulldozer. There are 206 houses in the village and we are told there are 4 more villages in the area that would use the school. They would like a 120 x 30 Mulan for grades 6, 7 and 8. There are now 35 in grade 6, 37 in grade 7, and 37 in grade 8, total 100. They also need a 100 x 30 primary school for grades 1 to 5. They will get some money from the government but will get none if it is built on monastery land.

The village may build one school. The education department wants the school moved and will help. The current buildings are not too bad, although they are very dark.

Sharon liked the village.

We then went to town for lunch at a restaurant (Feel) that John always goes to. Very pretty, on the water. Then we drove back to Mandalay and headed to the Emerald Land Inn. There are a lot of mosquitoes in Mandalay and most of them were at a convention in Kamala’s room.

Only Sharon ate dinner.

Beds were either brick-hard or enveloping. Duke and Kamala changed rooms next morning.

January 25th

Hta Naung Daing, Bagan area – potential MBSPF school site

Left Emerald Land Inn with John and MMG at 9.00 am to visit Hta Naung Daing, which was approximately three hours away on good roads towards Bagan. This included a stop for the requisite milky tea and Dim Sum. Along the way we passed a golf course, which excited John and Roger.

When we arrived at the school, even though it was a school holiday, we were met with many teachers and villagers. The village consists of 880 houses with over 3,000 people, while the school has 7 buildings in a variety of deteriorating conditions, with 1,564 students. We were given a booklet in English, the most complete we have ever received, which answered almost all our questions. They asked for a 4 over 4 school to help alleviate crowding in the intermediate school.

We took a tour of the school grounds and it became obvious that they not only needed a larger school to take care of the overcrowding but they needed to tear down and replace almost 50% of the buildings. We were very impressed by the cleanliness and upkeep of the school.

The total obvious need is overwhelming and would take many years to complete given our available funds.

We talked about the possibility of building a 30 x120 middle school, and we requested their help in building the school, not only volunteer labor but also some financial help in order to add additional rooms. They said that they would get back to us within 30 days. John also said that he would contact the Myanmar education department that referred the school to see if they could provide additional funds.

The villagers felt that there is approximately 20 to 40 children who cannot afford to go to school because they don’t have enough money for uniforms and supplies. We asked Maung to supply those for them.

We arrived back home at 4.30 and met John for dinner at the Café City. We sat in different rooms, each wondering where the other was for enough time to think we were in the wrong place, but finally straightened it out and found each other.  The hardships of travelling!



January 26th

Daw Hut Taw – an MBSPF school under construction

John and Maung picked us up and we started at Daw Hut Taw Village, which is only 12 miles from Mandalay, where we are presently building a 120 x 30 with 8 toilets. We arrived to find MMG’s crew plus 100 villagers all carrying cement and pouring it into the forms. Very impressive. They have one 5-room building completed last year, funded by the government, but the other 2-3 buildings were in very bad shape. They were well organized and gave us a detailed brochure in English which contained all the details that we need. This school will serve a village of 445 households in a seven-mile square area around the school.

A lavish meal was ready for us and many villagers had gathered to work and to greet us.

MMG expects to complete the project mid -March.

Gandamar –  MBSPF 2012 School

We then went on to visit Gandamar, a school project which we built last year and was officially opened two weeks ago by the Minister of Education for Myanmar. The whole school grounds had a fence around it and trees have been planted.

Maung Maung Gyi’s family came to the school and met us.  His wife’s name is Khin Myo Newe. Son #1 is Htoo Lwin Maung and son #2 is Htoo Lwin Khink. It was very good to meet them.

In the first school they gave us two enormous bunches of bananas which did not stop Kamala from carrying off a few more from the lunch that was prepared for us!

We closed our visit with Roger handing out Frisbees that had been donated by Susan and Ian Chubb of Deep Cove. The children quickly learned how to play and mayhem ensued. Wonderful give-away!

Kan Kwaye –  MBSPF 2012 School

The final visit was at Kan Kwaye, a school that is almost entirely finished. The children were present and we handed out notebooks, pencils and uniforms. As we were leaving, we handed out Frisbees.

The yard needs to be raised up about a foot. Maung suggested using the materials from the old building to build a new two-room addition.

Kamala and I both tried the new toilets. There was no water in the cistern and no place to wash, though we were brought water. We questioned the sanitary condition of the new bathroom because it is such an easy way to spread disease.

On the way home, Roger and Duke and John played golf! Only nine holes, and Roger played extremely well according to him, but somehow he still lost money to Duke. Kamala was introduced to Golf Culture and practiced teasing with some success—but she is not as good as Steve yet!

On the way home, Kamala and Sharon had lunch at Ko’s Kitchen and then had to find a ride home in the back of a truck. Big adventure. Pictures available.


January 28, 2013.

From Mandalay to Heho

We left our hotel at 6.30 am to fly from Mandalay to Heho. We were met by Ernest Singh the local education officer, whom Steve and Ernest had spent time with last year. When we reached the village, we could hear the band that was celebrating our arrival playing loudly, but we couldn’t drive there because of the big hole in the road. So we arrived on foot to a full ceremonial greeting. Always heart-opening to see such hope that we can help.

Paw Nie Yar Thit – potential MBSPF school site

There are 500 people in 95 houses and 73 students in the village of Paw Nie Yar Thit. The teachers are now being paid by the village and the students are in the local monastery.

If we build a 60 by 30 school, the government will pay for two teachers. The new school is to be on two acres that the village has been given for the school. They would like us to build the school, 3 toilets and to help with the cost of the teachers’ residence. They agreed that they would pay part of the residence. They will also supply labour, sand, rocks, bricks and bamboo.

The village is healthy and well-led. We ate lunch in the head man’s home, where a picture of Aung San and one of their Sayadaw held the place of honour on the wall.

Taung Myay Char – potential MBSPF school site

We then bounced our way through incredibly dusty, dry country to Taung Myay Char. This is a village of 300 house and 1,500 people. It has a small primary school building with over 200 students. They requested two buildings from us: a 30 by 120 middle school and a couple of new rooms for the primary school.

The present school conditions are bad and improvements are sorely needed. Grade 5 is presently being held in the teachers’ house and the three teachers are living in terrible conditions elsewhere. They are very demoralized by these hardships. The village was not expecting our visit, so the Head Mistress was flustered and she and the Head Man were not clear on where they wanted the new building.

Roger suggested we consider first building a 30 by 60 building which should help with the overcrowding. Ernest and the Education Official will revisit to get more clarity from the villagers about they can contribute.  We left feeling rather overwhelmed by the task.

January 30, 2013

Taung Bo Kwe – potential MBSPF school site

Woke up to a gray overcast day that changed into a very wet day. We then went to Taung Bo Kwe, a village that Ma Sumavati suggested needed a school. As we drove out there the weather became increasingly worse, with rain, wind and cold. When we arrived at the school there were no children at the school as the headmistress had let them all go home earlier. (Zinc roofs are very noisy when the rain is coming down.)

It turned out that they would like to have a new two story 30 by 90 building to alleviate the overcrowding in the school. We felt that there seemed to be little need and what they seemed to need most was to maintain the present buildings in better condition. They did need a couple of additional toilets.

January 31, 2013

Heho Airport, returning to Yangon

I am sitting in the Heho airport waiting for a (delayed) flight back to the heat of Yangon. As usual, there are several promising projects here and more work than we can do. But every year it gets easier with our builders and the Education Officials and we understand more clearly what projects make sense for us to take on.