Our contractors in Myanmar, John Stevens and Maung Maung Gyi, also build schools under their own 100 Schools organization banner. They have recently built an inter-ethnic, inter-faith school in the Wakema township located in the southwest of Myanmar, also known as the delta region of the Ayayarwady River.
John Stevens has some interesting observations about the villagers working together to help build the school. His story sheds a different light on the relations between Buddhists, tribal peoples and Muslims in Myanmar. Given news reports of violence between Buddhists and Muslims there, his contrasting story of them working together peacefully is valuable and encouraging.
“I thought you (and everyone else of us for that matter) might be interested in hearing a bit about the ethnic and inter faith school that we’ve been building in Wakema township. Maung Maung Gyi and I were shown a situation that pretty much put itself at the top of the list as far as which project of the five we would do first when given the chance. What made us so eager to take on this project was that it presented us with a situation that we had had very limited experience with in the past. This was an opportunity to build a school that was not just exclusively for the Burmese Bamar tribe but one which would also educate the children of another ethnic group (Karen) as well as another religion ( Muslim). This school could and would become the designated learning ground for the children from four distinctly different villages, one Burmese Buddhist, two which are Karen, and the fourth which is completely Muslim.
Since May 1st when construction began, the volunteer workers have all come regularly and equally from the four villages and have worked harmoniously side by side on each day that we’ve required their help. The only small noteworthy yet understandable event came on the first day, as we were about to do our traditional groundbreaking ceremony by offering incense to the Buddha. Just as we began lining up for he ceremony the Muslim volunteer workers did an immediate disappearing act but returned again as soon as the incense had burned out.
I think what foreigners who rely solely on the information they get from the newspapers are not aware of is that although the Buddhists and the Muslims in Myanmar are not what you might call bosom buddies, in most areas of the country they have no difficult problems with each other and these unfortunate incidents that have been in the news lately are more the exception rather than the rule.
It would be nice to see this new school become a model of how an inter faith and multi ethnic school in Myanmar can cohabit and become co-educated without difficulties.”……. John Stevens