Ernest Singh is a gentle, soft-spoken man who was born in Kalaw and has lived his entire life there. He was a very young child when the Japanese invaded Burma during WWII but he remembers hiding in the hills to escape them. Both he and wife were school-teachers but she passed away in 1987. Ernest taught English for grade 5 children and later worked leading trekkers throughout the hills around Kalaw and up to Inle Lake. He started construction in 2006 after some Australian trekkers gave him some funds to build a small school in one remote village that they’d passed through while trekking.
Ernest and his wife had three sons and two of them, Kyaw Kyaw and Ko Zaw Win, work with Ernest building schools and rural medical clinics for MBSPF. They have a crew of 15 workers and they all stay in the villages as they are working on the new buildings.
We have loads of great memories about our travels in the Kalaw hills with Ernest. Our first trip with him to Sintaung involved the jeep sliding off the muddy cow track into the ditch necessitating the villagers pulling it out with their oxen. We then had to walk on RR tracks for about 3 hours to reach the village. We also have memories of Ernest taking us up mountains on the backs of very small motorcycles or else wedged on top of rice in the back of a truck bed to reach remote villages. Ernest has been a catalyst for expanding the work we’ve done and our trips with him have been the most unpredictable, fun and varied.
Recently, when we travel with Ernest to find building sites, a hard-working and dedicated Education Office for Kalaw Township, U Thein Kyaw Aye, goes with us, taking us to see the villagers and schools most in need of our help. It’s a far cry from the early days when the officials that travelled with us seemed mainly interested in whether or not we were subversive and dangerous. Now, every year, thanks to Ernest’s good work, U Thein Kyaw Aye asks us to come back.
Ernest’s deep love both for the children and for the future of his country of Myanmar was evident from our first conversation with him. Thanks to his school-building, Ernest has become something of a local celebrity. This year, 2017, we are building a school in one Kalaw village because the local monk had heard of him and travelled twice to Ernest’s home, asking him to come and see the conditions in his village.