April 16, 2017 at 8:37 am · · Comments Off on So Much More Than Bricks and Mortar

So Much More Than Bricks and Mortar

An MBSPF-funded school brings the promise of a brighter
future for farming families.

Text and photos: Quade Hermann

“If people have no education, they have no life.”

The words of U Kyaw Kyaw Tun, the President of They Phyu Chaung Village Council, are met with nods of approval from the 50 or so parents sitting along the walls inside the old school room. The room is half renovated; the bamboo walls and roof have been torn down and replaced with concrete and corrugated metal. Close by, a second new and larger school building is also taking shape thanks to the volunteer work of the villagers and the financial support of the Myanmar/Burma Schools Project Foundation. Together the two school buildings represent a turning point for this farming village of about 250 households just north of Yangon.

Maung Maung Gyi (centre, on phone), head of the construction company working with MBSPF to build schools in Myanmar. He’s passionate about what the new school can do for the families in this village. Beside him is Naga Sema, a monk from the nearby meditation centre, who has personally donated a lot to the development of They Phyu Chaung over the years.

“People are talking because of the new school,” says Win Khing, a mother of two whose daughter started kindergarten last year. “It has brought a new excitement to the village. If you go to people’s houses they talk a lot, they have new ideas.” Like most of her neighbours, Win Khing left school after grade four to work in the fields, but she has a different future in mind for her daughter: university, and the world beyond the village.

Some 200 children will be able to stay in their home village and stay in school up to Standard 8 thanks to the generosity of MBSPF.

The excitement about the school is shared by Headmistress Daw Win Mar. With her hair swept back in a tight bun, she is upright and elegant in her bright white teacher’s blouse and long dark green skirt. She has been teaching in They Phyu Chaung for 30 years. Everyone falls respectfully quiet when she speaks.

“It was hard in the old school,” she says. The roof and walls were made of bamboo, open to the rain, the cold, the insects and the heat. “In the rainy season, the children get wet. In the dry season, they are too hot to think. In the cold months, they get sick. And they are too easily distracted by looking through a hole in the wall to watch someone walk past.”

The new school building has thick walls, big windows and has been positioned specifically to catch the cooling breeze that blows across the fields at certain times of day. But the new building will bring more than comfort for the students and an increased ability to concentrate on learning.

There is no electricity in the village, no air conditioning, so the new building is positioned to catch the cooling breeze. The walls are 10” thick, twice that of a normal school, which will keep the inside cooler in summer and warmer in winter and be strong enough to withstand the earthquakes that regularly rumble across Myanmar.

Teachers’ quarters. The teachers’ cottage will sleep six. A new government regulation will see teachers rotate jobs and villages every five years. Good living quarters will help attract teachers to the school, and keep them comfortable. “If the teachers are happy, then they will do a good job and the children will be happy,” says Maung Maung Gyi.

“Until now after Standard 4 the children have to leave this school and go to another town. They must walk about 30 minutes to the highway and then travel seven miles to the school,” explains Maung Maung Gyi, the head of the construction company working with MBSPF to build this school and several others. “The people in the village are all farmers, some quite poor. Only a few can send their children to the next town and even then they have to give them food for the week. It’s expensive. Students who cannot study after Standard 4 they go to work, then marry and have children. They stay poor.”

Maung Maung Gyi’s (centre) with his construction team. Crews of volunteers from the village have also contributed to the project by helping to dig the foundation and other labour-intensive tasks.

Thanks to the generosity of MBSPF and the support of the government in providing more teachers, the school will eventually offer classes through Standard 8, which means all the children in this village – especially girls – will be able to stay in school longer. Statistics show what these parents already know by common sense: the longer their children stay in school, the brighter their future will be.

“You can give children money, they can win the lottery,” says U Kyaw Kyaw Tun. “But without an education they won’t know what to do with it. Education is the most important thing.” The parents nod and smile again, because they know their children will have a better chance now at getting this most important thing.

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