Today, Myanmar lags far behind the developed world in terms of educational standards. With an increasing need for human capital, the government of Myanmar has initiated important steps to improve the educational system as a national priority. However, significant challenges remain and there is still a lot to do in terms of infrastructure and access to resources such as limited access to textbooks, school supplies, libraries in rural communities and teaching styles are based on rote learning. On top of these constraints, the improvement of education in Myanmar is further complicated by a lack of qualified teachers and classrooms that are overcrowded.
Studer Trust's vision is to ensure that every child has access to a quality education. Since 2005 we have helped build the needed infrastructures such as school buildings, at both monastic and government schools in Myanmar. One of Studer Trust’s wishes is to support the regions which have historically experienced social strife and have remained isolated from the rest of Myanmar. This wish became a reality when abbot U Wimala from Kengtung area contacted Studer Trust in 2015. Abbot U Wimala is originally from Mandalay and now lives in a village about 2 and half hours drive from Kengtung. He came to the Kengtung area in 2010 and discovered many villages were still experiencing poor living conditions and had benefited from little infrastructure development. He decided to stay in the area and help to promote educational opportunities in the surroundings.
In early March 2017, the Studer Trust team set out on a mission to visit and learn more about the isolated communities near Kentung. All 7 schools which the team visited are situated in extremely remote villages, requiring several hours of travel by motorcycle and all-terrain vehicles. These villages are one of the few places left in Asia where it’s possible to see local hill tribes, such as the Akha, Ann, Lahu, Lahu Shi, Wa and Palaung wearing their traditional clothes and embracing their tribal culture.
As we headed by motorcycle deeper into the Shan mountains, about 4'000 to 6'000ft above sea level, we occasionally passed a number of remote villages. We saw bamboo huts on the slope of the mountains, villagers at work, and a few opium and beautiful rice fields. We traveled on unmarked dirt roads, with no map and little mobile signal but we consistently felt the warm welcomes and generosity of all the local communities. We were a little nervous when our four-wheeled vehicle broke down when it was beginning to get dark. The brakes were not working properly as we drove on the way back to Kengtun town. The abbot U Winmala was our designated driver and we thanked him for his careful driving. We had no choice but using very narrow trails, crossing a few creeks to commute from one village to another; yet we were constantly amazed by the beautiful scenery. There were all together 6 motorcycles set aside for travelling. 4 of us were assigned to sit tight at the back of each motorcycle and without our wonderful drivers we could not have completed this important mission.
During our two-day trip, we witnessed that the existing buildings were largely dilapidated and often did not meet basic health and safety standards. The hunger for education we experienced was astounding. We strongly believe that investing to promote the education in this villages will reduce poverty and inequity, increase household incomes, improve individual and family health, strengthen the communities and expand economic development. It will also promote lasting peace by helping to build national unity in an area that has a long history for fighting and civil strife.
After the visits, Studer Trust decided to support 2 new school buildings at Tar Pha' and Wunn Khall schools. We plan to work in full partnership with local community leaders, the schools and the abbot while seeking the support of district authorities and agreement with national government. Furthermore, the teachers from Tar Pha' and Wunn Khall schools will have opportunities to participate in a 10-week teacher trainings at The Teachers Training Center (TTC) in Mandalay, a program of Studer Trust. TTC exists to equip teachers and school leaders with the knowledge, skills and tools to provide a transformative quality of education for children studying in Studer Trust affiliated schools.