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New school means new hope in Burma

By July 9, 2015

Burma (PRD/MNN) — For the past 3 years, Partners Relief and Development‘s Sustainable Schools Program has helped impoverished communities start their own community-run businesses by providing seed money to help get the businesses up and running. There are now 27 communities in Shan State and 1 in Karen State that are helping educate their kids through profits from their businesses. The community businesses cover a wide range of activities including cattle, micro-loans, corn, rice, and agricultural tools trading.

Here’s an example of one of the communities Partners is helping. The village (which cannot be named for security reasons) has existed for 50 years and is far from the city and also far from the main road. The road is dirt, so in the rainy season it takes an hour’s walk and another hour’s drive to get to the city. The 35 households in the village rely on highland farming, growing rice and corn; some also raise cows.

A school had never existed in the village, because the parents need their children to help with farming and also to take care of younger siblings. The political situation is changing in Shan State, so the local authorities encouraged the villagers to start a school. In 2014 the villagers started a school during the summer vacation. In order to get the children to come to school, the villagers formed a committee and visited every home to encourage parents to send their children to school.

Photo Courtesy Partners Relief and Development

(Photo Courtesy Partners Relief and Development)

The children who were under 12-years-old are taught in the mornings while those above 12 are taught in the evenings. A total of 59 students attend the school. There is one female teacher, supplemented by some part time volunteer teachers.

The Partners project committee decided to issue micro loans with 3% interest per month to interested villagers. In this community, there are now 59 children in school because of the profits from the sustainable businesses the community is running to provide micro loans. These loans also further protect the community as these low-interest loans enable villagers to avoid the threat of debt slavery that often comes through borrowing from loan sharks.

Why is a school such a big deal? Education is often the only way a child can escape the clutches of poverty. Without schooling, children will be forced to live in the same situation they’ve always been in, and no parent wants that for their child. In Burma, it’s especially important as the corruption of the government bleeds into the police and military forces, and Royhingya refugees flock to Burmese shores.

The community leaders of the village said: “Our village is very far from the city. It is a strategic location for ethnic armed groups. A few years ago, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Na Yai group, one of the Myanmar/Burmese proxy armies who are also one of the main drug producers (amphetamine, heroin etc.), set up an outpost camp close to our village. We have often been forced to relocate by the Myanmar/Burmese army in the past. We have had no opportunity for education for decades. I only can read and write Shan. We were encouraged to stay here and to have a school. The local authorities also pay a partial stipend for the teacher. We feel very encouraged that we have this project to run our school.“

Partners Relief and Development is able to distribute food and medical supplies to local areas in Shan State through the Sustainable Schools Program. You can help support the establishment of even more schools across Burma.

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