musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Giving Back to the Village

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Whenever I visit Myanmar, I spend a lot of my time in Shan State, specifically the little village of Tat Ein, just down the dusty (and at this time of year definitely muddy) road from Nyaungshwe, famous as being the “gateway” to scenic Inle Lake, one of the country’s most visited tourist spots.

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Over the past six years I’ve taught English classes at the village’s primary school, donated shoes and first-aid boxes and medicine, and taken the village kids and monks on field trips to places in the area such as the Pindaya caves, the annual balloon festival in Taunggyi, the Pa-O ruins at Kakku, and other places of interest. I also spend a lot of time at the village’s monastery, taking photos of the novice monks or handing over my camera and letting them take the shots. Good silly fun. Monks and students, parents and teachers; they are all a sincerely kind and friendly group of people, and I feel privileged to know them.

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My friend Ma Pu Sue lives in Nyaungshwe, where she works as a tour guide and runs the Bamboo Delight cooking class with her husband Lesly. She also makes frequent trips to the village, visiting her brother (who is a senior monk at the monastery) or making donations to the school and monastery. I value her opinion and listen to her suggestions. After getting to know some of the novice monks and students in the village, I wanted to do more for them, so I asked her what I could do to help some of them continue their education. Too often, many of these kids are forced to drop out of school at an early age — sometimes as soon as they have finished the fourth grade — because either the parents can’t afford to keep the child in school or they are needed to work and help earn money for the family.

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Sue talks with many of these students and novice monks (some days they walk by her house during their morning alms rounds). After I made by request to help, she asked some of the older students what they needed for school and came up with a list of items and how much it would cost. When I was in Nyaungshwe back in June I gave here some money for this “program” and last month I wired her another chunk of money to help top-off the fund. Diligent as always, Sue made the donation, bought the items needed, and presented them to U Sandimarr (the saya daw, or head monk, at the monastery) and the students themselves. She also sent me these photos of the recipients. Hopefully, this will be the start of a continuing program to help these kids stay in school.

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