Update on progress, May, 2014, from Chris
In May 2013, Chris Howarth, UWS Founder and Director, returned from a research trip to Burma. During the trip Chris examined locations for building UWS schools.
The recommendation is that UWS works in 5 villages as a pilot. Here are the highlights from Chris’s report.
Five Village Proposal
“Burma is a country in political transition, some would say a renaissance; however one of its many beauties is that the age old cultures are still intact after differing forms of government and political instability.”
“The country hosts around 136 different tribes, many of whom have their own language, and these live in harmony with the Burmese people. Traditional costumes and head wear are prevalent and many cover their faces in the traditional make up ‘thanakha’. Men wear the skirt like ‘longyi’ and western fashions and style are yet to make an impact.
Away from the tourist trails, foreigners may cause some trepidation for the tribal people, but genuine warmth and hospitality greet the traveller everywhere.”
“Religion has a strong influence on the people; perhaps far more so than in other SE Asian countries such as Thailand, Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Buddhism is the central faith. On arrival in Yangon the inspiring Shwedagon Paya sets a tone that spreads through the country. Many monks of all ages are seen and stupas cover the landscape and skyline.
This exists comfortably along with the Christian faith which is present in its many forms. The tribal people visited can be Roman Catholic or Buddhist.
Islamic groups also live here and an uneasy relationship exists with the predominant Buddhists in some areas. This has previously manifested in violence which has restricted travel to some of the more sensitive areas.”
“Travel around the country is straightforward as long as one does not stray from the established tourist routes. Comfortable overnight coaches are readily available. However to visit the more remote areas, and certainly those villages where UWS would like to work, an application needs to be made to the state authorities. A business visa is essential. It can take up to 4 weeks for permission to be given.”
“Shan State is to the east of the country. Its capital Taunggyi, near Inle Lake is popular with tourists. Shan is the spoken language and the state is the home of 36 different tribes. Its geography varies from the flat central lake area to jungle covered mountains which rise to over 10000 feet. The temperature in the winter months can drop to below freezing in the mountain areas. The roads in the mountain areas are rough tracks. A 4×4 is essential if these routes are to be used.
In the past there has been friction between the Kayin people, whose state is to the south of Shan, and the government forces. Similar other ‘insurgent’ groups have been in conflict to the east. An agreement has now been reached and travel in these areas is now without any fear or risk. The correct papers are essential however.
Eastern Shan does host some poppy plantations but at present this poses no threat to NGO groups involved in health, clean water and education. UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, UNODC and FAO have worked in this area for a number of years without incident.
UWS can work in this area in the knowledge that all investments and personnel are safe and secure.”
“The impression gained is that if a pin was stuck into any remote area of a map of Burma one would find the education structure in need of support.
UWS, on the advice of a number of development agencies and the Burmese Ambassador in London, believe that Shan State fits the UWS profile. Further, the area to the south of Inle Lake, near Loikaw, is also a perfect match for UWS. It is envisaged that the project centre would be the town of Phekhong which rests on the SE shores of Inle Lake.
From here a number of mountain tribal villages can be reached all of which are in need of support. This support would take the form of primary education grades 1 to 4, but in some areas may extend to grade 7.
The recommendation is that UWS works in 5 villages as a pilot.
Other villages were visited but for various reasons were seen as unsuitable for UWS support. Future developments could include villages in East Shan State or in Kayin State further south.”
Five Village Proposal
The village of Ballram is a 2 hour 4×4 journey from Phekhong. The people are Lah Tah and those met were both Roman Catholic and Buddhist. There are 80 households in the village (predominantly Roman Catholic) which support a population of 487 people.
5 years ago the village leadership saved sufficient money to build a substantial foundation for a school. Unfortunately they have been unable to raise sufficient finance to complete the building.
At present the children have no school to attend the nearest being a difficult walk away. The proposition is that UWS should finance the completion of this building. A local builder has been asked to forward the plans and an estimate.
It was agreed at a village meeting that Buddhist children from the surrounding area would also attend the school increasing the catchment area and advancing the potential enrolment to over 500 children. The position of this school is excellent and the villagers agreed to all the UWS conditions.
The villagers are Kayan Padaung. These women are known as the ‘long necks’ due to the ancient custom of fitting young girls with brass neck-rings. This pushes the shoulders away from the head and reduces head size.
The 2 village sections comprise of over 90 households supporting a population of 800 plus. The villagers at the village meeting agreed to all UWS conditions.
The proposed site for the school was inspected and seen to be an ideal position on good flat land between the two village sections. Water is available and a connection can be made to the school. An engineer has been asked to forward an estimate.
The Director of Education for South Shan has been asked to provide teachers for this proposed school.
If there is a more beautiful setting for a school I have yet to see it. MaeYay is extremely remote, being a 2 hour 4×4 journey followed by a one hour moto ride away from Phekhong. The mountain scenery is spectacular but this has also served to isolate this village.
The people are La Tah and the village comprises of 36 households with a population of 166. It is built on a spur high above the valley floor thus flat land is at a premium. The water supply is a natural spring. An on-site observation was the large number of infants still in mother’s arms. The villagers have built a small bamboo ‘hut’ which serves as a school on village community land.
The state authorities provide two teachers who live in the village but need to take the 2.5 hour walk out to receive pay and supplies. At a village meeting the leaders asked UWS if we could support them in building a more substantial 3 classroom school using local wood. Roof plates and furniture would have to be transported into the village.
Hansea is a three hour journey from Phekhong. The village is of the Kayan La- Htach tribe and comprises of 90 households and a population of 600 plus. Hansea is made up of three different village sections all of which would be supported by the school.
In existence is a long wooden school building with no sections or classrooms. All four primary grades are taught there by two government teachers. The facilities are extremely basic with a few benches on view. There were no teaching aids, books or resources. Some parts of the wooden structure need to be replaced.
At an excellent communicative village meeting the popular vote by far was to renovate the wooden school at a minimum cost and to build three more brick classrooms to allow for post primary education to 7th grade. The villagers held the view that the children needed the opportunity to continue their education past grade 4. The State authorities should be approached to provide the extra teachers.
The UWS policy is to provide education to the age of 11 or 12 years or grade 6. Such a request is therefore possible within the current UWS model.
The people are of the Kayan La –Htach tribe. It is surrounded by steep jungle covered hills, and all available land is used for agriculture. A crowded village meeting was held where all UWS conditions were agreed.
The village has a wooden school structure which is in need of repair and renovation. There are no sections or classrooms and resources are minimal: a few benches but no visible teaching equipment. The building could be renovated, replacing most of the upright supports and painting the tin roof, giving perhaps a further 10 years of life. There is already a water supply. There are two government teachers who live in good community supported teacher houses.
UWS Director and Founder