Our mission in Myanmar
Myanmar 2015 Update – Overcoming Challenges
UWS has been present in Myanmar since 2013, and since 2014 we have been building and supporting community schools in the Shan State.
Over the coming months in 2015 we plan to continue development of the five schools in the original Phekon hub and refine the UWS Community School model for Myanmar. Seven new UWS Community schools are planned for our second hub near Techileik, in Eastern Shan, to open in early 2016.
We found our second Techileik cluster near the Thailand border last year. We identified seven villages that – after thorough research and community visits – were confirmed to be a good fit for the UWS model. They are home to around 2000 children with no school to attend; the need for schools is great, the poverty extreme.
Kyar Tear Toe Bo and Naung Kyant began development in July 2015. From September 2015, Nankaing Nay and Wien Wa will begin. Subsequently Hway Hwe and Phak Ei will be developed. By building on the success of the 2014 UWS Myanmar School Development Projects, UWS is changing these areas of significant educational poverty. Schools will begin to open in January 2016.
At the moment, our key priorities are the recruitment and development of the Myanmar team, and gaining NGO status at federal level. These key priorities must be addressed alongside the usual priorities of building and infrastructure, sourcing teachers, staffing and developing community and government engagement.
New challenges face the UWS Myanmar team every day, but remoteness is a challenge UWS are well acquainted with. We teach the unreached. We work in some of the poorest and most remote regions in the world to improve educational opportunities for children who need them most. In Myanmar, even to visit the remote areas we work in, an application needs to be made to the state authorities; a business visa is essential.
Geographical and political factors also pose further challenges. In Kyar Tear T B, Wien Wa and Naung Kyant, building and infrastructure of the four classrooms, library and teacher room in each school is made extremely difficult by the monsoon season.
Rain and flooding also leave these remote villages even more isolated. Nankaing Nay is impossible to access during the monsoon when the river is flooded and difficult to cross. The government cannot afford to reach these out of school children, so UWS schools are vital to ensure children have access to education at the end of the monsoon.
Myanmar has recently suffered widespread political repression and ethnic conflict and remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Over recent years Myanmar has dramatically changed; it is a country in political transition. Consequently, formalising our relationship with the autonomous Shan State government and local education system is all the more important. UWS have met with the Minister of Education for the Shan State, who has endorsed our work and given us the licence to operate.
These are just some of the day-to-day challenges that UWS faces when teaching the unreached. Nonetheless, UWS remains determined. By January 2016, UWS will have enrolled over 2,000 children across 12 schools in Myanmar.
Forming the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, Myanmar is the largest country in mainland South East Asia and has three mountain ranges running north-to-south from the Himalayas. These mountain chains divide Myanmar’s three river systems, the Irrawaddy, Salween and Sittang Rivers, which supports a rich ecosystem. Myanmar has historically been an agricultural economy, although this can be expected to diversify in the coming decades.
Myanmar has recently suffered widespread political repression and ethnic conflict and remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Over recent years Myanmar has dramatically changed. The November 2010 elections marked the beginning of a remarkable process of political and economic liberalisation in the country.
Yet fundamental challenges remain. In a region containing some of the fastest growing economies in the world, Myanmar has widespread poverty and vulnerability. According to UNDP, a quarter of the population do not have enough money to meet their basic food and living needs and the country is off track to reach many of the Millennium Development Goals including that of education.
10% of children in the country, about 400,000, have no school to attend. Just 1% of Myanmar’s GDP is spent on education, less than almost any other nation in the world. Myanmar also suffers amongst the highest rates of malaria, malnutrition (especially amongst children) and tuberculosis in the world.
The impact of decades of conflict includes human rights abuses, severe poverty and displacement is significent. An estimated half a million people are still internally displaced in eastern Myanmar alone, and 140,000 continue to live in refugee camps in Thailand. The agricultural sector, once the rice basket of the region, and still the main source of income for 70% of the population, remains unproductive, uncompetitive and low value, with over 15 million people dependent on seasonal, non-farm work which is inadequate year-round.