Thursday, September 11, 2014

Visiting a school in the Ywar Thit Gyi village

A few days ago I visited the school of the Ywar Thit Gyi village at the invitation of Ms Nobuko Shoda from MESO Myanmar. From Yangon it took us more than 2 hours to arrive in the village travelling both by car and boat. It seems that in the dry season the village can be reached by car, on a road which was now a very muddy path between two rice fields at the edge of the village.

I wrote about the Myanmar Education Support Organisation (MESO) and their MESO soap. MESO supports 16 children in the Ywar Thit Gyi school through monthly scholarships of 20,000 KS (around 20 USD). The money is spent on school uniforms, books and the national examination fee which must be paid by each student so that they can attend the exam at the end of the school year.

We left Yangon at 9h30, drove south and we crossed the over 3 km long bridge which connects Yangon to Thanlyn Township. The road took us through suburbs and villages where everything happens around the main road: small tea shops, restaurants, pagodas, shops, houses and the jungle were lining the street. On the sides, people watching while drinking tea, motorbikes, goats, chickens and dogs were completing the picture. At one moment I saw a man taking a shower in front of his house which was between a shop and a restaurant. He was pouring the water on his soapy hair with a pan! 

The boat was waiting for us at the jetty in the Kyauk Tan town (Thanlyn Township). From this jetty the tourists can take a small boat to bring them to the Kyaik Hmaw Wun Ye Lai Pagoda on an islet in the Kyaik Hmaw Wun Creek. The boat had plastic chairs on the deck and a very noisy and big engine. 

The life around and on the river is quite busy so we were not bored or annoyed by the loud sound of the engine. I took out my camera and I started shooting around. Many locals are fishing on the river so our "captain" had to zig-zag between the other boats and their fishing nets. I saw two children bathing with their father in the water. The moment we passed and the children saw my camera they went underwater and their head appeared together with a big smile just after we passed. Some people were working the fields on the river banks. From time to time bamboo houses popped up on the shores. Each house had its boat for fishing. 

At the village's jetty one of the school teachers with two students waited for us. Before reaching the school we walked the cement pathway and passed some of the village's houses. In the first courtyard we saw a family cleaning freshly caught fish. In the next one two baby goats were playing. The third one had a lovely family of chickens with the small chicks around their mother. 

The houses are built on pillars because of the rain and each one has several big clay pots for water, a few chicken in the small courtyard and some clothes hanging to dry outside. 

The structure of the village is very simple: some cement pathways line the shore of the river with a few perpendicular ones crossing them. The houses are built around this geometrical layout.

The school has currently 300 students which receive primary, secondary and high school education. The high school education was introduced only a few years ago and it was very welcomed for the area. There are some students from the nearby villages who are able now to continue the primary education by attending the high school in Ywar Thit Gyi. Some of them travel one hour each way to reach the school. There are 24 teachers who take care of the children's education. All students and teachers wear uniforms with some classes having 30, and some having 40 children, depending on the grade. The boys sit on one side of the room and the girls on the opposite side. The children bring their lunch box from home. 

Because we arrived at the end of the morning they generously invited us to have lunch. The teachers prepared chicken, fish and duck curries with rice and fruits for desert. Delicious!

We also listened to the 4th grade English class, and to my surprise only a few words were spoken in English, the rest in Myanmar. The teacher asked the class to spell out loud various words. So, for example apple was not pronounced as a whole word but in its spelled-out form: A-P-P-L-E. Ms Nobuko Shoda told me she had the same experience with a Yangon school where the children know very well the spelling and not so much the pronunciation. And this came to reinforce what a local lady told me: the people know how to write well but do not speak the English language very well. Definitely the teaching method could have something to do with this! But it reminded me of the similar teaching method (more mother tongue than the foreign language was spoken during the class) in my home country immediately after the change of the political regime in the early 1990s.

I left the school with the impression that the children were happy to be there and that the teachers were dedicated to their job. I saw a lot of respect shown by the students to their teachers. I also realised the sacrifices the parents make to send their children to school looking at the modest houses and living they have. And I value the help of MESO Myanmar which started to help students with scholarships in 2008. Although they help only a small number of students I believe their help is really appreciated by the families with poor incomes.

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