We are happy to announce that we have reached Mandalay! The NEroute team completed the journey travelling 17,015 non-flying kilometers between Queenstown, New Zealand and Mandalay, Burma. Click here for a full list of how we passed each segment. If you made a pledge you should expect an email soon with your specific contribution amount. If not, it's not too late to donate to our charity partners:
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It has been a long and thrilling journey to say the least. Elizabeth and I would both like to thank you for following and supporting us so far. For encouragement, we visited one more World Education project center along the Thai-Burma border:
Sitting just across the mountains from Myanmar is the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand. Over the last few years the town has been booming as more and more traffic has been allowed to cross the border. Nick and I arrived here after spending 28 wonderful days in Myanmar. World Education’s office here works on a number of projects and we were able to visit three schools with which they have a relationship.
These schools are located within Thailand, but are attended by migrants from Myanmar. The first we visited, New Wave, currently has 110 students in attendance. Families who have come across to Thailand for various reasons will send their children to New Wave where they are taught using the official Myanmar school curriculum. World Education has been able to facilitate multiple schools’ access to the curriculum and national testing. Students who pass the 4th grade end-of-year test will receive a certificate allowing them to enter the 5th grade should their family return to Myanmar. This is important to many of the families who desire a future back in Myanmar. Staying with the official curriculum not only allows them to feel more connected to their country, but prepares them to return with as little disruption to their children’s education as possible.
From left to right: Kelly - Education Officer, Amy - Program Associate, myself, Nick, and U Zaw Htet - School Director of New Wave School
The parents of these children are extremely supportive of their children’s education, both emotionally and financially. This school has received little outside funding since opening in 2007, and is primarily funded by parents giving what they can. These parents, often employed with transient and temporary work in a new country, will provide whatever they can afford to keep their children in school. The teachers also provide tremendous support, taking little compensation for their work and committing themselves to the students. These teachers, like the children and their families, are migrants from Myanmar.
The facility is simple but inviting. There is a boarding house for the students whose parents have gone too far away looking for work. The school tries hard to keep students enrolled for an entire academic year at a time, interrupting their education as little as possible in the flow of a single school year. This involves sending vehicles to the outskirts of the city and some students living on-site as their parents move around for to find work.
World Education is able to support this school by providing training to the teachers, paying the testing fees for the students, and working with both the Thai and Myanmar governments to ensure a seamless continuation of these students’ education.
Our visit fell on a holiday, but many students were in attendance anyway, studying for the upcoming Government exams.
Our second visit was the most profound for me: a small school for disabled migrant students. The Starflower Center was started by World Education and VSO, but is currently operated by a local organization, the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee (BMWEC), with support from World Education. This school is also for families from Myanmar, but more specialized in their support. Among the school’s 26 students there are those who struggle with blindness, deafness, Cerebral Palsey, Down’s Syndrome, and other learning difficulties.
The students enjoying their daily singalong time.
This school is also underfunded, but has been crowdfunding to provide for the needs of the school. World Education hires and trains the teachers as well as working with the parents, many of whom were completely unable to manage a disabled child. Without being able to put them into general education, working parents were sometimes leaving their disabled child home alone while both parents would leave for work. Now the school not only provides a safe environment for the children, but parents are being coached on physical therapy, emotional support, and how to provide special need for their child.
As soon as we entered the classroom, a small ball of energy bounced toward Nick and embraced him. As he came pelting to do the same for me, I saw it was a small smiling boy. Many of these students were incredibly isolated before this school was available for them, but now they are able to get social interaction from adults and other students regularly, and seem to interact very well with each other.
Another boy was pointed out to us as the first student of the school 6 years ago. When he began at the school he could neither walk nor speak. He can now speak both Burmese and English, and we were able to see him not only walk, but dance. His legs are slightly unsteady, but that does not stop him from enjoying their class dance time as much as everyone else.
The third school was for young adults, aged 19 - 25, and focuses on community development. It is called Wide Horizons, and was started by World Education in 2006. The program is very competitive, taking 24 students a year: 12 men and 12 women. These 24 students will spent a year living on site studying full time and another year in internships. During the internships they are required to write quarterly reports back to the school outlining what they have learned and how they have applied the first year’s knowledge within their organization.
These organizations over the years have been in health, education, environment, and many other categories. These young men and women learn critical thinking, grant writing, computer skills, as well as more emotionally pertinent lessons. Amassed from a variety of ethnic backgrounds within Myanmar, many of these students have been discriminated against in the past and this program reinforces that they and their people deserve to be treated equally and listened to. The program provides many of these students with the confidence required to be a voice for community building and cultural mingling and many go on to be prominent community leaders.
The students participating in their weekly literary discussion time.
Approximately 200 students have passed through the doors of Wide Horizons over the years it has been operating. While they are mixed in their desire to stay in Thailand or return to their home country of Myanmar, all are intent upon improving lives through community. Both Thailand and Myanmar are richer from the skills that have been provided to these 200 dedicated young adults.
All three schools here are providing such wonderful opportunities for children, families, and young adults who have left their home country of Myanmar to live in Thailand. Having been chased out of their country by lack of work, loss of land, cultural persecution, etc, these people deserve to be able to send their children to school. The ability to maintain a piece of their culture in this new country and plan to return one day is so important to them, and World Education is not only facilitating that, but also educating their young adults to become community leaders.