We were supposed to be staying at home this year but can’t bear not to go to Mae Sot. We miss our friends. So we’re heading over to Mae Sot for a quiet wee visit to friends and a spot of teacher training (probably) from 7-18 July. As headteacher Thazin would say, “I HAPPY!”
Now, I am sending you some photos of our school’s canteen was destroyed on 30/09/2012 at 4:30 PM. Since that time we scare to teach in the primary school and we didn’t ask the primary students to come to school as well because we have seen some creaks appear on the wall and floor. it is very dangerous for us.
This is the shock news that came in an email from Say Hai, Headteacher of CDC School. It seems that an external wall of the assembly hall collapsed with no warning. Nobody was hurt. However, there are also large cracks in the primary school building that are alarming school managers and staff and so the primary students can’t come to school. In another email, Lisa Houston tells us more….
Right now grades Kindergarten to G4 are closed and they are struggling to find spaces for the kids to resume classes….Say Hei says her phone is ringing non stop from concerned parents. It sounds like they are thinking that great big warehouse space next to the training centre where Say Hei and her boarding kids were for a while, which would be horribly noisy and would involve putting up temporary dividers, or Say Hei and girls move back to that warehouse and the buildings they are in now become classrooms…awful options all! However some are advising that the building is beyond repair and needs to be torn down and a whole new set of classrooms built….
I am helpless to know how to respond but will keep posting here. As many of you know this website is not quite up and running as it should be and my go down again….. Follow news on twitter @sheils27
This is Aung Ko. He suffered severe eye injuries after a work accident in Burma. We referred and paid for his treatment at Mae Sot Hospital where unfortunately they had to remove one of his eyes. Thankfully he is back at the clinic and is recovering well. You can read his full story here: http://maetaoclinic.org/health-services/our-patients/meet-our-patients/
If you read this and other stories in the link, please be aware that the Mae Tao Clinic is struggling for funds to support the health needs of these desperate Burmese people, who have so little compared to our plenty. Mae Tao Clinic has the biggest heart and wants to help all of these people but funds restrict the help they can give.
How on earth do we answer that question? The simple way would be to say, “Yes thank you.” But that does no justice to the experience we had so I find myself saying, “It was extraordinary, like nothing I have ever experienced before.”
To be in Burma after thinking, writing, working with Burmese, Karen, Rhakine, Shan and Mon people (some of Burma’s ethnic groups) for 7 years was mind changing. I have always known our friends as minority groups – in Thailand, in Scotland, in the world – and yet, this was their home. Nobody thought it was great that we knew a little Burmese, everybody knew more than we did about Burma’s history and politics and life – quite a turnaround. And life in Rangoon/Yangon seemed OK – there was food in the markets, a lot of cars/taxis on the road so on the face of it, apart from being old fashioned with no bank machines, no mobile reception, less media presence, it seemed OK to begin with.
But then we began to piece together the fact that we were living in a rich hotel in a ‘wealthy tourist area’, that poverty is widespread outwith Yangon, that we were being watched by ‘informers’, that CCTV footage of us was on national TV!, that local people are not allowed to watch The Lady (film of Aung San Suu Kyi), that it was not possible to visit a state school, that politics is not discussed and we know the changes are little and superficial and aimed at ensuring the West lifts sanctions.
We also became aware after our Saturday night in Shwedagon Pagoda and Sunday morning in the Anglican Church in Yangon, how spiritual a nation the Burmese peoples are. So different from our own. I’d sum up Yangon as a huge learning experience and a city we have been privileged to spend time in.
And our days in Mae Sot, visiting CDC and Hle Bee, were a joy, as ever. Spending time with our friends, sharing learning, catching up….. felt like coming home. We love Mae Sot.
All in all, we learnt a lot, experienced a buzz of activity and action, renewed dear friendships and made new ones - a perfect holiday.
Khaing’s grandfather was watching national TV on the 18 July, the day we visited him in his Yangon home, when a news item came on about the first day of Bogoyke Aung San Museum being open to the public. He was astounded to see Geoff, Louise and I on the TV. They’d filmed us when we were visiting the museum! Cannae believe it!
We haven’t got a single photo of this museum! However, I found some pics on the web so have included them.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s father is the general that negotiated Burma’s freedom from Japanese and British rule in 1947. He was assassinated with 6 of his colleagues soon afterwards on 19 July 1947, now known as Martyrs’ Day.
The Bogoyke Aung San Museum (Bogoyke means General) is only open one day a year in Yangon – on Martyrs’ Day, 19 July, which was the day we were leaving Yangon. We told Khaing’s dad how disappointed we were not to be able to go there. The museum is the detached villa on a hill that Aung San Suu Kyi grew up in, the house where her mother and father lived.
We were astonished the next day when Khaing’s dad told us that the government have decided to open the house for 3 days a week starting today, 18.7.12! So we were going to go there before lunch.
We drove up in our minibus and piled out, cameras at the ready. We were astounded to see about 30 armed soldiers/police around the house, having seen very little evidence of them over the previous week. We were sent back to minibus to leave cameras, phones, bags, everything. We went through the equivalent of airport security, all very intimidating and then directed to the house.
Each room is set out as it would have been with the family books, pictures, letters, photos and even the late general’s car.
The dining table has place settings showing where the family would have sat. They had a tall toilet! The children’s bedroom had 3 wee beds, one was Aung San Suu Kyi’s cot, as the youngest of the children. Sadly, in the grounds, is the large pond where Aung San Lin, Aung San Suu Kyi’s brother died. It was an amazing place to visit, full of personal story, hope and tragedy. The government have set it out beautifully and it was probably the best visit we made in Yangon. So frustrating not to be able to share a photo…. and of course… no postcard stall here!
On Tuesday night, 17th July, we were joined by Khaing Maung Muang’s mother and father. As I wrote before, we have become good friends through Khaing over the last 4 or 5 years. They picked us up on Tuesday evening and took us to a lovely restaurant that sold Burmese and European food and we caught up on family news. The next day they picked us up in a minibus which they hired for the rest of the time we were in Yangon. It was a glorious change from the taxis, especially since that last Wednesday was so very wet. This slideshow shows our visits to 3 pagodas, the River Yangon, an amazing Chinese restaurant and back to Shwedagon Pagoda. However, the highlight of our last day was a visit to AUNG SAN MUSEUM. I’ll blog about that next.
As the first Global School Partnership we created, Hle Bee has a very special place in my heart. I first went there in 2007. That Global School Partnership with Forthview is ended, as have all GSPs since the UK government stopped the programme in March this year. However, as I handed over the lovely letters from Forthview pupils to Hle Bee, the staff were keen to show me the display they created of their partnership with Forthview.
Hle Bee – Forthview partnership
Over the last year, Hle Bee has gone through yet another hard time, as is the way for the migrants living in Mae Sot, constantly at the mercy of others. We’d been told that Hle Bee had moved buildings so here is their story…
The Thai landlady that rented them the land for the school lives next door to the school. Headteacher Thazin understood that she owned all the land the school was built on. However, the landlady’s brother died and it transpired that he owned half the land, which was the half housing Thazin’s original house, the toilet blocks, the 2nd building, the new 3rd building at the back of the land and the playground area. His family wanted the land back so the school lost those buildings.
Here you can see the very best Hle Bee building, broken and wasted. This is the building that Teachers Irvine Wright and Fiona Vacher taught Strip the Willow to the Hle Bee community in in 2009. Last year, this building was splendid with strong teak doors and shutters. So quickly the school is faced with losing a building that they put so much energy and so much of their precious funding into building.
However, the Thai landlady, used another part of her land and built a building for Hle Bee School on that piece of land. Hle Bee is at the end of a lane and the new building is nearer the road than the original site. The new building is a large building with a metal roof (so it’s as hot as the original building). It’s subdivided into 6 classrooms. At the back are new toilets and a new house for Headteacher Thazin and her family.
Hle Bee 2012 on PhotoPeach
It was lovely to see our friends. We couldn’t believe how big Way Haing and Toto, Thazin’s nephew and niece are. But the biggest surprise was Louise’s favourite baby, U Shwe Hla, who is in the centre of this photo and is 5 and big enough to go to school. When we visited her wee house, Mon Sein and mum had lots of photos of Louise and U Shwe Hlar on the wall. U Shwe Hlar was always shy and didn’t recognise Louise to begin with but her mum made sure she remembered by the time we were leaving and Louise had a nice wee chat with her.
Another surprise was when a child came up to me with a huge smile and sang, ” Lay Lay Laygo say, powre see ong say, minsay kinkway pyalay may, senyit ya lay may.” I was gobsmacked! This boy remembered our handwashing project of 2008, when we used Scottish Government resources based on the song Row, Row, Row your boat with the words, “Wash, wash, wash your hands, wash nasty germs away. If you don’t you might get ill and that will spoil your day.” Our friend Bobo and some teachers translated that into Burmese and this boy remembered!
And in typical Hle Bee/Forthview style, Headteacher Thazin and I started an assembly and we were surrounded by singing children going through our old favourites: I’m the only I, As we go now, I can clapy my hands, You are a star etc. Magical.
We visited Hle Bee on a Tuesday afternoon and sat and caught up with all their news with Headteacher Thazin in the staff shelter which now stood in the middle of the empty space where the original school had been.
When we came back the next day, we found the old school plot being fenced off to be separated from the school. It was a chilling reminder of how quickly situations can change for the migrant Burmese population in Mae Sot and how powerless they are. This is what life is always like for the migrants.
Can you see the huge water jar? It took 5 teachers and Thazin’s brother to move that jar out of the old school area. Can you imagine Scottish teachers agreeing to do that? But that is the total commitment of these teachers to their school and their children.
5 teachers and the caretaker move mighty water pot
So that’s the Hle Bee story. It was summed up best by Headteacher Thazin, when Louise asked her if she was happy. She said, “I’m as happy as a migrant teacher can be.”
… Khaing’s father said this last year when he wrote a letter supporting Louise’s visa application. He’s just emailed to thank me for letting him know we’d arrived safely home and said this in his email about our parting at Yangon Airport, which I’ve already told you left me crying….
“The two families had to separate at Yangon Airport on 20.7.2012 but our family had a scar in our heart and we miss you and your family everyday. Dear Ms Sheila see you again next year…..” Awwwwwwwww…………….
We knew it would be rainy season and had bought our usual waterproof capes in Mae Sot. However, in Yangon, everybody including young men carries and use umbrellas in the rainy season. The hotels provide complementary umbrellas. So I was pleased I’d taken tartan umbrellas as gifts for 3 of our friends.