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Building Opportunities for Recognized Education in Burma

JSI/WEI Photo Library Photo
From July to September, strong winds and torrents of rain hit the Thailand-Burma border, rattling buildings and flooding many neighborhoods. For displaced Burmese children living with their parents in the remote areas outside of Mae Sot, the rains mean further disruption to their already limited schooling opportunities.

Throughout the year, many children in Pho Phra, Mae Sot help support their family’s meager salary by staying home to care for younger siblings or working with their parents in the fields picking flowers and harvesting corn. Since 2012, World Education’s Project for Local Empowerment (PLE) has supported informal evening classes in basic literacy and numeracy for these out-of-school youth, but there has always been the hope that children could attain more.

Seeking pathways to accredit the education for these children, World Education approached the Myawaddy Township Education Office in Burma to explore the possibility of partnering with Burma’s non-formal primary education (NFPE) program for four of the learning centers currently in operation. In June 2014, four teachers received training in the city of Mawlamyine with over 100 other NFPE teachers from throughout South Eastern Burma. More than 40 children enrolled in NFPE classes for the opportunity to receive a primary school certificate, thus giving them the ability to transfer into middle school in Burma.

A foundation for recognized learning now existed, but the literal foundation of Pho Phra’s school buildings still proved problematic. A teacher noted, “If we do anything interactive in class, like jumping or moving too much, I worry that the floor will fall out from underneath us.” Heavy rains cause water to come in sideways through the non-existent school walls.
Classroom roofs would leak and the floors would flood - repairs were clearly needed.

JSI/WEI Photo Library Photo
Parents help build a school on Thai-Burma border.
Luckily, the NFPE centers could draw upon the resources of other PLE partners and bring in Youth Connect’s Ironwood builders to lead the construction of one new classroom and repairs on another. PLE provided Ironwood’s recycled rubber-tree tables so that the students would no longer have to work on the floor, and new lights were installed to allow for better reading in the evening hours at all four schools.

Parents were eager to support the construction of their children’s classrooms as well, carrying sand and leveling concrete for the school foundation. Even though many of the parents need their children to work to make ends meet, they have greater aspirations for their children. “We want our children to be educated so they can get a degree and get a good job in the future,” said one of the parents while volunteering.

With new classrooms and a strong partnership with the Burmese NFPE office, the centers in Pho Phra are one step closer to making that dream a reality for these parents and their children.