While the streets of Yangon have provided plenty of picturesque photos for my blog, there is another less attractive side to life in Myanmar: the children who have to work to support their families or scavenge because they’ve been abandoned. It’s not uncommon to see even very young children weaving through the traffic trying to sell goods to those in cars and many more are hidden from view working in factories and building sites. As a tourist it’s hard to know what do when you’re sipping your Monguito and a succession of children come to beg at your table, eagerly accepting any food you care to give them.
This week I met someone who didn’t simply look the other way. As a visiting teacher working with NGO’s in Yangon he had become irritated at being pestered again and again by a girl selling postcards and asked why she wasn’t in school. She said she wanted to but had to earn money for her family (beggars have often learnt a bit of English). The teacher, John McConnell, then asked how much she earned and whether, if he paid her mother that amount, she’d go to school. ‘YES!’ was the answer. This was the start of what is now ‘Hope for Shining Stars’ (H4SS), a charity which provides non-formal education for children who are too poor to attend (and won’t be accepted by) regular schools. It also supports their families to make it possible for the children to attend classes and provides vocational training and scholarships for those who are able to go further.
Now, 12 years later, H4SS is run by a team of local staff lead by Aye Aye who has trained 30 teachers working in 21 regular and 2 mobile classrooms. H4SS provides basic education for more than 650 children and supports more than 200 others in futher study and apprenticeships. I visited their office in Yangon; here I am with Aye Aye and John, who happened to be visiting Myanmar this week too.
I was impressed by the well-organised office, which was obviously run by an efficient team and felt ‘real’.
Aye Aye had agreed to take me to see some classes she was visiting that day about an hour’s drive North of Yangon. Here is a very ‘picturesque’ classroom we visited
And here are the children inside it
There was also some nice pairwork going on outside
We also visited the nearby learning centre where children can progress further and board if necessary. Some are also able to slot into formalneducation. Here they also acquire vocational skills such as tailoring, basket making and catering. I saw how the collaborative and interactive teaching methods that Aye Aye has introduced are being put into practice
This is something I’ve really never seen here before! In the afternoon there was practical training
Here’s me with the Principal. I think you can see how I felt about the Learning Centre.
I also enjoyed the classroom displays which brightened up the classrooms and showed how children are taught life skills to help them survive
I asked John how children arrived at H4SS and some of the stories were harrowing, involving narrow escapes from trafficking and indentured labour. It’s not often I shed a tear but what I saw that day moved me deeply and still does every time I think about it.
Of course, it being Myanmar, we ended with a veritable feast
What impressed me was the genuineness and down-to-earth matter-of-factness of everyone I met combined with a very well thought through ‘total approach’ which as far as I could see was being very effective. The finances are also completely transparent as you can see in the link below. I was very glad I had kept half my leaving present for this well-run and effective organisation and those who generously contributed to it I’m sure you’ll agree. Here’s Aye Aye writing a receipt for your donation of half a million kyet (sounds like more than it is!)
If you’re interested in finding out more about H4SS and the English registered charity which raises funds for it. Scholarships for Street Kids or S4SS please look at the link below:
And if you can spare anything please donate. Every penny will be well spent and if like me you lie awake at night wondering what you can do, this is a way to really help.