A Small School That Transformed The Village
Burgundy jacket is the expression of parents’ love for children
Nyo Mee village is located about 20 minutes away by taxi from Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. This area had been a battlefield between PNO (Pa’O National Organization) and the then-government army. In 1991, autonomy was granted to this village in exchange for signing the ceasefire agreement. Pa’O people, who wear colorful cloth around the head, still live there. They grow corn and raise cows for a living. They have lived in this same village for generations. They are peaceful people and keep their tradition of sending children to the monastery’s Sunday school for ethical education.
I walked toward Nyo Mee School hearing the cheerful sound of gongs and drums, and as I entered the schoolyard, I was greeted by the children neatly lined up in two rows, all singing to welcome me. On top of white and green national school uniforms, they wear burgundy jackets that are hand made by their parents. As this region is located high in altitude, the jacket keeps them warm against the cold climate. The burgundy jacket is the expression of adults’ affection for children.
I approached the school building walking between the rows of children. A lovely building! The green tin roof and the light-pink walls look so pretty on the red soil of the school ground. Outdoor shoes are strictly prohibited in the classrooms. The floor is impeccably cleaned and on the walls are many sheets of calculation charts with pictures of animals and plants.
We can feel that this school building is truly loved and used with care.
Promote school attendance through school building construction and community development
Nyo Mee School originally opened in 1951. Since then, this has been the sole school in this village that people send children for many generations.
But the old school building that was more than 60 years old, was no longer a suitable environment for study; rusted tin roof, termite-damaged pillars, and broken concrete floor polluting the classrooms with dust. However, the village could not afford to construct a new building. So, the village saw a great opportunity when Saetanar offered to support community development through school building construction. Although according to Saetanar’s rules, the foundation cost was to be borne by the village, and the village people were to play a proactive role in construction work, no one had any objection. The members of the School Building Committee collected 6,000 Kyat (approx. 420 yen) from each household in 6 installments, as well as allocated construction work to each person. “We were happy to help building our school,” said the village people looking back.
The new building was completed in 2015 and then started a new micro-finance project using the fund of 6,200,000 Kyat (approx. 430,000 yen) provided by Saetanar .
Saetanar makes it a rule to support community development together with school building construction; as this policy enables people to send their children to school. This way, a new scheme started; the village provides loans to the villagers at as low as 2% interest for half a year. The money can be used to expand family business such as agriculture, and at the time of repayment, the interest portion is allocated to cover the school operation cost. So far, out of 330 households, a cumulative total of 313 households got loans from the village under this scheme during the last 9 periods.
One of the parents says, “Before, we borrowed money from the crop dealers, so we had to sell our products at unreasonably low price. But now we can sell our products anywhere we want.” Others say happily, “We used to travel out of the village every time we needed to borrow money from moneylenders, and the interest rate was over 5%. But now, loans are available right here, so we do not have to travel and the interest rate is much lower.” Another man got a loan of 1,000,000 Kyat (approx. 70,000 yen) and purchased fertilizer. He says smiling, “I feel good as I know my interest payment is used for the school. Not like before.”
A teacher who came back to her old school has a dream
The introduction of the micro-finance project not only improved the village’s financial situation. It also strengthened the bond of the villagers who had always been friendly with each other. “The village is responsible for money management. Because we trust each other, everybody repays the loan on time and we never argue over the use of our fund,” assured a parent. It has been decided that the interest collected in repayment is to be used for the whole village, so decision-making goes very smoothly at the regular meeting held between the new moon and the full moon. “Let’s build a new concrete wall on the schoolyard.” “We also need to construct a middle school building.” “We should provide accommodation for teachers.” The villagers have so many improvement ideas and suggestions for their school.
The teachers have the same feeling. Nang Aye Zu, who was born and raised in this village was the first to attend the University of Education in Taunggyi. She became a teacher and taught at a few other schools, then came back to the village 5 years ago. Her wish is to raise the children who will contribute to the village. She applies the “Child-Centered Approach” that she learned at the university, and tries different improvement methods to deepen children’s understanding. As she has 9 years’ experience as a teacher, she is now entitled to be promoted and become a middle school teacher if she wants, however she is determined to stay in the village and contribute to her village.
In the classroom, second graders were learning the Burmese alphabet. Children’s voice repeating after the teacher was echoing around the school building. At that moment, I saw the sun coming out between the clouds and the sunshine coming through the window. I was convinced that the future of this school-centered community development is bright.