New Hopes of The School on The Lake
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
It is around half-past seven in the morning. A slender, five-seated canoe glides smoothly on the lake. There, the houses on both sides, weaving workshops, restaurants and even hotels all perch above the water; they are built on bamboo stilts plugged into the lake of 3 meters depth.
The canoes with school children on board began to appear one by one on the lake shortly before 8 o’clock. On one side, a mother is rowing the canoe by herself with her young child sitting in front of her. On the other side, a group of school children in green and white national uniforms are seated in one line and rowing together.
Soon, more and more canoes appear. They gather around the school and wait for their turn to disembark, rocked by the waves. The front of the school is quickly filled with those canoes. The children on the front canoe jump on the floating island made of water weed and algae and begin running toward the school building with their school bags swinging on their shoulders. Their laughing voice fills the classrooms and echoes out of the window and then ripples through the lake still in the morning haze.
The bond of people reinforced through school building construction
Inn Paw Kone Ywa Thit School is located on the Inle Lake surrounded by the mountains over 1,500 meters high. It is a school built on the water. It was opened as an independent school 65 years ago, and has been the place of education for Intha people: local people who reside around the Inle Lake. Today 238 children from kindergarten to 8th-grade study there.
The village’s turning point came around in 2011. At that time, the old school building was no longer able to accommodate the number of children in the village, and the village decided to construct a new building next to the old one with support given by an NGO, Saetanar. As committed to Saetanar, all the villagers proactively participated in this project. The money for building the foundation on the lake was collected from the village households. When the actual construction work started, men went to the site and worked together every day and women prepared food to support them. The villagers had no experience handling the construction of such a large building that is several times as large as a regular house, at the beginning, it was difficult for them even to set up a pillar. Also, they had to learn how to ask for invoices to the contractors, sign a contract and supervise construction work based on the contract. But the villagers tackled the project together in a painstaking manner, and as a result, “Our bond became stronger and we gained confidence in ourselves,” says one of the villagers looking back.
Thanks to their efforts, the new building was finally completed after 5 months. “Before we constructed the new building, the school was not big enough, so it could only accommodate children up to 4th grade.” “From 5th grade, children had to commute by boat to the village located at the entrance of the lake, but now everyone can stay here and continue studying up to 8th grade,” say the parents smiling.
Development project brings independence and growth to the village
When the school construction work was finished, a new development project that brought positive changes to the village was started. Principal U Wai Yan Soe says happily pointing to the light bulbs that illuminate the classrooms, “So bright! We installed these ceiling lights using the profit we got from the development project.”
What he calls “the development project” is a profit-making project that enables the villagers to maintain their school in a
sustainable manner. In most of the cases, the villages choose a micro-finance project. Saetanar makes it a policy to support construction projects together with development projects. This is because Saetanar believes that if the villagers manage the school themselves, they can gain independence and promote growth.
In this Inn Paw Kone Ywa Thit Village, the development committee members elected by the villagers run the micro-finance project since 2012. They provide loans to the people at a low-interest rate for half a year. Those who want to borrow money can get loans from the village based on the trust, and repay loans with interest. “Before we borrowed money from rich people, and we felt abject and miserable, but now we can get loans from the village without such feelings.” This project is very popular among the villagers and there has been no delay in repayment. The profit gained was not only used for installing the ceiling lights but also constructing a fence around the schoolyard, as well as putting a roof to the corridor connected to the toilet building. In recent periods, more than 135 people are constantly getting loans.
Hopes for better education
The project’s 15th period was completed and the village is beginning to see changes. The villagers gained confidence as the school was granted recognition and now it can provide education up to 8th grade, instead of 6th grade. People become more ambitious and are aiming higher. Than Myat Mo who runs a small shop selling rice and oil purchased by loan raises two children and Kay Ma Tue who volunteered to be a school management committee member raises two children both have the same ambition for better education. “In the future, we want to promote our school to become a high school where children can stay up to 10th grade.”
The members of the development committee share the same ideas. At present, many of the villagers not only work on their fields but also commute to the village 2.5 miles away by boat and work at textile factories there. But the members say, “In the future, we want people to stay and work within the village.” “To realize that we need to nurture personnel who can create industries and jobs in the village.”
Watching them warmly, Principal U Wai Yan Soe looks satisfied. He confesses that when he came to this school last December, he was surprised at the super-positive attitude of the villagers discussing their future with high aims, which was different from the previous school he worked. But now, he is confident that the villagers will continue to improve the school system and promote their village’s growth.
New hopes are growing out of the new school building that the villagers constructed together.