Picturing A Bright Future of The Beloved Village
The videos and photos carrying the villagers’ hearts
One after another, the villagers handed me so many photos and videos; some were printed, others were saved in smartphones. I was instantly captivated by them. One of the videos was taken at the village school; the camera takes us through the school gate, then passing the school yard, brings us inside the school building. One of the photos shows a beautiful lake that was once a mountain retreat of the royal family. The villagers are proud of it. “I took the video, because I wanted to show you the school we constructed.” “There are many beautiful spots in our village.” “I wish you could have visited us.” About 20 villagers gathered around and spoke to me. They said it was really a pity that I could not make my trip.
We were in Naung Hkio local education office in Kyaukme Township located in the Northern Shan State. I was supposed to visit Nan Htauk village that day, however I could not make it because, for the past few days, the tension was increasing again between the armed ethnic minority group and the national government army, thus it was decided that visiting that area was too dangerous for a foreigner. In fact, just after two weeks, five institutions were attacked, including the National Military Academy and Security Checkpoint, and 15 people including policemen and soldiers were killed in the fight. In this situation, the villagers travelled 20 km on a pick-up truck all the way from Nan Htauk Village to see us in Naung Hkio. It was sensible of them to take photos and videos to show us before they left the village.
The villagers themselves decided on the rules for loans
Nan Htauk is a village inhabited by Danu people who grow corns, peanuts, sesame and canola for living.
In 2010, the village was set to construct a new school building with support from the NGO, Saedanar, because the old building was too small to accommodate increasing number of students. The foundation cost was borne by the villagers, and those who could not afford to contribute the money sent one or more members of their family to help carry sand and gravel. When the construction work started, from all the family, no matter if they have children or not, at least one person participated in the work; this way, the building was completed.
Right after that, the micro-finance project started and it is going well. The development committee members take initiative and provide loans to the villagers for half a year period at a low interest rate, and the interest collected at the time of repayment is used as a fund to run the village school. As there is no other micro-finance organization in the village, the interest rate is 5% - relatively high – but people don’t seem to mind and say “If the paid interest is used for the school, I am totally happy with it.” In order to provide loans to as many people as possible, the villagers decided on the specific rules for the loans. The amount of loans is limited to 200,000 Khat (approx. 14,140 yen) per person for a period of six months. No exception is made no matter how good the borrower’s business is. They have so far completed 17 periods, and they keep track of repayment made and recorded all the transactions using a notebook for each period.
Now that the micro-finance project is on track, the villagers start to discuss the future of the village. “I want to improve the road conditions and promote transportation.” “We need to install electricity so that children can study.” U Hla Myint, who has 6 grandchildren says with high expectation, “If we can increase the number of educated people, we will no longer have to sell our crops to a broker. Instead, we will be able to sell them at the market with added value or even to export them to foreign countries.”
The fund increased thirtyfold by the financial management
Naung Kaw Gyi Village located near Lashio, the largest town in the Northern Shan State, is the most successful case among those that Saedanar supported, in increasing the fund used for their micro-finance project.
Like in other villages, Saedanar started their support with school building construction project in Naung Kaw Gyi Village. The original building constructed in 1990 was very simple and was getting damaged over the years, and there were not enough classrooms. So the village definitely needed a new building. In this project, the village paid for the foundation and Saedanar paid for the building. All the villagers contributed to the construction work.
After the school building was completed, the village started a micro-finance project using the fund of 2,200,000 Khat (approx. 155,500 yen) provided by Saedanar in 2005. Since then, the project continuously generated profit and the fund increased thirtyfold in the 15 years by 2019.
“We did not spend money and saved all the profit until the fund increased tenfold.” “We are proud to have achieved this. It shows how united we villagers are.” Says U Saw Bay Da. Chairman of the Development Committee in charge of the project, looking back the project’s early years. In 2011, 6 years since the project started, the village constructed a new accommodation building for the teachers, but even at that time, they did not spend all the money at once, but instead, purchased the materials as needed. There was even a time when the Mayor temporarily paid the cost. After that, the village saved the fund again and constructed a fence around the school in 2014. “Instead of using the fund little by little, we all agreed to save it and spend a lump sum for our school.”
Naung Kaw Gyi Village have many beautiful areas that can attract tourists, such as the historic remains of Shan Era, and has a great potential for tourism industry development. “Our village is beautiful, but we want to make it more beautiful to attract many tourists.” “We want to get more tourism revenue and develop our community.” The villagers say with great enthusiasm. The villagers seem to have gained confidence through the autonomous micro-finance project.
In the Northern Shan State where gunfights are still frequent, industrial development is difficult. But the people who live there love their village, wish to provide good education for their children and proactively run development projects, just as the people in the Southern Shan State do. I hope the day will come when the village becomes a beautiful tourist destination that the villagers dream of and the development brings prosperity to the village.