As Aung San Suu Kyi gallops to a landslide victory in Myanmar this week, she faces enormous challenges in a country riven with corruption. Not least of her problems is the lack of education, especially in remote areas like Shan state near the Thai border.
Myanmar, China and Thailand belong to the Golden Triangle, which supplies most of the world’s heroin. Ironically, the farmers who produce the poppies from which the heroin is made have little money left over to send their children to school after they have paid off corrupt army officers.
Myanmar, formerly Burma, once boasted one of the highest literacy rates in Asia, but its education system has deteriorated to the point where it is rated 164 out of 168 countries. Only half of Myanmar’s children attend secondary school, compared with 96 per cent in the UK. There is no such thing as free education for poor families.
A group of young Australian video producers travelled to the area recently and were shocked and surprised by what they saw.
In the face of enormous adversity Pa Ya, a young Burmese teacher, is running a free school in Sha State, single-handedly and virtually without funds. Pa Ya set up the school for about 40 children, who belong to the Lahu hill tribes near the Thai border, where most of the famers grow the opium poppy.
So moved was the group by the dedication of the Burmese teacher and the enthusiasm of his students that they decided to raise funds to help him run the school. The young video producers spent a week at the school, sitting in on classes in English and in Burmese. They discovered children who were hungry for learning, a dedicated unpaid teacher and a school without resources and no transport between home and school.
As soon as they came back to Redfern, where they run Paste Studios, a co-operative of media workers and producers, they held an exhibition of photographs they had taken of the students at the free school.
The sale of the photographs raised $3500, enough to buy a badly needed transport vehicle for the school. The tuk tuk is a three wheeled motor bike with a ute on the back.