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Monasteries in Burma, as in many Buddhist countries, are places where those in need go for help: for religious education, meditation skills, counseling and, increasingly in this underdeveloped country, for food, education, shelter, and health care.
The 2007 demonstrations by the monks were in protest of the increasing impoverishment of the Burmese people and the government’s failure to help its people.
On a bright sunny day during Burma’s rainy season, we reached a large monastery in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city. The monastery was home to one of Burma’s largest free monastic schools, Phaung Daw OO, where 7,000 children are being educated.Thousands of children dressed in white and green – Burma’s traditional school uniform colors -- swarmed amid the crowded grounds. Some were rushing to start their afternoon shift at school, others to the hundreds of bicycles and lines of vehicles waiting to take them home. Many travelled miles to get to school, while students from more distant areas, as well as some orphaned and very poor children are accommodated in simple dormitory buildings.
After visiting a well-equipped audio visual center and library, we met with the star English students who chatted away in English about their interests, favorite videos and classes. In the computer rooms we saw an assortment of aging and new computers, where older students learned word processing and web research, and the IT support staff developed skills to operate networks and find employment.
The abbot commented on the August visit of President and Mrs. Bush to Thailand and their interest and support for US humanitarian aid to Burmese refugees and to conflict- affected areas along the Thai border. “This is wonderful humanitarian work and is much appreciated,” he said. “Your help for the Cyclone victims is very good, but I do not understand why your country does not help with the humanitarian needs inside the country,” said the monk. “We have many poor and sick, too.”
The monastery school, health clinics and 200 Buddhist novices are supported by local contributions and by some European and other foreign donors and friends. The 300 local teachers and the administrative staff receive only a small stipend or volunteer. Foreign teachers have volunteered some years. Local volunteer doctors and nurses staff the monastery’s large modern health clinics. Specialists come from Germany each month to perform major eye surgery.
This monastery like many others had organized relief assistance to cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy delta area after Cyclone Nargis struck in May. The abbot decided to bring some survivors of the storm to the monastery for education and counseling. These youth had lost family and friends as well as their homes and belongings. With the consent of their families, 39 children came to Mandalay to live in a safe and secure place with access to free education for a year or until they completed secondary school.
One young woman told us her father and a sister had drowned and her village was heavily damaged. She wanted to continue her education, and hoped to return one day to her mother and sister back in the delta and support them. Others we spoke to seemed still in shock, with no idea of what the future would hold or how their communities would recover.
The abbot’s vision for the future of Burma was education. “The key to changing this country is education, not sanctions. You should help us to do this… Our children learn English and foreign languages, they learn about the world, and how it works. They are the future of Burma.”
Labels: BurmaOctober 24, 2008 | Tagged as: Myanmar, new tag, President's Corner, Neglected Crises