You can help
What: “From Yolo to Myanmar … With Love,” a fundraiser for the Myanmar Children’s Foundation
When: 4:30-7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: 732 B St., the home of Davis City Councilman Lucas Frerichs
Tickets: $25 per person ($15 for students), available online at fromyolotomyanmar.bpt.me; additional donations to help build a school dormitory or sponsor a child’s education are welcome
Making ends meet is a struggle for the people of Myanmar, but there’s a group of locals who are brightening the future there by providing accessible education.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is one of Asia’s poorest countries. It has long struggled with economic woes, and continues to: A government study in January found nearly 40 percent of the population is unemployed.
Si Thu Tun, manager of Mermaid Sushi at the Davis Food Co-op, immigrated from Myanmar seven years ago, and has seen for himself how the country’s struggling economy has had an effect on education there:
“A lot of kids around 9 or 10 end up having to do things like help on the farm or do housework for the rich, like a slave, to support parents,” Tun said. “And without education, we cannot improve the situation for the future generation.”
The Myanmar Children’s Foundation was founded in 2007 by Davis High School graduate Max Harrington, who recognized the needs of the country on his travels and wanted to work for change with the help of a few other locals.
Since then, the nonprofit has been responsible for creating projects that address educational problems in Myanmar’s rural areas.
The overall completion rate for primary school in the country is only 54.2 percent, according to a 2012 analysis by the United Nations Children’s Fund. That’s not even contextualizing the income-related disparity in the rate.
Susan Steinbach, Harrington’s mother and a co-founder of the organization, said most children drop out of school because of their family’s financial situation. The foundation’s Stay-in-School program seeks to change that by covering costs.
“We’ve sponsored over 500 kids to stay in school since we started back in 2007,” Steinbach said. “We’ve been doing that at a rate of $35 a month. That’s about a month’s worth of salary to a fisherman or farmer in Myanmar.”
Besides providing incentive for children to concentrate on academics, another initiative of the nonprofit is building schools — five have been constructed since the foundation was established. While the long-term goal is even more schools, the plan is also to support existing schools with infrastructure improvements.
Most the assistance has been to Buddhist monastic schools. Working with monks and nuns allowed the nonprofit’s staff freedom during early expeditions, Steinbach said, when the government was controlling foreign travel.
As part of the nonprofit’s mission, 16 Davis residents will visit Myanmar in November to build a girls’ dormitory at the Nget PyawTaw Monastic School. Leslie Anastassatos, a local resident and activist, will be among the volunteers.
“Most all of us have never been there before,” Anastassatos said. “But we’ve all contributed to the foundation and seen the benefits from a far range. Now we’re putting our feet on the ground to see it first-hand.”
The Davis travelers come from a diverse range of backgrounds. There are retired activists, local politicians, Davis Rotarians, Unitarian Universalist Church members and UC Davis students.
Each will help in overseeing construction, which is actually done by locals. Employing people from around the area for the labor has an auxiliary benefit for the local economy, Steinbach explained.
Any small boost to the local economy goes a long way in such an impoverished region, as Tun is well aware of. He shared an anecdote that spoke to the people’s hardship:
“In Myanmar, I knew that if I had a camera, I could get at least one meal. I would take pictures of people who were too poor to ever have had a camera, and they would give me a meal, because it was priceless for them.”
The community can contribute to the cause at a fundraiser Sunday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the home of Davis City Councilman Lucas Frerichs, 732 B St. Tickets are $25 per person ($15 for students), available online at fromyolotomyanmar.bpt.me.
The evening includes dinner and drinks, and music by Yolo Mambo.
Proceeds will go to construction of the dormitory at the Nget PyawTaw Monastic School. It costs $14,000 to build a dormitory and latrines for 42 girls and three teachers, so that’s how much the organization hopes it can raise Sunday.
Attendees may purchase a specific piece of the dorm, like the windows, doors or bricks, or sponsor an individual child.
Stay apprised of the organization’s other activities at facebook.com/myanmarchildrensfoundation.
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett