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A new school electrifies a village in Myanmar

© UNICEF/Myanmar/2009/Myo Thame
The almost-finished model school at Thit Kyar Kone village in Yangon Division.

By Sandar Linn and Angela Brigid Thaung

Su Pyi Phyo Lwin, then a 7-year-old second grade student, couldn’t keep her eyes off an architect’s rendering of how life – school life at least – would change when a new year began this June. As the previous school year was coming to an end, she and friends grew more and more excited at what was materializing outside the monastery where their temporary classroom had been set up. Pointing, perhaps for the thousandth time, she chirped over the colourful objects that till now had been objects of fantasy, such as “the see-saw in the playground.”

With a month to go, workers, including parents, are scrambling to finish the new classrooms, located on the same spot where the previous fragile Thit Kyar Kone village school had stood until cyclone Nargis trampled it down.

They can’t work fast enough for Su Pyi Phyo Lwin and classmates. These days it’s difficult to tell who is more eager for the new school among the students, teachers and even the parents. They have a new school coming together, bringing with it many changes in school life as well as a wave of security not felt since the deadly Nargis cyclone stormed through Myanmar a year ago May.

Nearing completion, their school will be one of nine ‘models’ that UNICEF is building in the seven townships hit hardest by the deadly Nargis cyclone that stormed through Myanmar a year ago May. The Thit Kyar Kone school was one of some 4,000 schools destroyed or damaged.

The school design reflects a policy that requires them to be better, safer and more child friendly than before the disaster, will serve as models for future school construction in the country.

Build back better

The Thit Kyar Kone school in Yangon Division will seat 100 students when it opens for the new school year. Like the other eight ‘build back better’ schools also opening in June, it will have, a library, a playground, a fence and a teachers’ room. All the schools will be completely furnished and include water storage and proper sanitation facilities as well as access for disabled students.

Incorporating traditional local architecture and materials readily available in Myanmar, the school design includes innovations to reduce heat and noise. Designed to provide emergency shelter for the community in a future disaster, the schools will be sturdy enough to resist another cyclone or even an earthquake. UNICEF will build a total of 37 model schools by the end of 2010.

With the collapse of their previous school and much of their material lives after the cyclone’s rampage, considered one of the world’s worst disasters, the villagers were left with nothing except desire to educate their children. When classes resumed in the monastery, UNICEF Myanmar fuelled their yearnings with teaching and studying materials to make lessons more dynamic, textbooks and furniture.

“The community and I will take great care in maintaining and safeguarding the school,” pledges Baddanda Sandawbatha, the head monk of the village monastery who shared his land for the construction of the school.

© UNICEF/Myanmar/2009/Myo Thame
A local villager, Hla Myo, pitches in to help rebuild his children’s school in Thit Kyar Kone village. The school is one of the first nine model schools that will be ready for the new school year in June.

With many families’ livelihoods wiped out by the cyclone, the school construction has brought other cheers for the jobs it has created. “We earn about 2,500–3,000 kyat per day,” explains U Kyaw Moe, a local villager. “I used to work in a vegetable farm that was destroyed. I hope to save my income and restore my livelihood by working on the school,” he added. “I am proud and glad to help build this school, which will produce many bright students like my daughter who is now in the eighth grade.”

The village community is actively participating in the school construction sites. The Teacher and Parents’ Association and the community in each area have supported the construction team with food and lodging.

"It is beyond my power to express in words how we are happy and thankful to those who gave us the school because it is important that children have a better learning environment," gushes Hla Myo, 41, whose son will enjoy the new school when classes resume. Hla Myo has pitched in with the construction, working long hours in the rain and searing sun in his bare feet.

As part of its emergency response to the Nargis cyclone that primarily struck Myanmar’s delta region, UNICEF provided funding, furniture and teaching, learning and play materials for nearly 60 per cent of the affected schools (2,740) and benefiting 410,000 primary school students. The support enabled some 315,000 children to return to their primary schooling with minimal disruption.

As part of the ‘build back better’ initiative, UNICEF also sponsored the training of 4,500 teachers on child-centred teaching methodologies.

"I am really touched to see the construction of the new school, which stands as the strongest and finest building in the area, even better than before. I'm also proud that our village school was chosen as one of the model schools to be built," says a tearful Daw San Yi, the school principal.

In the first few months after the disaster, UNICEF also set up 42 early childhood development centres and provided materials and other needed support to a total of 343 centres that have attracted around 10,000 children younger than 5 years.



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