Friday, March 02, 2012

Young Burmese Long For Brighter Future

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Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi
The Burmese government is spending 4 percent of this year’s budget on education, a two-fold increase from last year.

But it’s still below international standards according to the UN, which recommends 6 percent of Gross National Product be spent on education.

Burma’s meager education funding explains why more than 50 percent of Burmese children did not finish fourth grade in 2009.

Trapped inside refugee camps, these young Burmese are worried about their future.

Banyar Kong Janoi travels to one refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border to look at the realities of education in the country.

Around 60 students are celebrating their graduation day.

The event is being held in a refugee camp in Mae Hong Son, on the Thai-Burma border.

They’re singing a song about protecting culture and heritage.

Joseph Nor feels fortunate to have been able to finish his vocational study in the camp.

“The Burmese soldiers always came to search villages for porters. They took everyone including students so I had to hide during my school time in Burma. I normally slept in paddy fields to avoid them. I was lucky that I could pass high school here in the camp but I could not continue my study afterwards.”

Nearly four thousand children are studying in this refugee camp because of political turmoil inside the country.

The camp has more than 10 schools ranging from primary to post-high school, and accepts100 post-high school students each year.

Myar Reh is a principal at the post-high school, teaching students subjects on human rights and environmental awareness.

“We want to bring up people’s lives, especially those whose rights were taken away. We train them about environment so it is good, our country, when they go back to Burma. We are also giving them training in politics to develop the future of democratic society in the country.”

The schools have limited seats, and there is not enough for all of the children in the camp.

And as international donors tighten their budgets, the schools are also facing financial problems.

The Karenni Education Department, in charge of education in the camp, received 20 percent less funding this year.

Shwe Htoon is the director.

“As the political situation inside Burma has been changing and the financial crisis hit in Europe, the interest of donor to support us has been low. It affects a lot of us.”

Living as a refugee for most of her life, 29-year-old Lo Reh Shan has never been to school.

“I have never had formal education in school in my entire life. We were always hiding from Burmese soldiers from one place to another. I thought about attending school in this refugee camp again, but we don’t have any relatives here to take care of us. This is not easy for me.”

24-year-old Matiyalay is a high school graduate and chairman of the Karenni National Students Union.

He says the Union is fighting for greater rights for students in the camp.

“Being a refugee and living as a stateless person, we can’t think of going to a university because we don’t have travel documents so our chance is very rare. There are many students here who are qualified to study at a university but there many obstacles for them achieve such goal. Many young people want to find a way to get an education but when they don’t see a light, they end up in drug addiction. Or being married at an early age, there are many series of consequences.”

After playing volleyball, 23-year-old Joseph Nor shares his vision for the future.

“After I finish this school, I will teach, but teaching not my passion. I would like to be involved in politics because I want to help my people.”

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