Three unforgettable weeks in the monastic education school Aung Myae Oo come to an end. It has been a time full of intense impressions and new experience. I volunteered in the school and helped my Swiss friends with their NGO. During the past weeks I could make some good changes in the monastery. In the same way the little monks and nuns changed something inside of me. Before I will tell you more about my experience in AMO I would like to give you some basic information about the school.
Aung Myae Oo
is a school for poor children and orphans in Sagaing Hill / Myanmar. The school was founded in 2003 by the Buddhist monk Ven. Vilasa (“Ponchi”). Since then, it has grown steadily. In the first year, 31 children attended the school. Today, only 13 years later, there are over 2500 students. Aung Myae Oo is the second biggest monastic education school in Myanmar. The children are either accommodated in the school compound itself or in surrounding monasteries. The overwhelming majority are young novices and nuns who are educated according to Buddhist traditions and values. Tuition is free for all students. The school is entirely funded by donation.
1. To provide education for all children, especially for those who cannot afford to go to school.
2. To train students in moral education in addition to a modern education system.
3. To implant a sense of responsibility for their nation, culture and religion into the mind of the younger generation.
Basically the monastic school began with the sense of responsibility when the founder noticed a need of education for children of poor families. Some local children from villages and from remote areas are accommodated at the monastic school and their basic needs are supported.
The school began with primary teaching, but has been promoted to secondary and high school level. The main purpose of the school’s establishment is not only to give children a modern education but also to train them in moral education.
My experience in Aung Myae Oo
I arrived in Mandalay on January 29th. I traveled together with a group of lay people from the Ang Thong monastery in Thailand (see my article Pa Auk Kloster Ang Thong if you can read some German). I had lived previously for some weeks in that monastery (see Hilfe für Myanmar ). The first 4 days we visited famous monasteries and pagodas in the Mandalay region and the mountain area near Pyin Oo Lywin. The Thai group had mainly come to Myanmar to make merits by giving donations to different monasteries.
We carried 600 monk bags with us, that we intended to donate in various monasteries. I took the group also to Aung Myae Oo were they donated 1400 $. On February 2nd the group flew back to Thailand and I could give my full attention to the monastic school.
I received a warm welcome at AMO. After having moved into my room, I started my work right away. Every evening I have been teaching English to the teachers in the school. Writing is not the problem for the teachers, but speaking English is not emphasized in the Burmese education system and therefore the weak point.
The teachers often speak just a little English or they have a strong accent. Even the professors at the universities are sometimes difficult to understand. Speaking classes are therefore essential in Myanmar and especially in AMO. We had a lot of fun together! I made the classes interesting by showing videos, leading discussions and playing little games.
Beside the lessons there were many other things to do. The monastery has a little clinic room were the children get some medical care. But it is lacking drugs and trained medical staff. A teacher who received a little medical training takes care of the children. The problem is that the diseases are often not recognized or treated wrongly.
Especially infectious diseases spread easily in the school. Almost all children have a fungus on their head. In the moment the chicken pox are going round.
Everyday children with the typical symptoms like the blisters on the skin came to me. The blisters wasn’t a big deal but the supra infections that followed were quite harmful. The kids don’t shower that often and also their robes are very dirty. Bacteria enter easily into the blisters and the skin gets infected. Untreated, the ulcers can get pretty big and cause pain and high fever.
In addition to the treatment of the kids it is very important to give the medical stuff some knowledge about hygiene. The knowledge about hygiene and infectious diseases is very low in Myanmar. The thermometer for example is passed from one child to another without disinfecting it in between. Also the treatment couch will not be disinfected at all. For that reason infectious diseases like chicken pox spread very fast in Aung Myae Oo.
The teachers are open for new ideas. They would like to change things, but they just don’t know how. Once a while volunteers come to AMO to help out and share their knowledge. But that doesn’t happen often until now.
For that reason another job for me in AMO was “monastery tour” guide. Everyday lots of tourists visited the monastery and asked many questions. When they feel welcome and get good information about the school, they may stay on or come back later to volunteer.
During the first week of my stay we celebrated the 6 months anniversary of the “clean and health project”. It got introduced by my Swiss friends Silvan and Veronika (who stayed 3 months in AMO) and is followed by the students and teachers. In the beginning they organized big clean-up actions in the school but at the present moment I couldn’t see much of their cleaning work in the monastery. The reason for that is lacking materials and a proper organisation. which is about to change
For the anniversary day the kids saved up some money to create a little celebration to honor their teachers. They had been cooking all night for our breakfast. The room was decorated with a lot of care and love. I was moved by such grate effort that the young students put into it.
Lacking hygienic conditions are a big problem in the AMO. Rubbish is found everywhere in the monastery! In the classrooms, on the campus, even in the medical clinic. In my room three mice are living who play under my bed and sometimes come up to lick my ear. Because of the lacking hygiene lots of diseases spread in the school. Knowledge, motivation, hygiene guidelines and setting up some cleaning schedules are important steps on the way to a clean school with healthy children.
To create a good basis for that and also to set an example, I called the whole school for a cleaning day. Everybody joined the clean-up. Even the smallest of the “mini monks” and “mini nuns” were with us. We started sweeping the whole campus, cleaned up old store rooms and reorganized the class rooms. After the work was done the school looked much better. But the question is, for how long? Such actions are important to lead the way but to really make a difference we’ve got to change the monastery management as well.
My main job in AMO was to find out what the school really needed and set up a priority list. My Swiss friends did set up an NGO in Switzerland and could already collect some donations (about 10.000 $). This money is now ready to be used for the school and I was there to find out how to do this in the best way.
For a few days I went on a shopping tour in the nearby city. We needed about everything…: new brooms, rubbish bins, baskets, fans etc. We brought back truckloads of material to the school. Also new furniture was needed.
Lessons are held sometimes on the bare concrete floor. The kids sleep on their boxes, or wherever they find a spot. This condition we will improve in the near future.
If you need new furniture in Myanmar, you don’t just pop into an Ikea store, you have to find a carpenter. Every little item will be created in hand work. The daily salary of a carpenter is about 5 €. That is already a reasonable price, the teachers have to live on 45 € per month.I spent some hours with the carpenter to give orders and discuss the prices. Also the installation of the 28 fans etc. needed to be discussed with the electrician. So I spent some time with shopping, planning and organizing new materials for the school.
The living conditions in the school can be quite shocking for westerners. But compared with other monastic schools in Myanmar AMO is pretty wealthy. NGOs from Australia, South Korea, Switzerland and local groups support the school. Therefore, AMO has been growing up from a tiny village school, to the second biggest monastic education school in Myanmar. The quantity did grow immensely (31 students in 2003 / 2500 s. in 2016/ planned 3000 s. in 2017) but the quality did not grow in the same way. New buildings get donated directly by the foreign NGOs. For intern school matters the monastery depends on itself.
To lead a monastic school of that scale a good organization structure is needed. Every good school or company that runs smoothly has different departments and positions like finance office, store master, caretaker etc. Schedules to organize the cleaning of the buildings, child care, medical care and so on are obligatory for us. In AMO all that is hardly present. For a monastic education school of that scale, the lack of such structures creates big problems.
Of course, we cannot expect European conditions in the backwaters of a Burmese village. But other monastic schools in the region have a good management and can serve as an excellent example for us. The conditions may be simple, but it is always up to us what we make out of them. Even the Buddha 2500 years ago managed to organize his monastery efficiently.
To make a change, information and motivation is needed first. I spoke to the groups, to teachers, students and on the school festival to the whole community. We had regular meetings with the teachers and monks. We collected ideas, fixed guidelines and set up new organization structures.
In Sagain many monastic education schools are located. Some of them could serve as excellent examples for us. I visited some of the schools to find out what was their secret to success.
I collected plenty of ideas and made new contacts. “Phaung Daw Oo Monastic Education High School” is the biggest Monastic Education School in Myanmar with over 8000 Students. A couple from England helped to set up the school. They set up an outstanding school with partly western standards. Volunteers from all over the world give courses in nursing, child care, modern teaching methods, monastic organization etc.
That was a perfect study center for us. One thing that AMO needs most is knowledge! For that reason about 15 teachers will go for training to Phaung Daw Oo in the coming month. With the new knowledge, organization structure and the donations, they have a good base to improve the living conditions for all students and teachers.
For me it is time now to leave AMO. My teacher U Revata asked me to come back to Pa Auk Tawya, my home base monastery.
But I will stay closely connected with the school. I cannot forget all the many “mini monks”, “mini nuns” and the gorgeous teachers. So one thing is for sure.. I’ll be back soon 🙂
Via telephone and internet I can stay in touch with the teachers and monks. Like this I can still support them from the distance and also manage the distribution of the donations.
We just got a big donation from an Italian fundraising organization. They want to donate a new schoolhouse for AMO. We are already working on the building plan.
A brother in my monastery who has worked as an architect for 25 years is helping us. So we got professional support from all sides. The land is already bought, measured and ready to be built on.
When everything runs smoothly we can start to build pretty soon. As the new site is at about 15 min. walking distance from the main campus, it will be a new branche of the AMO complex. We plan to accommodate about 200 students. We need to set up a complete new infrastructure: electricity, water, toilet blocks, office, medical clinic room, sleep and classrooms, library etc.
A new building is always a new start. On the new site fresh ideas can be planted. Until now the monastery construction work was more random and not planned in the long term. For that reason, we now have to face problems and high costs. This time we can do better. The masterplan that I create now, together with the architect, is planned at long sight and contains everything a well run monastic education school needs.
The same applies for the organization. The new ideas that take root very slowly in the old part, will grow quickly on the new site. With a fresh start we can set new standards and a proper organization-structure. The project will take a lot of effort, time and patience. But I am looking forward to the new challenges.
Everybody who likes to give us a hand is most welcome to join. We are always looking for volunteers in different areas. As an English teacher, in the medical clinic, kindergarten etc. When you are interested, please write an e-mail to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or take a look at our swiss website. There you also find more information about the school, volunteer work, donations and so on. See also our new Myanmar website Myanmar website
On this blog you can follow who the project is developing.
To be continued soon …