Education to Prevent Exploitation

Imagining a new future for the youth in communities is what got us dreaming of what is now Myanmar Adventure Outfitters.  After living on the border of Thailand and Shan State for 3 years and seeing a mass exodus of Myanmar's youth, we envisioned creating new opportunities.  In rural communities two common threads resound: lack of jobs, and lack of education to qualify one for good jobs.  What this results in is looking to neighboring countries like Thailand and China as a places with greater earning potential, and so the illegal risky move to neighboring countries entices, places where they have no rights, no legal status, and are more often than not exploited in a variety of ways; sometimes low wages, sometimes unpaid wages, sometimes forced labour, sometimes slavey, and sometimes sexual slavery and prostitution.  

One of the villages that we spend a lot of time in, and our favorite village to take clients to, in this village we've gotten to know a 14 year old spunky adventure girl who can climb any tree, jump off waterfalls, and is a sparkplug of energy and joy.  Not too long ago we went to the village and she wasn't around anymore.  So we asked what happened to her, and because of lack of employment opportunities and the fact that she could not finish primary school in the village, she was sent to the China border to work in a karaoke bar.  Fearful of the worst, we began to pray for her safety, and soon after, because of conflict in the town she was in, she was sent home for her safety.

 Our 14 year old friend who now gets to do Grade 7.

Our 14 year old friend who now gets to do Grade 7.

So we began the dialogue with the community about the source of challenges like this, and what it comes down to for them is lack of education opportunities.  Their village has primary and middle school, but don't have the last year of middle school (7th year) because of a lack of space at school.  The teacher is willing, but the space does not allow, so they cannot finish in their village what is required for them to go to high school in Lashio, and so some families send their kids away for work.  Discovering a possible solution together with the village and their teacher, we decided to partner our MAO profits, donations from people who helped invest in startup of MAO, and their finances as a community.  We began to work towards a basic addition to their school to enable education to continue in their home environment, however the Ministry of Education offered to add to their school from government funding if they could prove the need.  So, our shift changed to how to upfit the existing small and unavailable space to become another classroom and prove this need.  So, we shifted the funds towards setting up with desks, chairs, and a whiteboard.  

Now we are a few weeks into the school year, and 9 students are in 7th grade.  A huge victory for us in that it prevents the move of people that inspired business in the first place.  It is a huge value to the community, and we are glad to collaborate with them for positive impact.   

 

Participation in Local Culture

We have formed a deep bond with a Shan community over the last 6 months of going in and out with travelers.  The relationship began 9 months ago, visiting their village for the first time, and from day 1, they have been warm and open to tourism and the potential opportunities that inevitably come. But its a real tribute to them, as being open to new things and very foreign-to-them people is really new.  For those who grew up in the west, we've grown up often in places where the world has come to them, places with large populations of immigrants that have formed the fabric of society, but in rural Northern Shan State, new cultures and new ways are all really new, and harder to embrace different cultures and ways of life, so being embraced by this community is exciting for us.  

We are particularly forming a bond with the village leader and his family.  His wife cooks amazing Shan food, and we joke with them about how Shan food is far better than Burmese food, as even many Myanmar nationals also love Shan food.  We always tell her she should open her own restaurant in Lashio, as every time we go there it is something different and always so tasty.  

Shan village leader and his wife at the front steps to their home.

Recently when we've been there to visit, their home is the place where the youth come to practice their traditional dances for Shan New Year celebrations coming up in mid-December and for the recent Tazundaing celebrations (which we'll get to more later.)  The kids in the village know when the foreign travelers have arrived, and are all eager to play games that we bring with us, like Uno (a card game we've taught them to play).  We often spend time together with the kids and their parents learning about their way of life, their culture, and having fun with them.  

For us, it is really fun and a warm environment, and I think they enjoy us as well.  And we do our best to fit into local culture and dress.  However, it is also a new income stream for their family, as we make donations for their hospitality and pay for their amazing Shan food.  And we are happy to have created new opportunities in their community, and are always on the lookout for new income streams for them, as that is our purpose and desire for impact in Northern Shan rural communities.

Recently they invited us to participate with them in their recent festival, where their village played host to 5 other Shan villages that made their way to their village in the evening to celebrate in dance and music and feasting.  It was a wild and raucous event, and lots to learn about their culture and religious understanding.  It is also an event where young men will meet young women and kindle a relationship that is started through an expression of desire to marry.  

Not every night is a festival night like this, but it is great to be invited into a tight knit community to share in their celebrations.  To us it communicates a depth of relationship and trust that we don't take lightly, and it inspires us to keep on investing in this community.

Investing in a Community Ravaged by Fire

Namhsan, a small ridge top city in the green tea producing highlands of Northern Shan State was ravaged by a fire a week ago that destroyed 209 homes and businesses.  It started in a tea processing factory at 1 PM, and the ridge top winds blew the fire faster than the fire department could contain it.  A small community’s business center was 12 hours later decimated.  Fortunately no one was hurt or injured, but the wreckage will take many months, if not years, to rebuild.  The local aide response has been resounding, which we are so happy to be part of a community in Northern Shan State that helps in the face of disaster.  

 Downtown Core of Namhsan

Downtown Core of Namhsan

For Myanmar Adventure Outfitters, as newcomers to the area, Namhsan is not even a location we had been to, but the area around there is appealing for adventure travellers, so we spent a day to help out and explore.   Our vision is to “Explore & Invest in communities along the Burma Road from Lashio to China”, and although Namhsan is not in this specific area, it is a community in our greater Northern Shan State area.  

 Our MAO truck, a carrier of relief to Namhsan

Our MAO truck, a carrier of relief to Namhsan

We sorted through our things personally and contributed several bags of our own clothes and toys (from our kids) and delivered other clothes contributed by a Lashio-based church, and joined others in purchasing large bags of rice to deliver to 3 families whose homes had been destroyed in the fire.  Our effort is small, but the overall effort is very big, and we are honoured to be use our new truck to reach this community and be able to bless three families sorely affected by this tragedy.  

Secondarily, the windy trip to Namhsan from Lashio provided some inspiration regarding adventures we want to explore more.  The headwaters of the Dohtawaddy River emerge from a narrow steep valley below the 7000 ft high mountains above, which provide a network of trails to and from the river and beautiful opportunities to explore this turquoise canyon river.  So, we will seek the necessary permissions and need to explore further in these isolated communities about the feasibility and how we can be impactful in these areas.  

 Bridge in the Dohtawaddy gorge

Bridge in the Dohtawaddy gorge

At the end of the day, we feel satisfied to live out our vision of exploring and investing, and look forward to future explorations in this area.