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.   

 

Moving Forward...Slowly!

Photo courtesy Chris Sinclair

Photo courtesy Chris Sinclair

Our heart is to create impact in our community through adventuring in the communities along the Burma Road and bringing new opportunities to the people in these isolated areas.  I just returned from Thailand, where I could speak Burmese with so many people, evidence of the mass exodus of Myanmar's people looking for job opportunities abroad.  Hopefully in their risk of seeking employment in another country, like Thailand, China, India, Malaysia or Singapore, they find good work, where they get paid justly and are not mistreated, but that is the exception and not the rule.  Our vision is to create jobs in rural Northern Shan State, where education and employment is limited, resulting in great risk for a job abroad, leaving family members behind, and potentially risking their safety for a chance at a better life.  Trafficking, forced labor and prostitution, unpaid wages, human slavery, forced marriages to Chinese men...these are all common potential outcomes for people from Shan State living abroad.    

Myanmar Adventure Outfitters will make impact, but getting there is a slow process in starting up, and jumping through all the hoops.  Merely the legal process has taken us nearly 6 months to start the business and we are not done yet. We are on location now, and can start to develop the business, what we will offer, and make connections in communities outside of Lashio where we will take travellers. But to do this right, to really honour the people, it takes time to build relationships where they are valued the way that they deserve, and not just used for our benefit.  Everything seems to happen slower in Myanmar. Even wire transfers, which has taken now 3 weeks to transfer, and has still not arrived. We are ready to start moving forward, purchasing equipment, developing our service, but are at the mercy of a slow system.

To those who are following us, we hope to represent more than just the beauty of our area through our Instagram and Facebook feeds, and in the next couple months we hope to start offering travellers a small sampling of the service we will develop as relationships form, and through this to make economic and social impact in the region.