First published 21st July, 2014
If you've been to a teashop in Burma (Myanmar), you've probably been served by young kids who work every day of the week for well over 12 hours a day. Many will never attend school, missing out on an opportunity to improve their outlook in life. The myME Project tries to change this by taking the classroom to them.
Project founder Tim Aye Hardy believes that education is a critical step towards alleviating poverty and abuses associated with child labour; the MyME project provides at-risk children an opportunity to learn basic literacy, math and life skills in a safe environment, where they can also gain self-confidence and critical thinking skills.
Class in style
Most children served by the project have been sold into indentured servitude. With poverty ravaging the rural areas of Burma, many families cannot afford to feed themselves, let alone pay for their child to attend school. Recruitment agents visit poor parents in rural villages with offers of monthly payments of up to US$40 in exchange for child workers. Upon hearing these stories after returning to Myanmar from being abroad for 20 years, Tim joined forces with an all-volunteer team and began the myME Project.
Uncomfortable for tall teachers, perfect for the kids.
Most money for the project came from from personal savings. With Tim still working a day job in New York, one team was set up in the USA and another in Yangon, while a crowd-sourcing campaign raised US$20,000 in two months. Two VW buses were donated and transformed into mobile classrooms powered by solar panels. Three teachers and drivers were hired with five volunteer teachers on board as well. Carefully chosen and supportive teashop franchises agreed to participate and soon after, ecstatic kids were attending two-hour classes held three days a week.
"It's exciting to see them so engaged. They're so hungry to learn," Tim says. "I asked one child why he was always smiling. He said he was so happy and then he started to cry. He said he never thought he'd ever be able to go back to school."
Now the buses are always on the move with more teashops on board and locations expanding to shelters and orphanages. As the project grows, the myME staff are focusing on improving the curriculum. Hygiene and personal health education are now included in the curriculum and with corporate sponsors soon donating computers, web coding and IT education will soon be added to help expand future career opportunities.
How can you help? Most of the monetary donations through the site's PayPal account pay the teacher and driver salaries, along with the daily operation costs of the buses. They do accept volunteer teachers and volunteers in general -- just ask them what they're in need of at info@myMEproject.org. Tim was quick to add that even though monetary donations are always helpful, quality school supplies, teaching materials, children's books, laptops and projectors are needed as well, and tax-deductible receipts can be given.
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