Annie Fischer, Manager of SpinningTop, reports back from the jungle in Burma. She shares with us the incredible story of Mudaby, a 15-year-old girl who used to walk six hours through the jungle every day just to attend school so that she might get an education and break the cycle of poverty, how things have changed with the help of SpinningTop, and how she saw that Mudaby’s story is only one of many…
Meet Mudaby, a fifteen-year-old girl from an isolated village deep in the southern jungle of Karen State in Burma. In many ways, her daily life is pretty similar to her Kiwi peers – going to school, hanging out with her friends and helping at home with chores.
But there are a couple things that make her day vastly different to the average New Zealand child. Until recently, every morning Mudaby would walk three hours on her own to the nearest village school, Kwer Le Shue, then three hours back again at the end of the day.
Just the distance she covered is a mean feat in itself, but when you take in the possible hazards along the way, it is even more incredible. The road is a single, often steep, unsealed dirt lane that only a skilled four-wheel driver could tackle. The region was one of Burma’s high conflict zones, with unexploded land mines still scattering the hills. Human traffickers are an ever-present threat, and the road is one of South East Asia’s major drug trafficking routes for a number of substances including Methamphetamine and Heroin.
On top of all of this, food is in short supply, so she often walked with an empty stomach.
Now, SpinningTop have funded the build of a school dormitory at Kwer Le Shue, so Mudaby, among many others from neighbouring villages, can stay at the school grounds. This means she no longer needs to make the daily trek through the jungle.
When I heard Mudaby’s story, I was fascinated and asked if I could talk to her. I wanted to find out what made her so determined to get an education that she would travel such a risky route to the nearest school, but I was out of luck – being singled out from her classmates by a strange looking foreigner resulted in a fit of shy giggles, hiding her face in her hands and saying very little. She just couldn’t understand why I felt her story was so remarkable. And I can’t help but feel that that says a lot in itself.
What she did share with me was that her parents didn’t make her do it – unlike the average helicopter Western parent, she felt they would prefer she stayed at home and helped. It’s her own drive that had her make the six hour walk every day.
With virtually no role models to inspire the children in Burma, joining the local army is often seen as the only option. For Mudaby, her goal is either to become a nurse or possibly a missionary, she isn’t sure which, but she does know she wants to return and help her community once her schooling finishes.
This is a familiar theme repeated by the few children who are going to school. They see education as the key to escaping poverty and say afterwards they will return and help their communities while also inspiring friends and relatives to seek education. They are motivated by the stories they hear from village leaders, stories of people who have gained qualifications and escaped living hand-to-mouth.
I have since discovered that Mudaby’s story is not unusual. There is a massive shortage of schools along the Thai/Burmese border where SpinningTop focuses most of our efforts, and the majority of children still receive little or no education. It is just not something many of their parents see as important and even if they did there is usually no school nearby to send them to. They would prefer their children helped with the immediate struggles of day to day life by going out to work and bringing in some money to help buy food.
This is where the work of SpinningTop has made such an impact in remote villages that have few Western luxuries. A regular electricity supply is only possible through solar power to the schools and exercise books are scarce with an annual donation of books being made at the start of each school year.
With support from SpinningTop’s donors in New Zealand, Kwer Le Shue School now has their dormitory, so children from neighbouring villages, including Mudaby, can live at the school. This means being away from your family for long stretches of time but for so many of those children it is well worth it – they get food, education and a future of supporting their community.
That’s what moved me so much about Mudaby’s story – even though her school isn’t state of the art, she was motivated to make that six hour walk through the jungle every day because she believes it will make a difference. SpinningTop’s support of three school and dormitory builds in this remote jungle area has allowed more children to follow Mudaby’s educational dreams. The more school builds we support, the less distance children will have to travel for an education, meaning families can stay together while also taking ownership of their local school.
They love visitors here at Kwer Le Shue School as it makes them feel less ‘forgotten about’. Funding the schools is a constant challenge and often the teachers will sacrifice their salaries to ensure the children have all their needs met. But the positivity is infectious. As the Headmaster said ‘’just like everyone else we just need a friend’’. That’s what SpinningTop donors in New Zealand are to children in Burma – a friend.
– Annie Fischer.
SpinningTop gives balance to vulnerable children living in poverty. They're a partner charity of ours, meaning you can easily sign up in 5 min to support them to make more of the above possible with one percent of your income. Learn more about their amazing work and give your 1%!