Making a Real Difference for Students in the Delta
We believe in arranging holidays that make a positive difference to people's lives. So at PJ we set out to achieve a triple win. Not only do the guests and those involved in hosting or arranging the journey benefit from the journey, but the wider community too ... win - win - win.
So in trying to achieve this we spend a proportion of the income from your tours on Sustainable Projects in the countries in which we work. Also every time one of you buy our calendars all the proceeds go into this fund. One of these projects was to fund the construction of a school for the village of Lay Ein Tan in the Irrawaddy Delta region of Myanmar.
This region was devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and the charity Helping the Burmese Delta was set up as a response by our friends May Tha-Hla and Jon Wilkinson. Knowing about May and Jon's amazing dedication and work in this area Karina and the team set about finding out how they may help, and funding the building of a school became the goal.
With necessary funds in place the school was built by the locals however it was not without its challenges. Another severe monsoon season damaged the stilts the school was constructed on, so only after some robust repairs were the classes able to start again. This coincided with James, Karina and family's trip to Myanmar, so they decided that they might like to visit the school. They were duly invited by the community to officially open the school but were completely unprepared for what was to come.
April the first, an auspicious day in the Burmese calendar, was the day of the visit. It began with a colourful and enchanting journey by car for 5 hours through the region to a chaotic riverside dock followed by a 1 1/2 hour boat trip in a powered longboat down rivers and channels that got smaller and smaller ... as the temperature got hotter and hotter.
Eventually a prominent tree marked the dock and as Karina, James, the boys and Htoo disembarked and began to unload the supplies of uniforms, school equipment, books and food a delegation arrived. From that moment the day turned into something quite different to what they expected. The boys scooted off to meet some other children, villagers turned up to help carry the supplies and they were all escorted across the dry paddy fields for the 10 minute walk to Lay Ein Tan.
Karina recalls, rather bashfully, that what she envisioned as a low key visit was not what the community had planned. Distant singing welcomed the party from across the fields and well over 50 children in their uniforms appeared from the shade of the school (in holiday time) to shake hands. The community from far and wide had all turned up: pupils, community leaders, parents, grand parents, the builders; the teachers some of whom walk two hours each day to teach there. It was all rather emotional.
In the school the Head Mistress and the Head Girl both made a speech to which Karina (not quite prepared for this situation) responded with suitable thanks for such an amazing welcome and the honour of visiting. The boys helped distribute books and uniforms to all the pupils, a delightfully comical affair as children juggled pencils, books and clothes whilst trying to maintain the formality of shaking hands. The day then became more relaxed as everyone sat down to do some drawing or headed outside for a game a football (where James goes a game of football will inevitably break out at some point). Finally an amazing lunch was made for all before their long walks home (ahh - that's what the food in the boat was for!)
The anthropologist in Karina always worries about the post-colonial undertones of turning up to visit something you have helped to create but the people of Ley Ein Tan dashed those concerns with a display of welcome and affection that can only come about when people truly work together and respect each other to extend their opportunities.
Thank you to May, Jon, Htoo, Hnin Hnin and Chan Myae at Helping the Burmese Delta for making this all happen!