My first excursion from Sanctuary Ananda cruise ship in Myanmar was to the town of Sagaing south of Mandalay on the Irrawaddy River and it was there I visited a monastic school.
There are three types of education; private which parents pay for, public which is provided freely by the government and monastic where children are taught by monks and nuns and food and books are provided by the school.
It was April when I visited and the school holidays but there were still some children there either because they had been orphaned or their parents were unable to support them.
The school was brightly coloured and the children were playing with water and having a great time in the sultry Burmese heat. Classrooms are turned into dormitories and we were welcome to look round.
I also met some children in some of the villages which we visited, in particular Sin Kyun Village which is supported by Sanctuary Retreats. There children have their own school built on stilts as the area suffers from flooding in the monsoon season. They too were enjoying the school holidays and in fact many were guests at a local wedding so had dressed up for the occasion. Some villages have summer school where they do extra lessons and we watched some children learn English phrases and copy the words into their exercise books. Despite the heat and lack of technology they were willing learners.
Children often help their parents in the fields or work from a young age to earn money in local businesses; we watched some thirteen year old apprentice boys practise patterns in pencil at the lacquer ware factory and also watched a young boy painstakingly hit a large hammer onto gold leaf to make it fine and ready for use to offer to buddha in local temples.
One thing they had in common were their welcoming smiles, happy to have photographs taken and practise their English. In the rural areas many children had sun protection on their cheeks and we later learned that this was taken from the bark of tree and women also use this to ‘beautify their cheeks’.
Our visit coincided with Myanmar’s new year and many parents take holiday from their paid employment and gather with their children on the streets to throw buckets of water over passers by whether walking or on bikes, much hilarity ensues when complete strangers get wet. It was good to see children having time out enjoying themselves. The complete dousing means that the body and spirt are cleansed and you can enter the new year afresh and start again.
This excursion was guided by Khin Nyein Thu