News / Asia

    Burma Hike Inspires School-building Mission

    Students at the Nan Ouw School in Burma recite the Burmese and English alphabet for "Build a School in Burma" founder Bob Cornwell. (Courtesy Build a School in Burma)
    Students at the Nan Ouw School in Burma recite the Burmese and English alphabet for "Build a School in Burma" founder Bob Cornwell. (Courtesy Build a School in Burma)
    Jan Sluizer
    Three years ago, Bob Cornwell was a financial advisor to several foreign governments with a lucrative stake in a financial consulting firm. Today, he is building schools in Burma.

    “We’re really trying to help kids on the margin who wouldn’t otherwise get an education," Cornwell said. "Kids not having an education is just a recipe for every type of personal disaster in their lives.”

    Cornwell first met the children who inspired his mission in 2010, when he and a friend hiked from village to village in the hilly northwestern province of Burma, an area of the former British colony known for trekking.  

    “We walked and walked and each night we stayed in a village, slept on the floor," he said. "None of these villages had electricity. Many of them are not really accessible even by road. And lots of kids. Maybe five on average per family. No school.”   

    With an annual per capita income of about $460, Burma is one of the world's poorest countries, according to the United Nations. Under a military government, Burma faced tough international sanctions for 25 years. Today, with a newly-elected government still evolving, international aid has begun to arrive, but very few resources are allotted for education in remote villages.

    Cornwell was amazed to learn the cost of building a primary school in Burma was $15,000 to $20,000, modest by American standards.

    He sold his interest in the firm he’d started 25 years earlier, and established a nonprofit called Build a School in Burma. He focused on under-served villages that demonstrated their committment to building schools by contributing land and labor.

    Among his volunteers is Rick Heizman, a leading expert on Burmese music. “Burma kind of struck my heart when I went there in the '80s.”

    Heizman has been doing humanitarian and education projects in Burma for more than two decades. He and his wife, renowned Burmese harpist Su Wei, live in San Francisco, but return to Burma often to visit the school projects. Su Wei says the children are excited to learn to read and write and their parents are hopeful that getting an education without leaving home will allow their children to break a long cycle of poverty.

    “Most likely they’re like workers, farmers," Su Wei said. "Usually they have to take care of the business. The school is inside their village, nearby, so, at least, they don’t have to worry about taking the kids to the school in faraway places.”

    Visiting some of these remote areas, like the Pharagyi village in western Burma where a monastery school for 120 students is being built, can be challenging. The first day is spent flying from Rangoon to Sittwe on the northwest coast.  

    “The next day go by river about eight hours, and then the day after that, go by jeep across some hills to another river, and then take that river by boat another five hours, and then you’re there," Heizman said. "It takes half a week to get there and half a week to get out of there.”

    The organization has built two schools so far, a third is almost done, and in June, construction or renovation began on two more. Cornwell attributes much of that success to creating partnerships with local civic groups.

    “They have a very good connection to the local people. They understand what the needs are. They speak the local language which is really important, because about 40 percent of the people in Burma are not ethnic Burmese and they don’t speak the Burmese language as their first language and they’re often very  intimidated by officials," he said. "So having someone who really understands the local situation is crucial.”

    Cornwell continues to write applications for grants and is seeking donations to build as many schools as possible. He says bringing educational opportunities to under-served communities has made his retirement years happier than he ever could have imagined.

    You May Like

    No More Space Race for US, Rivalry Gives Way to Collaboration

    What began as a struggle for dominance in space between two world powers has changed entirely to one of joint efforts

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Move Over Millennials, Here Comes iGeneration

    How the first generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand, might change America

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    British Government to Resettle Unaccompanied Child Refugeesi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    May 06, 2016 9:24 PM
    After criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum, the British government has signaled that it will accept thousands of unaccompanied Syrian child refugees who have fled to Europe. It follows a campaign by a group of former Jewish refugees who were given refuge in Britain from Nazi persecution in the 1930s. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video British Government to Resettle Unaccompanied Child Refugees

    After criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum, the British government has signaled that it will accept thousands of unaccompanied Syrian child refugees who have fled to Europe. It follows a campaign by a group of former Jewish refugees who were given refuge in Britain from Nazi persecution in the 1930s. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Strangers Share Secrets Through Postcards

    Frank Warren owns a million secrets. Strangers from around the world send him postcards with their confessions, their disappointments, and their hopes for the future, all anonymously. He displays his favorites online and in exhibits, and shares them with audiences in sold-out appearances around the globe. As VOA's Julie Taboh reports, what started as a simple social experiment has evolved into a multi-faceted and hugely successful global phenomenon.
    Video

    Video Largest Ground-based Telescope Under Construction

    While NASA's engineers are nearing the final phase of assembling the new James Webb space telescope, scheduled to be deployed in 2018, an international consortium led by the U.S. is laying foundations and building parts for a ground-based telescope, much larger than any other. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora