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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Secret Service Head to be Questioned Over White House Intruder

Julia Pierson will be questioned about the latest break-in well as several other embarrassing incidents involving the agency More

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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid