Education Hits The Road In Burma.

Over the past few twenty years, I have worked with more nonprofits than I care to think about; primarily because the vast majority of them are horribly ineffective, or just clueless about how to achieve their goals in a real world dynamic – in theory, at a conference everything sounds great, but on the ground it’s a completely different story.

So I am somewhat skeptical of nonprofits and of the people who start them.

Of course, at the same time, I am most interested in the same goals that these nonprofits are trying to achieve which can often mean I am at a crossroads when it comes to helping.  For example, with “Floating,” with my father’s love of Burma and mine as well I was looking for a way that the project could help in a country where there is so much need.

Working with, and supported by, Leigh Cadena at HUUUG, she and I developed the idea of creating a limited edition first edition of 999 copies, the sales of which woud benefit Burmese nonprofits and, as such, I was thrilled to meet Tim Aye-Hardy.

All too often nonprofits, especially in the United States, are far too focused on raising money to hire more people to raise more money and are distantly connected at best with their mission – Tim and the MyMe Mobile Education project is the kind of boots on the ground, let’s solve this problem nonprofit that I love.

Tim left Burma under the previous regime and returned in 2012. Almost instantly he noticed one major change in the country – at the tea shops, which are everywhere and a deeply rooted part of the culture, there were hundreds of young boys working all day, every day.

“Why aren’t they in school? I wondered,” Tim told me over lunch in Yangon a few days ago.

The answer was sadly simple – the boys were working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for approximately $20 per month which was sent home to their families. They are, essentially, indentured servants with little hope for much more than the jobs they were sold into.

Dinner at Yangon night market
On the streets of Yangon, thousands of young boys are sent by their parents to work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, for $20 a month.

Within this pragmatic frame, Tim figured out a plan – if the kids couldn’t make it to the school, well then he would bring a school to them – he bought his first old bus with a online fundraising campaign, cleared out the seats, added some desks and then had to talk the tea shop owners into letting him have their kids for a precious hour or two, three times a week. Oh, and he had to find teachers and books, all of which he did. (And by the way, the picture at the top of the page, the one of the old bus, my father took that in 1951 and those are the exact kind of buses that were just taken off the road a few years ago, and are now being put to better use.)

The curriculum is simple and includes the basics of life, like teaching basic hygiene. But the need was immense and the students so grateful for the education that they were getting. Like many Burmese returning home, Tim had visions, still does, of the many things that he could do in the country.

But for right now, one bus has turned into two, then four, and five. A few dozen kids being helped has now blossomed into more than 3,500 kids hopping on the bus and getting educated. I couldn’t help but think of the children’s book I used to read my son, “The Wheels On The Bus” go round and round.

boy
Very few children in Myanmar are as lucky as this boy and get to attend school every day.

Burma is one of my favorite places on earth – it was a country and a people my father deeply loved. It is with great pleasure that when “”Floating” launches in Burma on March 17, thanks to the support of Leigh and HUUUG we will raise some money for Tim and his project. (And if you live in Houston, here’s the best way to buy a copy!)

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-10-17-14-am
The limited first edition will be sold to benefit three Burmese organizations including MyMe.

The limited edition hardcover, each numbered and signed, will be sold for $75 with the buyer’s choice of five Burmese nonprofits – for every book sold, a nonprofit will receive $25. When the site is finished and you have the choice, should you wish – you can of course choose Tim’s project.

I am also working with Monument Books in Yangon on distributing and printing the book in Southeast Asia and part of the proceeds of all the sales in the region will stay here on the ground in Burma as well. Leigh and I are working on organizing some trips to Burma where we will not only make sure that our guests see all the amazing sites of the country but also have the chance to meet folks like Tim.

It was a pleasure meeting Tim and he is to be congratulated for for all his amazing progress so far – he is currently insisting that next year he is going to slow his growth a bit and make sure that he doesn’t go over 5,000 kids but to be honest, I’m not betting on that though I am, always going to bet on Tim.

The limited hardcover first edition will be only 999 personally signed and numbered copies by the author. They will be available in mid-February 2017 but as soon as you order and pay, the money will be sent to the group of your choice. So please order yours here.

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