For the past several years, Myanmar Children’s Foundation (MCF) has run its popular ‘Stay in School’ program that selects bright children in rural areas who are at risk of discontinuing their schooling due to financial hardship.
Sponsorships were $50 per child per year and covered books and school supplies, a book bag, a uniform, an umbrella, and a small contribution towards teacher salaries. This program is no longer operating in its original form. MCF is now donating to schools and agencies directly.
The Myanmar Children’s Foundation seeks to prevent the most vulnerable rural children from dropping out of monastic schools (usually between grades 4-7) to assist their parents in the fields or to work as subsistence-level street vendors to help support the family. Children in the program are identified as at risk for discontinuing school because of financial hardship on the families. They are also identified by their teachers or head monks/nuns as motivated, earnest students who desire to continue in school and would likely do well with further education. The children are monitored by our Country Director and staff throughout the year to make sure they are progressing and staying on track. Families are relieved of the financial burden of choosing between educating a child and affording meals, livestock, fuel, or medicines for the family.
Myanmar’s educational system consists of government schools in the larger communities, but the rural communities are served primarily by Monastic Schools overseen by monks or nuns. The government schools charge a tuition fee, but there is no tuition fee at monastic schools, which rely heavily on the Buddhist concept of almsgiving and making merit by giving donations in one’s local community. Still, families incur costs in sending their children to monastic schools, such as the cost of uniforms and school materials or the loss of income when a child is pulled from helping the fields or at the marketplace. This cost is burdensome enough to interfere with rural parents’ ability to provide continuing access to education for their children.
Burma’s government spends the least percentage of its GDP on health care of any country in the world, and international donor organizations give less to Burma, per capita, than any other country except India. In our work in Myanmar, we visited two very famous monks who lead a large monastic school in Mandalay called PhaungDawOo.
These monks believe that for Myanmar to construct a foundation for a future democratic society (post-junta), education of its citizens is the major building block. We heartily agree and MCF has chosen education as its primary focus.