Guy Slater – Prospect Burma trustee
It was 2011. I was planning a visit to Myanmar to bring myself up to date with the fast changing developments taking place there when PB’s then Director, Fraser Wilson, suggested I stop over in Delhi on the way to take a look at the School we funded there.
It had been established principally as an English language school for the large number of (Christian) Chin refugees from Myanmar who had fled the troubles and settled in Delhi. The school was founded on the belief that with English skills (and, later, computing skills) the students would have better job opportunities, and consequently better quality of life.
Just how tough life was for these refugees became very clear to me on my first morning when Steven, one of the Chin refugee leaders and a former student of the school, took me to see where they lived.
Most of the refugees had no official status in the country, and so jobs could only be found unofficially and were for the most part very badly paid. The majority lived in desperately overcrowded accommodation – it was not uncommon for four people to be sharing a room with only one bed, no running water, and scarce food, often collecting from the back door of supermarkets at the end of the day. They had difficult and sometimes abusive relations with their neighbours. Steven showed me many case studies accompanied by photographs detailing often appalling physical assaults, which he was planning on sharing with the public a couple of days after I left. In one refugee home I visited there were three young children who almost never left their tiny apartment for fear of being attacked. The Church seemed to be a central and supportive feature in the community and the people I met both that day and subsequently at the school showed great resilience.
Many spoke to me about the importance of the school and over two days I observed classes with all four teachers, spoke to all seven of the staff and any students who wanted to speak to me, which turned out to be the vast majority. I was impressed with how passionate many of the students were about the school, and about their class work.
Soon after my return to England however, changes in Myanmar meant that the refugees were more easily able to go home and the need for the school diminished. Not long after my visit it was closed. It provided a positive addition to our Scholarship programme and I have always felt it was something that Prospect Burma could look back on with pride.
Today, Prospect Burma has expanded our programmes to include the Access to Learning programme, which draws on some of the foundations built in the Delhi school project. We are opening up education opportunities for people from underserved areas across Myanmar, to help make attaining a quality education a reality for many more people.