Khaing Zar is a very brave and passionate woman – she strongly believes that every child in Myanmar should have the right to an early start into a successful life by free high-quality schooling. And to this belief and passion she has dedicated her life, supported by her family.
Khaing Zar is the only daughter of U Tin Winn, a retired former trader in goods, and his wife Daw Thein Thein Oo. Her life was mapped out for her, to follow the path of education, marriage, and children, until the day in 2005 when she met Jyotish, a Swedish guy who deeply impressed her with his vision of a free education for Myanmar’s children.
She says: “Meeting him completely changed me. He believed so much in social care and that every child should have a chance in life, coming from a culture where this was freely provided. He gave me the impulse to go into teaching. I found that this was my passion, caring for the welfare of the little children was what I wanted to do with my life, and I became a different person”.
She helped him setting up the first Green Island School for pre-school children aged 2-5.
But – the time was 2005 – and it was not the right time for their beliefs. The regime at that time did not like ideas that smelled of liberalism and free thinking. Khaing Zar and Jyotish were detained at a police station and questioned. They had to close the school down, and Jyotish left Myanmar. Khaing Zar staid behind. Her dream of a free school for little children was shattered, and she herself was forced to leave university where she had studied for her master’s degree. Her dream didn’t die, though.
Time went on, and slowly the political climate changed. Khaing Zar started a new attempt at making her dream of a free school come true. Close to her home was land that could be used to build the new school, and Khaing Zar asked her parents if they would support her in her ambition.
They finally agreed, but under one condition: They wanted to see their daughter getting married. Khaing Zar accepted this wish, and married a man who’d been chosen for her by her parents.
With the money from her parents and her wedding, she re-built Green Island School – again a pre-school for children aged 2-5.
She says: “For me, what makes me happiest is that my parents now see and believe in my dream. I know that I made them cry a lot. But they watched me working hard for what I believe in, and building something great, and they now wholly support me and the school and are proud of me again. And that is wonderful”.
Green Island School
Primary and secondary schooling in Myanmar is free. However, the budget for teaching is small, quality of teaching is often low, and the drop out rates are high. An early start in life with a quality basic education is therefore essential now that Myanmar is moving towards a more liberal economy. The concept of public or free kindergarden or pre-school does not exist.
Green Island School provides pre-school education to over 50 children aged 2-5, all from the poor township of Northokkalapa, Yangon.
Subjects include English, reading, writing, music, crafts, and yoga. The children receive healthy meals, have an opportunity for happy play, and – perhaps most importantly – the school is a safe haven away from sometimes broken and unsafe homes, providing the children with an environment where they experience and learn love and care.
The children’s parents – those who can – pay the equivalent of $15 / month. In addition, Khaing Zar has to hope for volunteers to stay with the school and teach English to the children and teachers as well as donate – currently – $25 / week. From this and the parents’ money, Khaing Zar pays the teachers, a cleaner, fuel, food and school material, as well as provides a free scholarship to the very poorest children.
She can only pay a low salary ($70 / month for teachers and $40 / month for cleaners), and she is in constant danger of loosing her staff to better paid jobs. Also, some of the paying parents cannot afford the school fee every month, and she does not have the heart to send their children home. Therefore, there are quite a few months where the budget does not cover the school expenses, and Khaing Zar or her parents have to fill the gap.
In addition to the pre-school, Khaing Zar has now founded a free English Summer School for children aged 7-11, which she wants to expand further to become a permanent English school for children and adults, but for this also, she needs more volunteers.
One additional donation, one additional volunteer, or someone who has the knowledge, expertise or network to help her grow and make her school known to a wider audience will make a big difference in her life and the lives of the children and their parents.
I volunteered at Green Island School for 4 weeks, and I will value this experience all my life, and will not forget my time as “Teacher Dorothy”. When I met Khaing Zar, I was struck immediately by her passion for the school, and after she told me her story, I was in awe of her courage and persistence. Her school is a labour of love – and it’s filled with over 50 high spirited, quirky, noisy, happy children who thanks to her get an early chance into a better life. I’ve become a supporter, and I’ve promised her that I would do what I could to further her cause.
I’ve inserted a Paypal Donate button on my website: . No pressures, but every little bit will make a difference, and 100% of the money will go towards the school. Of course, donations of children’s clothes or school materials are also always appreciated.
Alternatively here is the link to the school’s website: greenislandschool.com where you could also donate to support the school, or contact Khaing Zar if you want to offer help or become a volunteer.
As a volunteer, you will live with the family, and only pay $50 / week towards your meals (cooked by Khaing Zar’s mother) in addition to the weekly support for the school. The house is close to the school, in a safe neighborhood, and one lives there very well.
As a famous slogan goes: Every Little Helps – and it really does. Many thanks.
I made two slideshows which we gave to the kids and parents, see below – you can virtually see the kids “live”. In addition, I made a pdf booklet, please click here, and of course many photos, please click here.