As parents of UWCSEA students, we have watched our children’s education unfold through a value-driven lens. We have seen them growing to embody some of the qualities unique to a UWC education: developing deep intercultural understanding, cultivating a love of adventure, striving to respond with resilience to life’s inevitable disappointments. We have sensed them developing compassion through their active and constant engagement with Service. We have appreciated the pride, confidence and self-belief that result from frequent participation in expeditions that push them out of their comfort zones and show them what it feels like to be brave, to persevere and to overcome. The values of our school, so often referenced, are not just catchy slogans or mere words. We see them every day, living strongly in our children - and as parents, we are in turn inspired.
It was with this spirit of adventure and a curiosity to learn about the culture and life of the Burmese that twelve intrepid UWCSEA mums set off for Myanmar in November 2016, on a trip organised by PACE Adventures. During our time there, we had the opportunity to meet with some committed individuals doing great things to improve the lives of the Burmese. We enjoyed lunch in Yangon with PACE Schools partner and 100schools founder John Stevens, who, with a team of 35 masons and carpenters is helping to rebuild the education system in Myanmar by building seven to eight schools (and now libraries) a year, with support in part from PACE Schools.
We were pleased and privileged to visit Tetma school, one of 100 Schools projects. The friendly, welcoming staff opened their doors for us on a Sunday, showed us around the High School and shared with us a traditional Burmese morning tea. Tetma has a happy and purposeful atmosphere and the teachers’ commitment to the care and education of their students is evident everywhere. Though clean, bright and completely functional, Tetma is situated in a poor, rural area and lacks many facilities we would consider to be basic. However, we left with the sense that the energy, commitment and pride of the school’s leaders would go a long way to mitigating the disadvantages of their limited resources. As one of the teachers proudly displayed the makeshift library's translated biography of Barack Obama (see photo), the notion of education as a force for good in the world seemed to ring especially true at Tetma, and likely at many of the other 100schools' projects around Myanmar.
We also had the pleasure of dining at Sanon restaurant in Bagan during its opening weekend. Sanon is a social enterprise project that offers vocational, on the job training to former street kids and vulnerable youths. English lessons and high level training in all aspects of hospitality take place within Sanon’s immaculate kitchen and classrooms, giving graduates skills and experience that allow them to build a happy and productive future. Jon Amiss, one of the restaurant’s founders, showed us around and spoke passionately about the graduates who had been able to turn their lives around via this opportunity. A successful businessman in Australia for many years, Jon reported this being the best job he had ever had. He has certainly done a wonderful job at training his staff – the food was delicious and well presented and the coffee – as befitting of an Australian – was marvellous!
Another highlight of our adventure was taking on the challenge of a 10km run through the incredible temples, stupas and pagodas of Bagan. Some of us were seasoned runners, others had not run any significant distance before. In the 24 hours preceding the race, a majority of the group had fallen victim to 'burma belly.' Incredibly, they were there at the start line at 6am, ready to go, in various states of ill health - all but one who was still so unwell she had to remain behind. Every one of the starters finished the full 10km race. Best of all, our team member who had been too sick to depart the hotel at 5am emerged as the rest were taking breakfast, on her way to the start line. It didn’t matter that signage for the 10km course had been taken down – with the help of her iPhone, and her unstoppable determination, she designed her own 10km course and pushed through to the finish line. Now that’s resilience in action! And, she'll be joining the amazing Grade 1 team at Dover in August, a real champion of the UWC profile.
No shared language was required for us to experience the open and enthusiastic warmth of the Burmese people: whether it was the friendly staff at Tetma school, or the peanut farmers who shared the fruits of their harvest with us when our van got bogged on a sand track. As our trip came to end, we reflected on the people we had met who work tirelessly to make the most of what they have - and were gracious enough to share it with us. Floating in the silence of a hot air balloon at sunrise and seeing 1000 years of history dotted across the quiet landscape below was an incredibly peaceful and beautiful way to finish our time together in Myanmar.
The work of PACE is a shining example of how parents can support and perpetuate the UWC mission. Over the course of our PACE adventure, this group of twelve mums from nine different countries showed great resilience, undertaking a significant physical challenge under what were, for most of us, very difficult circumstances. We met people doing inspiring work that deepened our empathy and commitment to helping, and broadened our understanding of the way the people live their lives in Myanmar. We saw opportunities to get involved and what that would mean to people who don’t share our life of privilege. And we shared this experience together, cheering each other on all the way.
That’s so UWC.
PACE Adventures is an initiative by PACE (Parents Action for Community and Education) to bring Dover and East parents together on adventures which embody the spirit and values of UWCSEA. For more information about PACE Adventures, contact Natalie Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.