In the early days of Health & Hope, Dr Sasa led the work in Myanmar with support from an incredibly committed team of local volunteers. Thanks to our generous supporters, we've been able to help grow and support a professional team of staff from the local villages who now lead the operational work on a day to day basis.
Many of the team first studied under our Freedom to Education Project, receiving a scholarship to study at college and then a university overseas. They have now returned as doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers to lead the operational work and serve their local communities.
Looking back, this was something that seemed impossible given that access to education is so limited and how many challenges they needed to overcome. But through their hard work, perseverance and as a result of your support, these young adults are having a huge impact.
Their work is not only experienced through the many villagers lives impacted by the projects on a daily basis, but students in the village work harder, because they see what their older classmates have achieved. They see friends returning as confident adults, and this brings hope to families across the region.
In 2018, three doctors from Health & Hope’s Freedom to Education Project (FEP) returned to Lailenpi to help run Hope Clinic after undertaking six years of study in China and the Philippines. They were joined in 2019 and 2020 by seven qualified nurses, who have also been supported by Health & Hope scholarships. Their training included a one-year internship in hospitals in Yangon in addition to college and undergraduate degrees in India. Whilst taking up project based roles leading our work in health and education, they also oversee a 24/7 clinical service to the local community in Lailenpi and the surrounding villages. It has been tremendous to see the development of a dynamic team, working together, sharing skills, experiences and a vision for the future.
The Education for All team is also made up of a number of returning FEP graduates, one of whom is Dipar, who has a real passion for seeing young people fulfil their potential through education. If you don't already know Dipar's story, you can watch her video below.
Many staff members have incredible testimonies of the challenges they have faced in their lives. It is these hardships that have shaped who they are, and their vision for the future. Dr Shwe Hu Lian recently shared his story of the tragedies he has which have driven him to become a doctor and support his community.
The dedication, commitment and enthusiasm of the local staff team is second to none. Their return to the villages of rural Chin state has been inspirational for younger students and their professionalism has helped to radically accelerate the impact of the work, as well as take a significant burden from Dr Sasa's shoulders.
Education for All was launched in June 2019, and is a long sought-after education initiative which aims to tackle the dismal Grade 10 pass rate amongst ‘repeater students’, who have attempted to take the Grade 10 exam at High School and failed. Without support, these students have no further opportunities to study and are unable to find employment.
The education system in Myanmar currently excludes rural, poor, ethnic minority children due to language barriers, location, poverty, and curriculum content. Pre-school coverage in Chin State is severely limited and the levels of supervision and quality of teaching vary widely. Children often receive no teaching in their ethnic language. These problems continue into primary school and beyond, which, combined with high levels of household poverty, contribute to extremely high drop out rates. As a result, less than 5.5% of youths will make it through school to pass their critical Grade 10 exams.
Last year, over a 9 month period, Education for All provided 96 students from 30 remote villages targeted education, aiming to significantly improve the Grade 10 matriculation rate and future life opportunities for these students.
“On top of having to learn Burmese, the students are forced to take five exams in English. Imagine taking five GCSEs in your third or fourth language with a teacher who doesn’t even speak the language fluently! Well that’s what it’s like for Grade 10 students in Chin State. Rather than being surprised at how few students pass these all-important Grade 10 exams, I was amazed that any had passed them at all. And yet some of the few who did pass have gone on to complete university degrees with Health & Hope, returning as doctors, nurses and teachers to support and transform their community.
Education is valued and prized in Chin State, so much so, that even five years after failing to pass their Grade 10 exams, some students chose to ‘return to school’ this year and attend the project… One student first sat his exam with one of the staff of the school. At 27 he had taken the Grade 10 exam six times over the past decade. The team’s relentless hard work, patience and willingness is sure to reap rewards… Suppose a far greater percentage pass this year, go on to complete tertiary education and then return to the region - think of the further transformation that will take place… Wow!”
Janette Creber, UK Educational Consultant & volunteer for the Education for All project
National Grade 10 exam results in Myanmar were released on 9th August 2020. The national average showed that 32% of students passed their exams.
Mon State, the leading state for many years in Grade 10 results, dropped from a 37% pass rate in 2019 to only 34% in 2020. Yangon, representing by far the most urban areas of the country, was consistent with the prior year scoring 32.8%.
Chin State as a whole scored 21.2% this year, slightly higher than last year, but in Lailenpi, the small town where the project is based, the pass rate was only 14.2% (38 out of 266 students). The government school this year only achieved 10% and only 10 out of 112 students from the rural villages attending the examination centre passed (9%).
Given this context, we were delighted that in the first year of the Education for All project, we achieved a 31% pass rate with 27 out of 87 students passing their exams.
We are so proud of the Education team and their hard work that has resulted in such a successful first year of the project. Especially given that the staff were relatively inexperienced in teaching and the project took in students that had previously failed their exams without any selection and so there was significant work needed to develop their understanding of the curriculum.
Without your support, only 9% of students coming from remote villages would have passed their exams based on the performance of the examination centre. Achieving 31%, a pass rate consistent with major urban areas, and almost 10% higher than the local private school (which has been operating for almost a decade) was a major accomplishment.
You may remember previously reading about one of the students, Ester, who is delighted to have passed her exams and is excited to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse to help her community.
A hope for the future
Sahnei is one of the students who attended the Education for All project after failing his class 10 exam eight times. He was originally in the same class as Dipar, one of the FEP graduates who is now teaching as part of the Education for All project.
Dipar recalls meeting her old classmate when they were enrolling students: “Yesterday when I was receiving the students for Education for All, unexpectedly I met one of my Year 10 classmates. Incredibly, he has been trying to pass class 10 since 2010 when I was also taking the same exam. As soon as I met him, he said to me: "I really need your help to pass my year 10". I am so touched by what my friend said to me. I really hope and pray that this project will be a blessing for many students.”
Sadly, the frustration of failing his exams so many times and limited opportunities for his future, had left Sahnei in a bad place.
“Since I failed year 10 so many times, I had lost hope and had started taking drugs. It was hard to make the decision to come to the Education for All project as I was shy and embarrassed to be a student of some of my friends. But I enrolled in the school and my life was changed. The teachers helped me so much in doing my lessons and we also did devotions, Bible reading and praying. It really touched my heart and changed my life.
In March I took the Grade 10 exams for the 9th time. I am so thankful to Dr Sasa, the Health & Hope team - by the grace of God I have passed my exams!
Now I have hope for my future- I really want to work for my people. I am already helping students in my village who are studying Grade 10. Finally now I can look for a job. And I would like to do a distance learning course for University to further my studies.”
We are so grateful for your support in helping us to launch the first year of the Education for All project. Despite the incredibly challenging context and many lessons we have learnt, we have seen the students flourish in their confidence and understanding throughout the year. Even though many students require ongoing support to pass their exams, we were delighted that the project achieved a strong result in its first year.
The team are now busy planning the next year of the project - the start of which has been slightly delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as the exam results had been published, the team opened up applications for the coming year and over 40 students applied in the first day!
Health & Hope have a long-standing relationship with the Guernsey Overseas Aid & Development Commission. As committed partners of our work, the Commission has funded some significant projects (including the hydro-electric water supply and the rebuilding of the Health & Hope Training Centre), enabling Health & Hope’s work to have substantial impact in western Myanmar. This year, the Guernsey Overseas Aid & Development Commission celebrate 40 years of their work and we are grateful for their ongoing partnership and support.
Dr Nick Paluch, one of the Guernsey Overseas Aid & Development Commissioners, has visited the work of Health & Hope twice in Lailenpi and has also hosted Dr Sasa during his visit to Guernsey. He recently penned some of his reflections following his latest visit to Chin State...
From Chin State to Guernsey... and back !
As one of Guernsey’s Overseas Aid & Development Commissioners I was delighted to host Dr Sasa's flying visit to Guernsey last November. In the space of 24 hours we fitted in a meeting with the Commission, a live broadcast on BBC Radio Guernsey, a tour of the famous ‘Little Chapel’ and a bracing walk on our beautiful south coast cliffs.
This March when I visited Lailenpi the tables were turned and Dr Sasa was able to play the host. I arrived just before sunset and was immediately taken to see the airstrip being built above his home town of Lailenpi, with its magnificent views across to the Chin Hills on the border with India.
Over the course of the next two weeks I did some teaching sessions with the Area Co-ordinators and with the nurses, acted as mentor to the three medical students from Southampton who had travelled with me to Lailenpi, helped out at the Hope Clinic and joined in some of the exuberant celebrations accompanying the General Assembly of the Mara Evangelical Church. This was my second visit to Lailenpi and like last time it was a joy and a privilege to be welcomed into such a close knit, resourceful and loving community.
Guernsey has an association with Health & Hope which goes back many years. Previous grants from the Commission have helped to finance the clinic building, the hydro-electric plant and the impressive training centre which would have been opened by the British Ambassador during my stay had it not been for the intervention of the Covid crisis.
Fortunately on the day before I left I was able to lay the foundation stone for the brand new Guernsey funded accommodation block and as I write this article just three months later it is already nearing completion!
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Guernsey Overseas Aid & Development Commission and Dr Sasa was due to attend a symposium and dinner to celebrate the occasion. Travel restrictions have meant that the event has been cancelled but of course the working relationship between Health & Hope and the Commission will continue.
I very much look forward to hosting Dr Sasa in Guernsey again as soon as I can and I look forward with equal enthusiasm to my next visit to Lailenpi when like him I may even be able to arrive by air!