One important bit of FCP is getting an introduction to Myanmar culture – in KS’s words, making sure we know we’re not coming into a culture that’s starting from zero.

We’ve four speakers for this purpose, and the first is Ko Tar: a former medical doctor who’s become an educational pioneer. He’s spent the last five years transforming Buddhist monasteries into schools where kids can learn vital life skills and empowerment. (If you speak Japanese, you can listen in on his TED talk at Yokohama.)    
Ko Tar: I was born in a village. Whenever I visit the villages I see the children. The children are everywhere. They are bunched in the trees and on the streets. It’s a kind of calamity, to see the children on the streets. In 2008, cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar and added more unfortunate children.

For five decades we are living under a military dictatorship. My story is finding a space under military dictatorship. Even under the worst of times, a space to do good exists if you endeavor to find one.
Education is a big problem in Myanmar. 20% of kids don’t enroll in school: 59% (I think) of those who do enroll don’t complete secondary school.

Traditionally, monastery education hasn’t been very good quality – it’s top-down, memorization stuff. But it’s the best way to reach kids in underprivileged communities, who can even get free meals in the temples.

Now, a lot of what Ko Tar says about his strategy feels like fuzzy New Age babble: “innovative social technology”, “transformation from within, organic and driven from the heart, not only from the head.”

But there’s real substance to what he’s doing. His program consists of three ways of learning: head (reading and writing for critical thinking), heart (self-awareness training) and hands (practical life skills).

What he does is he recruits monks and sends them off to foreign countries: Laos and Thailand, so they can get out of their comfort zones. He shows them what’s going on in monastic schools over there, and they come back with ideas and life lessons: working across ethnicities and religions, helping HIV+ people, microcredit unions, high energy stoves, planting organic crops, harvesting cowdung as biogas, building libraries out of mud. 
Ko Tar: Every transformation has three openings: open mind, open heart, open will.
But there’s real substance to what he’s doing. His program consists of three ways of learning: head (reading and writing for critical thinking), heart (self-awareness training) and hands (practical life skills).

What he does is he recruits monks and sends them off to foreign countries: Laos and Thailand, so they can get out of their comfort zones. He shows them what’s going on in monastic schools over there, and they come back with ideas and life lessons: working across ethnicities and religions, helping HIV+ people, microcredit unions, high energy stoves, planting organic crops, harvesting cowdung as biogas, building libraries out of mud. 
Ko Tar: We change their context, and they are transformed.
No more rote learning either: the birth of critical thinking, leading to what he calls “little democracies”.
But frankly, I was suspicious of this project. I’m a gay activist from a multi-religious country. I’ve a natural distrust of religious entities taking over state social services. 

But I have to get over my first-world thinking: we’re in a situation where a secular government won’t step in to fill the gaps; where the spiritual leadership of monks often makes them the only channels through which we can reach out to rural communities. And it’s dumb of me not to want to reach out to the 90% Buddhists in the nation, for fear of depriving the Muslim/Christian/animist 10% (who are in fact often admitted into the schools).

And Ko Tar’s approach does bloody well reach out. He’s transformed 57 monasteries, benefitting 17,000 kids. His target for 2015 is 51,000 kids in 180 schools, with some schools serving as teaching-learning hubs that’ll disseminate this form of education.
Ko Tar: I know there is a long way to go. Our country is in transition.  We can challenge the calamity fo street children running in the streets, thanks to all engaged Buddhist monks and nuns.

KS: I like what you said about “little democracies”. Maybe it’s all about small actions, what we can all do in our small worlds.

Adriaan: how do you deal with dictatorship of the market?

Ko Tar: we are talking about consumerism, promoting farming culture, organic farming…

Adriaan: But the market will destroy all their traditions of craft, handiwork…

Ko Tar: We are teaching them how to survive in the village, not to shift to urban spaces.

It is a bit difficult, these things. I don’t know if we can fight against it. Right now it’s easier to tell them about military dictatorship! But we can instill them with self-confidence. Consumerism is because of lack of self.
 


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09/07/2013 23:37

Your blog template was so nice I decided to make a Weebly account too.

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