“There are risks in all systems of society. After all, as humans we are not perfect…. so we must all do our best,” said Ayar Daw Oo Gaywala, an abbot at Pyin Oo Lwin Monastery in Myanmar. He almost had tears in his eyes. 

In a country that has been torn apart by decades of civil war and a devastating cyclone in 2008 that left of 2.5 million homeless, hope lies with the children. 

As tourism begins to generate more money for the country and infrastructure leads to better roads in and out of major attractions, more focus is being put on education. Students are making their way to small classrooms, over paths submerged in water and by boats when the rains let up. They are the daughters and sons of farmers and taxi drivers, traveling sometimes miles to receive an education their parents never had access to. They make do with what they have. 

In this video, a young girl named Thandar recently moved to a rural school east of Mondalay in Myanmar. There are 75 students in her 8th grade class, coming from all across the region. The school has just a few rooms, each lit by a grey cloudy light. The school’s main sources of information are aging textbooks, their pages yellowed by countless fidgeting fingers. 

“In the past few years I’ve seen some changes,” reflected DawKhin Saw Shwe, the principal of the school. “It is no longer just teachers teaching. Students are learning by themselves.”

    Ringing the perimeter of their computer lab are unopened printers, monitors, and keyboards stacked halfway up the wall. “Since we don’t have any electricity, we can’t do anything,” said Shwe. “These donated items are just sitting here. We haven’t even opened the packaging yet.”

    This seems indicative of a disconnect between those who need help, and those provide it. Printers aren’t useful if there’s no way to power them.     

    “If someone wants to donate a generator, we will be able to use it,” said Shwe, laughing slightly to herself. She clearly understands the absurdity of sending printers to people without electricity. 

Myanmar has one of the lowest rates of accessible electricity in the world, an issue that the government and outside partners are trying to rectify. Only 33 percent of the population has access to electricity, and that rate drops significantly in the more rural areas such as the location of Shwe’s school. 

    In January of 2014 President Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank announced $1 billion in financial support to update Myanmar’s electrical infrastructure, aiming to provide electricity to over 7 million households by 2030. 

    Other companies are also joining in to help. Ericsson, a Swedish telecommunication company, established a presence in Myanmar in 2012. Since then they’ve provided technological resources such as new tablets for Thandar’s school that host many applications that do not require an internet connection. The apps vary from math games and puzzles to piano simulators, which everyone seems to enjoy. 

“Once the mobile networks are built, you’ll have internet access. And that means that the teachers can use these in their classrooms,” said Stephanie Huf, an Ericsson employee working in Myanmar. “The students can use the internet to search for information for their lessons.” Every little bit counts. 

The tablets, now, are a promise that the future is looking brighter for over 7 million households. 


Defeat Poverty

Electricity is changing classrooms in Myanmar one tablet a time

By Gus Stahl