Boarding House for Middle and High School Students in Myaing Gyi Ngu
Myaing Gyi Ngu (MGN) was founded by the Buddhist Sayadaw (Abbot) U Thuzana who is the spiritual leader of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). The small town is beautifully placed at the banks of the Thandlwin River (Salween River) about 90 miles (150 km) up from its mouth into the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean) at Mawlawmyine.
Myaing Gyi Ngu is part of the Myanmar border area with Thailand (about 35 miles west of the border). The area is largely inhabited by the hill tribe of the Karen. As in all border areas the development has lacked the central plains and divisions of Myanmar. The infrastructure is bad, good roads and bridges are rare in the fertile land which is cut by rivers and mountain ranges; most of the roads can only be used during the dry season (open season) from October to May. Electricity is mostly provided through a few privately-operated diesel generators and telephone or radio communication equipment outside of government offices and military installations does not exist.
MGN is the center and capital of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) Special Region. It is not allowed for foreigners without a special permit by the military authorities. The DKBA Special Region was set up at the end of 1994 when the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council, i.e. the Myanmar Government) signed a ceasefire agreement with the DKBA. In 2004 about 4,000 families (around 20,000 people) lived in the MGN area. The Abbott U Thuzana is the spiritual leader of the DKBA and has his headquarter and main monastery in MGN. He declared it a vegetarian area: no meat, fish and egg products are permitted; besides vegetarian products only milk products are allowed. Even the dogs were to live on rice and vegetables.
MGN has a governmental Basic Education High School (BEHS) founded in 1996. In 2004 about 1,700 students attend the primary, middle and high school levels of the school. While the primary school students were mostly from the village itself, the middle and high school students had to travel long hours to get to the school. A boarding house was needed urgently. However, the central government did not honor the requests of the regional educational board and the Abbott.
After detailed discussions and planning People In Need agreed to help the students and build a boarding house. The project was to include a two-storey boarding house for 100 boys and 100 girls with a total of 20 toilets, two washrooms, a kitchen and a dining hall and two study halls. Furthermore, PIN intended to improve the water and sanitary situation at the school compound. The compound only had one deep well and 14 toilets for all 1,700 BEHS students and the 55 teachers living on the compound with their families. PIN agreed to build new toilets and drill a 300 feet tube well and connect school buildings and teacher houses to a new fresh water tank.
On September 6, 2004 People In Need signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Educational Board of the Special Region and U Thuzana. We laid the corner-stone in a ceremony the same day and the building process started with the earthwork shortly after. Construction was scheduled to be finalized by the end of May 2005.
After the signing of the MoU for the Boarding House in Myaing Gyi Ngu the good fortune of the People In Need changed. The central government in Yangon was angry that it had been bypassed and that PIN signed a MoU with the Abbot directly. Over the next weeks it became apparent that the Boarding House Project had interfered with government politics. By going back and forth between the Buddhist (DKBA) side and the local Karen Christians I had irritated the government and Military Intelligence. While the DKBA already signed a ceasefire agreement with the Yangon Junta 10 years ago and was fighting on the side of Myanmar military, the Christian Karen National Union (KNU) had not signed any ceasefire yet and continues to fight the Myanmar Army for independence.
As a result we were put under close watch by Military Intelligence when traveling to Kayin State and to Myaing Gyi Ngu. When in October 2004 the Prime Minister and Head of the Military Intelligence, Khin Nyunt, was arrested and Military Intelligence dissolved, the Myanmar Army blocked us from visiting the project site of the boarding house. After a long discussion with the Abbot we agreed that the Boarding House project is to be put on hold.
Unfortunately, the situation did not change. PIN was not allowed to work in the area anymore and to restart the Boarding House project. The Abbott decided to change the original plans of Boarding House and complete the house without dining and study halls and wash rooms and to use it as an additional high school building.