Unearthing future leaders in rural Myanmar
Destiny - believe in it, or not; one Singaporean did.
It led Linus Lin to the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo, or “Golden Rock”, in Mon State, Myanmar on 21st December 2012 — as a child, he had thought he would climb to the top of a mountain and witness “the end of the world” on that very date.
But the world did not end. Instead, that profound experience started a chain reaction, of good. One that would change the course of his life and, eventually, that of hundreds of children in Myanmar.
Making his way down the mountain, Linus had passed two boys trying to fish.
“A man walked by holding a plastic bag containing bread. He called the two boys over and gave the bag of bread to them. He continued up the mountain empty-handed.
“I was thinking, I have enough money to buy a container-load of bread, but what have I done? Yet, this man gave everything he had to the kids.
“Perhaps it was time for me to do something. Myanmar was calling to me.”
Linus wasted no time. Over the next 12 months, he started finding ways to help people living in impoverished villages. As an educator, he saw the value of providing the kids with a good education.
“There’s this thought in me that somewhere hidden in the village lies this group of people who are meant to be great people, waiting for the right set of conditions.
“These are the people who will eventually become leaders of the community. I want to play a part in this life-changing process of the kids. One way is to help them pass their high school exams. They can get better jobs and better pay. And that’s how things can improve in their village.”
From Singapore, he would also collect donations of clothes, food and educational materials and bring these to Myanmar as often as he could.
But shuttling between Singapore and Myanmar disrupted his efforts.
“It came to a point that I realised I am not as effective as I wanted,” he says. “When I’m not in Myanmar, nothing is happening. I am thinking maybe it’s a good idea to have a partner in Myanmar.”
Destiny smiled, once again.
During a visit to an orphanage in Myanmar he met English teacher Joseph Bu Shwe.
Recalls Joseph, “Meeting Linus, it’s like a prayer is answered. My dream was helping people, the poor, the needy, the community, orphans. We talked a lot about education. How to help more and more children.”
The young man had himself come from a single-parent family. His father died when he was 10 years old, and in order to get a proper education, he had to move to live in an orphanage in Yangon, away from his mother and siblings. His dream was to eventually go to university.
“It’s a great thing to have a degree in one’s life. And if those children they don’t pass their exams, they are not a degree holder, they will always be manual or basic workers. I really hope for children to be a graduate.”
It was Linus who eventually supported Joseph’s university education, more than a decade after he finished his secondary education.
“He just enrolled into university, but had difficulties paying the fees,” explains Linus. “He said that if he really couldn’t afford it, he would stop and wait until he could and then go back.”
This resilience and never-say-die attitude impressed Linus.
“I find Joseph trustworthy, hardworking and resourceful. He doesn’t give up, no matter how old, he just wants to get a university degree. If I were to look for a person who can carry the message of education, this is the right guy. Joseph will be the arms and legs.”
In 2014, both officially named their initiative Global Village for Hope. With the help of local partners, the registered philanthropic foundation has since provided financial and educational support to more than 200 children in 17 foster homes on the outskirts of Yangon and in Chin State.
This includes an annual bursary programme that pays for tuition fees, school uniforms and materials to students, who go that extra mile in their studies.
“It’s meant to celebrate effort. When I see them improve just by a little bit, year by year, it’s a very happy feeling. It’s like a jewel trying to sparkle,” Linus says, beaming.
Adds Joseph: “We hope that we will be able to help many more children, community, people. We hope that one day we’ll have a training centre for youth.”
“Every child should be treated well. We can do something unusual for them, and they will understand their own life and be willing to work hard for their lives.”
Global Village for Hope also distributes sacks of rice to poor families through their Rice for Hope initiative. And supports the building of infrastructure, including solar-generated electricity, wells and widening roads, to help improve the quality of life for these villagers. You can find out more by contacting Linus.
For a more personal perspective of the friendship between Linus and Joseph, read Linus's blog here.