– Ein Beitrag von Tanja & Christoph –
During our stay in Myanmar we were lucky enough to spend five days in the wonderful Lei Thar Gone Guest House. With this post we want to tell you a bit more about this unforgettable place and suggest you include it in any potential Myanmar trip :-). It ist located in Yenangyaung, about 1.5h south of Bagan. The Guest House was founded by Eric, who was born there, but had lived in Yangon for many years. The incredible part of the story is that Eric also opened a school, located just a few meters next to the guest house. This school plays a crucial part in providing education for Yenangyaung and the surrounding villages. Let us tell you a bit more about the school, our stay at the amazing Guest House, and the things you can experience in the area!
The story behind the school is very closely linked to its founder, Eric. He used to work as an engineer in Yangon. When he came back to his home town Yenangyaung for retirement he found there was a lot of poverty there and many children were orphaned by AIDS. Desperate to help, Eric founded the “Light of Love” school to ensure that also those children receive education who otherwise drop out of school early.
Currently the school has around 160 students who attend all levels including kindergarden, pre-school and Grade 1 to 10. Next year, Eric plans to expand the “Light of Love” family to 200 students ( -the maximum, he says, where you can still ensure a high quality of classes). The school is mostly funded by international donors, and partly also by the revenue generated from the Guest House.
We were lucky enough to visit the school and got to assist the amazing English teachers currently in residence. Grade 1 was working on puzzles while Grade 2 played the game “What’s the time?”. (We really just sat there and helped keep a small group focused on the puzzles :-).) It was a heart-warming and unique experience to spend time with these amazingly friendly and happy students. One of the older students took us on a tour through the school to practice his English. The very smart young man then told us he wants to be an electrical engineer so that he can work around the frequent power shortages in Myanmar. Hearing that from a 13-year old was quite impressive! (We later figured out his teacher gave him this career idea, which is awesome too).
There was such a great positive energy in the school and everybody seemed to be very engaged! Most of the teachers are local, but every year a few foreign volunteers work at the school, mostly teaching English. A volunteer from France was teaching a sewing class for example. The volunteers all live at the guesthouse. For us this was great because we got to hang out with them and have the opportunity to get to know their point of view of the village and whole project.
It seems that the lion’s share of the credit for establishing the school goes to Eric who personally knows all children’s home situation and also tries to intervene in cases where parents take their children out of school. For example, we heard about several cases where children were taken out of school so that they could work at home. Eric also put in wells in the surrounding villages where the students are from, so that they did not have to spend several hours a day to fetch water for the family, but instead could go to school. Sadly, dropping out of school early remains a huge problem in Myanmar. The whole education system has been neglected for decades and is due for an overhaul. Only 1 in 10 students finishes final exams. You can find more information in this article.
By the way, it is also possible to support the children financially by sponsoring their education. Either contact the Guest House directly or there is also a German organisation that organizes sponsorships out of Europe.
A general note on orphanages and schools: As a foreign visitor it is very tempting to visit schools or orphanages, donate some money and feel really good about it. However, the situation is, as always, not black and white and one should always carefully evaluate such donations. In Yangon we found a leaflet from UNICEF, warning tourists to donate money to orphanages or even to visit them. This was quite eye-opening for us to be honest! They argue that many children in orphanages actually have parents and one ought to ensure as many children as possible are actually brought up by their own parents. Donating money to orphanages does not help then, obviously. In the case of the Light of Love School we thought we have a very positive feeling. It is a school for one and not an orphanage. Eric and the team really seem to take care about every single student and we are fully convinced that sponsoring some of them will help. The whole team there is very devoted to ensure a high standard of education and are adopting more interactive teaching methods with the help of visiting teachers. So everybody keep in mind:
Children are not a tourist attraction!UNICEF
The Guest House
Eric also established the Lei Thar Gone Guest House when he returned to his native town Yenangyaung after retirement. The Guest House employs quite a few people and thus provides employment opportunities to the local community. It is very professionally run (a lady who works in tourism in Switzerland comes twice a year for a month to do trainings with the staff). It is an amazing place to relax and to load up your batteries for further travelling. There is a nice pool and the view of the Irrawaddy River is amazing (especially the sunsets!). We had the most wonderful time.
The food was great too! Amazing breakfast (with very tasty home-made bread) with gorgeous views of the river and a wonderful dinner buffet. The best part of our stay though was that we had a lot of time to speak to the other guests. Some of them were current volunteers and foreign teachers at the school. All guests (and staff!) were incredible lovely people and had very interesting stories to tell. Staying at Lei Thar Gone with them truely felt like a home away from home.
To cut a long story short – if you have the chance to visit this beautiful country, you should definitely try to find a few days to come to Lei Thar Gone and relax!
There is also a lot to see and explore around the Guest House. Given these are all not “major tourist sites”, you will not feel the pressure to see them all… Having said this, it is a wonderful area, because you get to see every day life in the Myanmar countryside!
In the village between the Guest House and the Irrawaddy we saw the villagers producing clay bricks and working on the fields (more of manual work in Myanmar in this post):
We also visited a kind of bizarre and not actively used religious site, built more than a hundred years ago by a very rich merchant, in the close by town of Yenangyaung: the Tripitaka stone tablets
Yenangyaung used to be quite a rich town before the Second World War because of nearby oilfields. So it has a few romantically crumbling colonial buildings and a golf course.
We also had an amazing time just walking through the little town! The only tourists here are from the guest house and the town is the perfect place to experience normal Myanmar everyday life…