Shanta is a conjunction of Burmese and Hindi words meaning “abundance” and “peace”
When Mike & Tricia Karpfen first visited the remote, mountainous villages of the Pa’O ethnic tribes in 2004, they found gracious communities of subsistence farmers living a difficult life. Historically discriminated against and neglected by the government in Myanmar, Pa’O people live as if in the past: their water comes from scummy ponds, walking is the primary mode of transportation, and cooking is done on open fires, leaving their homes smoke-filled and their bamboo forests diminished. Village schools are often dark and damp one-room buildings with dirt floors, and rarely offer an education beyond grade four. There are no trained health care providers in the villages, and the hospitals and clinics in nearby towns are often out-of-reach due to poor roads and limited finances. There are few economic opportunities beyond meager cash crops like ginger, rice, wheat, and sesame.
But despite their struggles, the Pa’O people impressed Mike and Tricia with their pride, resourcefulness, and generosity.
The Karpfens were welcomed into homes and offered what little food was on hand. Warm smiles, lots of pantomiming, laughter, and singing quickly allowed them to get to know the villagers and learn about their lives. Homes were filled with visiting neighbors and clusters of children, revealing a sense of community often lost in the United States.
Over a week’s time in the village of Yim Bya, Mike & Tricia saw that life for these generous people was a constant struggle to provide even the most basic necessities for their families—food, clothing, health care, and education.
Moved by the compassion and struggle of those who have so little, Mike and Tricia co-founded Shanta Foundation. As founding members of the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, the Karpfens were already versed in empowering people and communities to realize their full potential.
Now, more than ten years later, Mike & Tricia’s chance encounter and ongoing commitment has resulted in life-changing programs for thousands of villagers in Myanmar.
Mike & Tricia told villagers in Yim Bya that they would raise funds and return to build a school. Two years later and with funding secured, they let villagers in Yim Bya know they were on their way. By the time they arrived less than one week later, community members had already begun leveling the ground and building the foundation.
It has continued to be the case that in so many villages, people just needed someone to believe in them.
After building the school in Yim Bya, it became apparent to Mike & Tricia that to have a lasting impact on the lives of villagers, a longer commitment and more creative approach was required. Kids couldn’t attend schools if they were sick, so villages needed health care; building materials for the schools couldn’t make it to the villages on bad roads, so they needed infrastructure repair.
Thus was born Shanta’s innovative and sustainable approach to community-led development. Now, more than ten years later, Mike & Tricia’s chance encounter and ongoing commitment has resulted in life-changing programs for thousands of villagers in Myanmar.
“The changes I’ve seen are inspiring and humbling. What we’re doing over there isn’t just a one-off: “now kids have a school” or “now families have a motorbike”. All the pieces are related and they come together so the entire community’s quality of life and sense of opportunity has been elevated by the programs we’ve supported.” – Tricia