Shanta Foundation works where the need is great and the current support is minimal
Shanta’s partner villages belong to the Pa’O ethic minority tribe in the Southern Shan State of Myanmar. The Pa’O are proud, industrious and generous, but suffer the consequences of a government that has long neglected even their most basic needs. Life in their villages is like living in the distant past; drinking water comes from scummy ponds, walking is the primary mode of transportation, and cooking is done on open fires inside their homes where they burn wood from diminishing forests. Village schools are dark and damp one-room bamboo buildings with dirt floors, and most end at grade four. There are no trained health care providers in the villages, and hospitals and clinics in nearby towns are often made inaccessible by poor roads and lack of funds. There are few economic opportunities beyond meager cash crops such as ginger, cheroot leaves, wheat, and garlic. The poorest families, who make up 50% of our villagers, earn less than $600 annually.
The story of the Pa’O is shared by most rural communities, comprising 70% of Myanmar’s population. For more than 55 years, Myanmar was ruled by a military regime that ranked near the bottom worldwide in education, health care, and infrastructure investment. In 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner, took office as the de facto leader of the Myanmar government to tremendous hope and excitement. She spoke passionately about ending the many long-running civil wars with various ethnic minorities, expanding the economy, and transforming their failing health care and education systems.
However, these issues are deep seated and the constitution gives power over the army, police, and home affairs to these same military generals. As a result, change is very slow and the rural areas are the last to benefit. Shanta’s village partnerships are established where the need is great, outside support is minimal, and our work is essential for sustainable change.
Who We Serve
- More than 52 percent of rural Myanmar lives in extreme poverty (UNDP)
- Access to electricity is limited to 26% of the population (UNDP)
- The rate of child and infant mortality in Myanmar is nearly 250 percent higher than the average across Southeast Asia. (UNFPA)
- There are millions of people in Myanmar living in dire conditions, in households without safe drinking water, toilets or electricity. “Substantial reductions in under-five mortality could be achieved by improving people’s living standards, especially in remote areas.” (UNFPA)
U Mone is a 44-year-old farmer living in Ga Naing Nge West with his wife, Nang Loon, and their three children. Like so many in the villages, U Mone’s family has faced a lot of misfortune. Ten years ago their bamboo home burned down, U Mone is blind in one eye from an accident, and his work as a carpenter ended when the “company” dissolved. In recent years, the value of his main crop, cheerot leaves, has plummeted.
But after partnering with Shanta, U Mone’s life began to change. His youngest daughter, the “sunshine of their family”, graduated primary school at the top of her class and was chosen by the village to attend our special boarding school. And in 2014, Shanta helped him start his own pig farm as a means to increase his income. These additional funds allowed U Mone to build a new home for his family—made of cement blocks and a tin roof, keeping them warm and safe.
U Mone told us, “Ever since Shanta Foundation came into our lives it has felt like Buddha is lifting us up.”
From the village of Pone Tan, Nang Ohn Phyu is 18 years old, one of six siblings. She attended grades 1-5 in her village, but had to live away from her family in Yangon to attend grades 6-9, leaving her village of a few hundred to attend school in a city of a few million. Those years were hard for her, but she persevered. Her siblings had to move to Thailand to find work. When her mother became ill, Nang Ohn Phyu returned home to support her parents and her education was forced to take a back seat. With limited income opportunities, Nang Ohn Phyu thought she may have to go to Thailand and work illegally, like her siblings.
“I was very nervous to start the training because I was afraid that I wouldn’t do well in learning. But after three months, everything was easy for me. I and four other women came from the villages and Shanta supported us. When I came home from training after six months the villagers were happy,” she said.
Upon returning, she began to provide care to pregnant mothers and children. The first baby she delivered was easy, but the second presented challenges.
“The umbilical cord was short and came out before the baby. I did not have training in that specific experience, but I had confidence,” she said. Both mother and baby made it through the birth in good health, which wouldn’t have been the case if it hadn’t been for Nang Ohn Phyu.