On the streets of Mandalay, groups of children wander between restaurants, teashops and pagodas selling flowers. The bouquets brighten up the days of locals and tourists alike; however it is a tough day’s work for these children, many of whom miss out on school.
On 25 June, 20 local volunteers got together to give these kids a chance at an education. Taking the lead from the successful Platform Classroom, the volunteers began holding roadside lessons. Within a short time, the project became known as panpyothu doh sarthinwine, literally translated as the “Gardeners’ Classroom” in honour of the young flower-sellers.
In 2013, the Platform Classroom started up outside Mandalay train station, where similarly, volunteer teachers offer school lessons in the evenings to boys and girls who work in tea shops and other businesses during the day. This year, that initiative caught on in Rangoon, and the organisation began holding classes at the city’s central railway station.
However the local municipal council shut the school down, believing it to be a nuisance to commuters as they navigate the already busy platform.
Mandalay authorities have taken a much different approach, according to Gardener’s Classroom volunteer Ko Htet.
While he joked about the potential chaos the young larrikins could cause in the confines of a classroom, he praised Mandalay’s divisional government for their positive stance in opening the local high school in Chanayetharzan Township in the evenings for the young “gardeners” so they may have a more suitable place to study and learn.
“The government has really stepped in to help us, and we are trying to make Burma a better place,” he said.
The excitement was shared by fellow volunteer Shwe Moe Thein. “There will be a different atmosphere in the [Chanayetharzan] classroom,” she said. “This will give the kids a real sense of going to school.”
The kids will continue to sell their flowers by day.Working long hours on the busy roads, they remain at risk of injury, heatstroke, violence and abuse.
Few would deny that an education could help them on the road to a better life. The safety of the classroom is the perfect setting to set that process in motion.