Once a hopeful, prosperous country, Myanmar has been neglected and exploited by repressive military regimes for five decades. As a result, infrastructures are broken, schools and hospitals are dysfunctional, and the vast majority of the population is uneducated and vulnerable. In many cases, it's the children who are the worst affected. Sadly, many people take advantage of the children’s trust and vulnerability. Sometimes it's actually their parents and relatives, who, out of total desperation, “give” their children over to work as indentured servants.
Teashops are located all over Myanmar—they are small road- or alley-side restaurants where the local people come regularly for daily sweet tea and snacks. Many of them are “manned” by children who have been forced into servitude. Once in this situation, the children must work for over 16 hours daily, 7 days per week. At night they sleep on the tables or on the floors of the shops. Their meager earnings are sent back to their families and villages in the countryside. In this system the children are sometimes abused by their employers/owners and customers, they are deprived of their childhoods, and they lack any basic educational skills, decent healthcare and adequate, nutritious food.
The myME PROJECT is innovative in its approach to child labor in that myME recognizes that for many families in this impoverished nation, children workers provide an income that is critical for the family's survival. Even with the promising political situation in Burma, it will take decades for true reform to happen. Until then, myME provides these working children with skills and a future so that they can graduate our program and enter the community better educated, and with increased financial potential--this benefits not only the children and their families, but their communities as a whole.
myME is the first mobile education solution in Burma. While we are not the first to use non-formal education, we are the first to bring it to child laborers. In Burma, according to 2014 census data, there are 5.09 million children between age 5-18 out of school. myME provides free literacy, numeracy, life-skills and vocational subjects along with computer classes to working teashop children after their working day is done, while not depriving them or their families the income that the children earn from teashop work.
We started the pilot run with 60 kids in 2 teashops in early 2014. Less than two years later, myME has already expanded to serve more than 10,000 students from 53 teashops, 8 monastic schools, and 6 underprivileged communities in Yangon, Mandalay and Kyauk-Se.
Our innovative approach to education provides these children with access and learning involving tablets (provided by Samsung) on the buses, which are all wired for internet connectivity. In addition to our basic education curriculum, we also provide enriching programs to encourage and promote creativity, such as photography and art, and an ongoing program that brings in volunteers from around the world to speak to students about life in their countries.