Every Friday morning in the town of Nyaung Shwe, where Myanmar’s famous Inle Lake is located, you will see children of all ages dressed in the same blue uniform in all quarters.
These children are tirelessly picking up all the plastic waste such as empty plastic cans, bottles, and used masks whenever they see it along the side of the road.
The children picking up the trash are Eco-Warrior members from the Hand to Hand charity training school. It has been nearly 10 years since they collected garbage to make Nyaung Shwe a green, clean, and plastic-free environment.
The person who is steering these children to love the environment and become environmentally beneficial human beings is the founder of Hand to Hand charity and Eco-Warrior, Ma Yi Yi Min (a) Ma Pu Hsuu.
Ma Pu Hsuu is also the owner of the Bamboo Delight cooking class, which teaches Inle local food and traditional Burmese cooking techniques to foreign guests who visit Inlae Lake.
When Bamboo Delight, the first cooking class in Nyaung Shwe opened by Ma Pu Hsuu, was gradually becoming well known, she thought of doing something for the education of the children in her area.
She noticed that most of the children in her surroundings waste their time during the summer and that while playing, sometimes she saw children get into accidents and even lost their lives.
Due to the parent’s lack of proper education, they also could not guide and support their children’s future as well, and that’s why most kids drop out of school when they are teenagers and are more eager to work for some income.
Also, most young people get married before becoming adults, and most kids are addicted to smoking and alcohol. As for the girls, they get married very early and have to struggle as widows and with motherhood. She wanted to help those who are facing domestic violence and those who do not understand the rights of women and children.
For these reasons, Hand to Hand Charity was founded in 2013 as a summer school and started to work on social welfare activities for children such as education and environmental things.
Every summer, the Hand to Hand charity summer school is opened, where basic English and social studies that can provide advantages for children are taught free of charge. In order to do teaching, she invited volunteer teachers from home and abroad to share their general knowledge.
English speaking has been taught at the training school with music and other enjoyable activities as well. Children have happily and freely been taught to learn general information that they should know. Kids are required to pick up rubbish, plant trees, and learn to love nature by designating every Friday as Environmental Day.
A library with 5,000 books was opened to encourage children to love books, and a toy library was also opened for small children who are not too young to read.
On the September 29th of 2020(World Cleanup Day), organized by around 100 children who are interested in environmental issues were formed a group called Eco-Warrior, aimed to pick up garbage, plant trees, and make paper bags so as to use them to replace plastic bags in the Inle lake area.
Every Friday, Eco-Warrior members are divided into groups in different wards and pick up the garbage in the morning (or evening). Inle Rose Private Garbage Collection Service has been taking the responsibility for the garbage collected by the children and dumping it in the scrap heap.
Ma Pu Hsuu said, “As the children regularly pick up garbage, Nyang Shwe town is litter-free, and thanks to it, some quarters and roads are clean and no litter, and residents of the town have started throwing away their garbage systematically”.
Since Nyaung Shwe is the major town on the famed Inle Lake, cleanliness and shrewdness are essential not only for the tourist destination but also for the point of environmental conservation. The future of Inle Lake and its major business—tourism—depends partly on the management of Nyaung Shwe’s waste. Moreover, as the town has to rely on agriculture, it is crucial to dispose of litter like plastic waste properly.
“As the kids are picking up garbage in a steady and systemic way,” she added, “adults acknowledge the children’s activities and abstain from throwing the trash away.” Those who do not follow certain rules are still burning garbage, and children tell them not to burn the trash but to throw it away in the proper way. “
Another point she added is that, “To implement the educational and environmental activities, she uses 15 percent of the profits of Bamboo Delight Business and carries on with the aid of local and international volunteer donors.”
As she did not have the chance to get her degree, she aided those children who had difficulty acquiring an education as much as she could. She said that, as a nature lover, she has served in social welfare work.
She faced many difficulties when starting a summer school for children. When she worked on social welfare activities by separating them from ordinary life, she remarked that some people supported her work but some didn’t.
Not being a graduate, Ma Pu Hsuu was ridiculed and underestimated at the time of opening a summer class.
She revealed, “Some kids’ parents banned their children from going to my house.”
However, she said that by placing her true color on children and doing what she expected, her training school has been successful as she overcame all the taunts and hardship.
The Hand to Hand charity, which started in 2013, will soon turn into its 10th anniversary, and the behavior and attitudes of the children at school have changed significantly. They have improved not only their relationships but also their understanding of basic human ethics. She felt happy and satisfied as she saw that the kids had the mindset of how to share each other and love and conserve the environment.
Though there were 10 kids at the beginning of the school, enrollment has been increasing year by year, and before the COVID-19 outbreak, there were nearly 300 students.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, summer courses are being suspended, and plus, people have to stay home and are not allowed to go outside, so kids, however, spend their time by hiring and reading books from the library. And they joined in the environmental conservation activities at their convenience.
Still, during the coup d’état, even though they are not allowed to work as freely as before, the library is open every Saturday and Sunday, and the Eco-Warrior members are also collecting trash every Friday.
And educational support programs and environmental conservation programs for the kids will run continuously as much as possible. She added that being an environmentalist, she reduces the use of plastic as much as possible.
The Hand to Hand charity, founded by Ma Pu Hsuu, is a place that helps future generations to learn about their passions and natural bents with state-of-the-art techniques and is a place that aids them to be able to shape their own ideas as they like.
No matter what difficulties she faces, she wants to build a bigger and more spacious school for the children in the future. Ma Pu Hsuu said that she is going to raise children who will be able to conserve the environment, who will become good leaders, and who will become good-hearted philanthropists.
“Even if our dreams don’t come true, there is still an opportunity to help other people’s dreams come true,” Ma Pu Hsuu concluded.