When Cyclone Nargis devastated Pyapon Township in May 2008, 14-year-old Than Htaik Soe’s hut collapsed. His family moved in with relatives and Htaik’s job was to help out in the garden, watering one square acre of flowers from two 20-litre water containers. It was such back breaking work that when World Vision opened up a Non Formal Education centre schooling was a welcome relief for Htaik.
“I can read short sentences but not very fluently. I can do plus, minus, multiply and divide in three digits. I am happy to have such ability," says Than Htaik Soe.
Than Htaik Soe is one of 50 students at a Non Formal Education (NFE) centre in Nga Ain Su village, in Pyapon Township.
Funded by World Vision Australia, the NFE is part of livelihood recovery programme providing education to children whose families are too poor to pay for schooling. In Pyapon, 9 NFE centres educate around 300 children.
The opportunity already has Htaik Soe dreaming of breaking the poverty cycle.
"When I grew up, I want to be a business man. I want money to support my youngsters."
Than Htaik Soe’s father, 57-year-old U Sein Hlain, is barely literate and does odd jobs for a living and his mother, 40-year-old Daw Pyone, works as a flower cutter. Together, they earn the equivalent of US$2.50 a day - just enough to feed the family, but not enough to educate them at state schools.
Than Htaik Soe pays the price – at his age he should be attending a grade 9 class learning Myanmar, English, mathematics, chemistry, physics, geography, history and life-skills.
When he began classes 9 months ago, Htaik started by learning the Myanmar alphabet, and progressed to reading, writing and basic mathematics.
World Vision Facilitator in Pyapon, Nilar Lin, says they provide life skills education to develop students’ self-awareness, interpersonal relationship skills, empathy, strong values, creative thinking, decision-making, problem solving and strategies to cope with stress and emotion.
"I want to be a business man. When I got money I will support my younger brother and sister to be educated," says Than Htaik Soe.
Already, he can read long Myanmar sentences and has a sense of basic calculation. It is already enough to encourage him to aspire to become the owner of a garden.
You can read more about World Vision’s response to Cyclone Nargis here.