Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Ngapali Beach, Inle Lake… many in Myanmar live in these places, trying to fullfil the tourist needs and desires. How are the other people outside of the tourist spots living? Discovering a country off the beaten track can be a refreshing change from the norm for a traveller. One suggestion: Yenangyaung.
Yenangyaung? Yes, there is no Shwedagon pagoda or Golden Rock. There really is no spectacular draw in the town attracting bus loads of camera clickers. Of course, you can also visit a pagoda or a food market in Yenangyaung – like in almost every town in Myanmar. But the main reason to visit this historical town on the banks of the Irrawaddy River to the south of Bagan is the community of open hearted people and laughing kids who will leave a lasting impression on you.
The reason why I came to Yenangyaung is the Light of Love Private High School, one of the originally just two private schools in the whole of Magway Division. This particular school, perched high above the Irrawaddy River, was built by Eric Trutwein to support orphans and half-orphans from poor families from his birthplace. In fact, newly the government schools don’t have fees anymore so they are for free, but even then it’s almost impossible for those kids to contribute for example the costs for the additional tuition they need to pass the required tests.
Eric had me hooked with his story: he had been working as an engineer and after he found out that he was HIV-infected he retired and decided to go back to his hometown. In 2002 he began to teach and provide for children who lost their families due to AIDS.
‘My heart’s desire is to give a chance for education to the children and to facilitate a good life to every one of them’, Eric said to me. With this selfless motivation, he and his staff give their best every day. Meanwhile, he cooperates with the German NGO Förderverein Kinderhilfe Birma, the Swiss NGO Hirten-Kinder, and many other supporters including individual volunteers. Thus, the school is able to provide high-grade education to over 100 children who are studying in hope of a better future.
To reduce the dependency on the NGOs, Eric began in 2006 to build a guesthouse nearby the school. Started with just three bedrooms, the guesthouse Lei Thar Gone was extended continuously. For five years, foreigners have been allowed to stay at this enchanting place, with its 15 characterful and comfortable rooms with amazing views, a swimming pool, green garden and a delicious breakfast with homemade bread and jam.
The restaurant pampers your pallet: Enjoy selected three course dinners with fresh local ingredients after a sunset from the terrace. Lei Thar Gone is more than a guesthouse. Every stay helps to fund the nearby Light of Love High School.
Set in beautiful natural surroundings, the town of Yenangyaung istelf is like a little paradise in the middle of nowhere – not only for the children, also for visitors. Just two to three hours from Bagan by bus, or less by car, it is a worthwile travel destination for everyone who wants to discover the simple, rural life of many in Myanmar.
Roger Vogel and Svea Meerholz
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