YE TOWNSHIP, Mon State — Students waved their hands and sang along to a popular tune being played by a band of visiting Mon musicians. From the study hall, more students shouted in glee as the song came to end, clapping their hands to show their gratitude to the singers. It was a happy day at the only high school in Ye Township.
“Our mission today was to see Mon students enjoy music, and we want to encourage you to study hard too.” Nai Sapie, a popular Mon singer, told the students. “The day we have more educated people, that will be the day we get our freedom,” he said, referring to the political situation in Mon State.
Like most Mon state schools, Arn Din high school lacks both resources and financial backers. But, it was a bit different today as members of the Mon community visited to make donations to support the education of Mon children.
Ah Ar is the name of local charitable group led by a monk named Aot Jae, who came to distribute white boards for the high school in Arn Din village.
Aot Jae brought the Mon singers along with him, as he donated a dozen white boards to the school, while the Mon troupe provided entertainment for the students.
In addition to the white boards, Aot Jae also handed out small black boards to the students. It is the third year he has made such donations.
“I have donated small black boards to about 8,000 students. The white boards are for the schools,” he said, adding that he had already spent 4.5 million kyats on such equipment this year.
Aot Jae is a former Mon activist who was sentenced to a 15-year term. He was released in 2010 after serving two years of his sentence when former President Thein Sein issued a nationwide amnesty for political prisoners.
Aot Jae travelled to Thailand, Malaysia, and the U.S., where members of local ethnic Mon communities donated money. It is this money he has used to support Mon schools in Myanmar.
He explained the meaning behind “Ah Ar,” the name of his organization, which he said translates as “Give it and go.” He said that when he meets Mon people who want to donate money for education or other purposes he urges the to accompany him. “As soon as they tell me that, we go to the school that needs the donation,” he said.
The funds have also been used to build schools and to buy food for Mon rebels undergoing military training.
“It depends on the type of help the donors want to provide,” he said.
In addition to the donors, the Mon singers expressed an eagerness to come along with him on the trip out of respect for Aot Jae and his good works.
“Education is the first priority for our Mon children. We need to look at other developed countries, education is their first priority,” Aot Jae said.
Today, the high school in Arn Din village removed their old black boards and replaced them with them with the dozen new white boards donated by Ah Ar. Each white board costs 50,000 kyats.
There are 300 students at the school from primary level through to 10th grade. The school is part of the Ministry of Education system but overseen by the Mon National School Department, which in turn is under the control of the New Mon State Party. The party reached a ceasefire agreement with the central government in 1992 but still controls parts of the state. Since 1972 it has run its own schools under the Mon National Education Department. In all, it operates, 156 schools, employing 800 teachers and serving 17,000 students.
“We are very glad you have come to support our school. This will be a big help,” Nai Majoor, a school teacher in Arn Din told Aot Jae.
He said there were 18 teachers at the school who earned monthly salaries of 90,000 kyats. The salary was low, but Nai Majoor said that it was okay because the teachers felt they were serving the Mon community.