Villagers Urge Reopening of Rangoon Access Road for Students

By Yen Saning 21 November 2014

RANGOON — Villagers from Kyi Myin Dine Township have spent the past five days urging the reopening of an access road, the closure of which has added an hour to the commute of school students each morning.

The children of Oo Mya Ngar Sin Village, on the western bank of the Rangoon River, are regularly ferried to Ahlone Township to attend the No. 7 High School, the closest institution catering to primary, middle and high schooling. At the Ahlone ferry terminal, students walked 250 meters along an access road to reach the school.

That changed on midnight Saturday, when the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) erected a chain link and barbwire fence to block the access road. The MEC is in the process of constructing a furniture factory on the southern side of the road.

“We have used this access road since 1983,” said Thein Aung, one of the ferriers. “There are 60 of us. We all put our children through school by doing this work.”

The access road is the primary point of entry into central Rangoon for theresidents of Oo Mya Ngar Sin and nearby villages who travel to and from the city each day, including a total 350 students from the area attending No. 7 High School.

With the road’s closure, ferries must stop at a gate further south on the eastern bank of the river, in a muddy area prone to sudden flooding that parents said was too dangerous for young children traveling to the school.

Previously, the boat journey from Kyi Myin Dine to the Ahlone access road took about 10 minutes. Parents told The Irrawaddy that travel to the new gate takes 45 minutes across the river, with a further 20 minutes voyage by trishaw for students traveling to class.

Students from Kyi Myin Dine have not attended school for the past week as a result of the road closure, and locals said that income for the ferriers had collapsed since the barrier was erected.

“[The road] was blocked so that all parents and public cannot cross it,” said one of the parents from Oo Mya Ngar Sin. “They have made all ferry drivers jobless.”

The closure of the access road comes despite an assurance from the Rangoon Division government to Kyi Myin Dine residents that the access road would remain open for public use.

In a letter sent to the Myanmar Port Authority (MPA) on May 6, villagers requested the moving of a ferry dock slightly south to bring boat arrivals directly to the terminus of the road.

The Rangoon government wrote back to the MPA, stating that it had no objections to the moving of the dock and an explicit guarantee that the access road was for public use.

The headmistress of No. 7 school has attempted to negotiate with villagers, offering an arrangement in which students are allowed passage along the road at certain times of the day while chaperoned by teachers.

At the same time, the school’s administration has threatened the students with expulsion, warning other students not to allow their Kyi Myin Dine classmates to copy their notes.

Villagers have refused the compromise.

“If we can get access to this road again, we will take ferry to come here,” said Mya Mya Thwe, a mother of a No. 7 student and wife of one of the ferry drivers. “Our children will have more time to read. It’s safer too. That’s why we are asking this.”