The Poverty Alleviation Project
The Jesuits in Myanmar are accompanying poor and marginalised communities in Thingangyun – opening up doors to opportunities and empowering them to create brighter futures.
Once a wealthy country, Myanmar (previously known as Burma) experienced decades of civil unrest and oppression under military rule. Even though the country has now moved to a democratic government, the country’s troubled history has left a situation of widespread poverty and weak education and social welfare supports. The country has a large proportion of young people, many who have not had access to quality education and are lacking in employable skills; but they are eager for the opportunity to learn and work. The Thingangyun slum is one of the major slums in Yangon in Myanmar. The slum and nearby township are overcrowded with over 200,000 people living in small and run-down thatched huts lining muddy lanes. Many of the people living in Thingangyun struggle and face discrimination, while others do not have identity documents, excluding them from society and prohibiting them from securing a job. Some families struggle to pay the high study fees required to send their children to school. Jesuit Mission supports the vital work of the Myanmar Jesuits in accompanying poor and vulnerable families in Thingangyun. The Jesuits are the only major organisation serving these communities; and the project aims to improve their living conditions, access to education and community life. The Poverty Alleviation Project helps the community by:
- Providing shelter for the poorest families in the slum. Sturdy new houses are constructed for families that will protect them from the weather and provide privacy from the crowds.
- Providing microcredit loans to poor and vulnerable families. The small loans (approx $200US) help families earn a livelihood, such as assisting the purchase of trolleys, tricycles and carpenter tools that they would otherwise have had to pay rent for. The families are also supported with business and financial management coaching. They pay a small amount of interest as they pay back the loan (usually over one year), which becomes their savings for later use.
- Running evening study centres for students. The education system in Myanmar requires students to take extra tuition classes out of school to learn the full curriculum. Many homes in the slum are crowded, cramped and have no lighting so there is no space for homework or extra tuition. The Evening Study Centres in the slum provide a safe, dry and well-lit place for students to study. Students are also supported by volunteer teachers from the slum area who run study groups and learning activities each evening.
The Poverty Alleviation Project also provides education and training for young people in the area.
The Jesuits are also providing quality education for young people living in the slum and surrounding township. The Inigo English Academy provides English Language training to young people in three different groups: day students, afternoon classes and evening classes. In addition to teaching English, the academy delivers a holistic education program that develops the whole person, forming confident leaders, and men and women for others. The Jesuits have also recently established the Yangon Loyola Community College which provides vocational skills training with practical work experience for people who are economically and socially excluded. The College provides training in the areas of accountancy, computer, English and life skills. The program culminates with a practical internship placement for every student. The program is hugely successful with 15 of the 16 graduates from the first year now in full-time employment (and the last graduate still being mentored and supported to find a full-time role). The Community College has a profound impact on these vulnerable youth as they are now active and engaged members of their community, included in the work place, and on paths to lead further change.
“As a human being you are called to live a joyful, peaceful, happy life… I would like to give all of you peace, joy and love... It has to be created by you. So we are like an instrument. We are like a fire creating the fire… You are assured that you can create a better world, you can create a joyful world; you can make yourself and the community much, much better.”
Mrs Khin Ohm’s Story
Daw Khin Ohm Myint is a widow who lives alone in Thingangyun slum. With no family nearby, the only way she has been able to buy food and medicine is by collecting trash. And to do this, she has had to rent a trolley from a nearby local business. But through the Thingangyun Project, she received a microloan which has helped her purchase a trolley. Now, she doesn’t have to sacrifice so much of her income to rent the trolley, and she already owns the trolley outright. Ms Khin Ohm is now able to take another loan, and after a year she will have savings she’s never had before. Through the program, Ms Khin Ohm was also provided with a new shelter in 2017. This support is leading Ms Khin Ohm to financial independence and an improved quality of life.