Education is empowering. Education should be holistic. From knowing the importance of essentials like clean water and nutrition, to equipping oneself with problem-solving skills as well as a sense of confidence and self-worth, many can benefit from knowledge.
Global Village for Hope (GVH), a social initiative which focuses its philanthropical efforts on underprivileged communities in Myanmar, covers these areas and more. It started with GVH’s founder Linus Lin who, after coming across a story of Mother Teresa in a school textbook, felt inspired, but also “pondered on my purpose in life”.
Its not surprising that Linus felt this way. He realised at a young age that he was easily moved by stories of people overcoming adversity, and later on, decided he wanted to play a part in changing lives for the better — no doubt a strength instilled in him after watching his father work tirelessly for a better life.
The educator and entrepreneur realised that to see a positive change in a community or nation of people, these people needed to be educated. GVH has, since its launch in 2014, provided villagers with provisions like rice and raincoats, helped an orphanage be self-sustaining by converting a piece of land into a mushroom farm, as well as started the GVH Bursary Award to fund one year’s cost of tuition fees and school uniforms of 10 children — among many others.
The way GVH works is simple. Your donations don’t go to people, but to fund projects that will empower the community to lead better lives. Think about it: a few dollars may tide them over for a day, but a well-equipped village that helps to raise the standard of living will do much more in the long run.
We speak to him to find out more.
Tell us how GVH started.
In 2013, I funded the salaries (SGD100/month) of two English teachers at an orphanage in Myanmar, as I believe speaking and writing English is key for the children to have a better life. Joseph was one of the teachers, and in 2014, he agreed to join me in this non-profit venture. This way, Joseph can represent me and accomplish the work I would have done if I were personally around.
Joseph will look for villages in need of help, and we will discuss potential solutions. For example, when he found a village that was lacking water, we considered how much a water well would cost and I reached out to my friends for ideas and support. After gathering enough funds, I brought the money to Myanmar, and worked on building the water well with the local villagers. This is basically how we function. I feel blessed to have met Joseph.
What would you say are the top three problems preventing the locals from attaining a better standard of living?
A lack of education, basic food and clean water, and hygiene and medical care. Although public school education is free, families are required to buy school uniforms, textbooks and stationery before they are allowed to attend the classes. Most families can only afford to buy one set of uniform for the entire year — even when it’s wet after the rain. Furthermore, the passing rate in Myanmar remains below 50%, especially because parents cannot afford to hire tutors. Children in rural areas don’t have sufficient lighting and cannot study after nightfall. This is why education is GVH’s top priority, and we will be installing solar-powered lights and electricity where we can.
Lack of food is also an area of concern, as it leads to health issues due to weaker bodies. People in rural Myanmar worry about falling sick because it means they have to get treatment from a local hospital; this costs more than their monthly wage! They treat non-serious illnesses with remedies from local medicine shops, and their meals usually consist of white rice and vegetables. Most only eat meat about once every one or two weeks. And from my experience, most health issues are caused by poor water conditions and poor toilet hygiene.
Share with us one happy moment, where you truly felt like you’ve achieved something not only great, but sustainable too.
In November 2014, I travelled 21 hours from Yangon to a village called Zui Tui, which lacked clean water. On my first visit, I bought 20 sacks of rice for the small village of about 10 households, so that the men can stop working and concentrate on building the water pipelines. A month later, I went back to give them warm clothing and blankets for the cold season. We also built a road access, leading from their village to the town of Mindat. A year later, I returned to build a solar power system. I think the moment I felt truly happy was when the villages and children gathered on my last night there and prayed for me. I don’t think I felt a sense of achievement. It is more a sense of peace and happiness. I know that the road, the water pipe, the electricity and the warmth will continue to serve them well for decades even.
Name one obstacle you’ve faced. How have you overcome this?
When we first visited the homes and villages in Myanmar, the leaders tend to be a little cautious of our intentions. As such, we will always start off by giving a gift, such as two sacks of rice for a small orphanage. I found out there have been people who said they were doing humanitarian work and even took photos of the situation, but eventually disappeared without offering help. It is no wonder the villagers are skeptical — there are those who use the photos they took to raise funds for personal gain! Now, we have a positive track record and can easily prove our intentions with the photos we have collected over years.
What can people do to help?
I think as educated people in the urban society, we should contribute our mind as well as money. It is important to understand the need of the community first, instead of assuming what they need. For example, it is pointless to give toys when the children need school uniforms, or to buy the children shoes when they only wear sandals, because of the rain and the mud.
Think about the root of each issue: water cleaning pills don’t help, when they do not have enough water to drink in the first place. Similarly, English books and educational materials do not matter, when they do not understand them or have money to attend tuition lessons.
Also, be careful when donating your money — know how it will be used. If someone is keen on making a trip to help the communities directly, supplies and food might be more helpful than money, as the latter can encourage corruption.
You spend your life helping others. How has this experience helped you become a better person?
I have learnt that true happiness doesn’t come from taking, neither is it from giving nor having. It comes from receiving. All this work has allowed me to receive an enormous amount of positive energy which has brought about much inner peace. No amount of material gains, physical possessions, or numerical wealth can bring about the happiness I have received from my work and constant reflection. I do not know if this is considered “being a better person”, but I do hope my work can help inspire youths to do more good to others.