The Value of A Secret

We keep secrets for many reasons and those reasons are not always bad.

Expression can take many forms. Not all of them vocal.

I experienced the value of keeping a secret when I learned about schools being built in Burma, “under the radar”. You might be familiar with the saying “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me god.” It is an oath. A promise to speak only truth. But the reality is that truth is about perspective. What you “know” to be true can be something different for other people.

For me, it is truth that the people in Burma really value education. The people I met in Burma valued education, they wanted to learn but did not always have the resources to do so. I met a young girl at the hotel. She was selling postcards — every day after school. The reason she was doing this was so she could send herself to school as her family could not afford for her to go. At that time, it cost $3/year for a child of her age to go to school.

As an educator, I value education. Then I met a really amazing Canadian, John who had befriended a local Burmese guy and was building schools in Burma. They had just built their first school.

Old school with dirt floor — was replaced
Little girl on water buffalo
School Children

At that time the government did not value education. The “truth” was that many in power did not value education. So, the first schools that were built were done under the radar. The goal was to address the needs of the people and not pander to the government or NGO’s.

Maung Maung Gyi, John and I

My friend Sandra and I had both experienced first hand the ineptitude of NGOs and corruption in Thailand after the tsunami. We wanted to support John without the bureaucracy and controversy of many NGOs. We realized how fortunate we are in Canada and wanted to share our luck, and our resources in a way that would make a lasting difference. Not a bandaid or knee jerk response but sustainable change. We wanted to be able to collaborate with the people of Burma and work with them, without putting our own values and judgements onto them. We sought to find out what the people wanted and how could we support them, John and Maung Maung Gyi were our bridge.

As a teacher, I fundamentally believe in the value of education. I believe that people learn by doing things themselves. That by being involved and taking action for themselves people are empowered. We could not share our goals and mission publicly as we had fears that John and Maung would be stopped and Maung Maung Gyi could even be imprisoned. So we asked people to donate to raise $10,000 to build a school in 2008. That’s what it cost then… and the generosity of people was amazing. So were the results:

Sandra and I opening our first school

One village had been attempting to build a school for 6 years. At the end of that time, all they had accomplished was the floor, a foundation of bricks. The village approached John and within a few months the entire school was built. With John and Maung’s guidance and support the community came together, contributing labor and any resources they could spare. It was grassroots. It was theirs. The building now serves as a school and community center.

Our work was illicit, illegal, and necessary. It was for a cause that was important to me and I knew the value of it. It also appealed to my sense of adventure in a great way. We were renegades creating change. It was great to find non-corrupt people in a corrupt system.

There is a danger with NGO’s that the donations do not always go where the donors want. I am so happy to be different, 100% of the donations we raise goes to build schools and support education in Myanmar — through books, writing materials and scholarships. As the political environment has changed, so has our ability to speak freely about what is happening.

Sandra and I hanging the plaque at our first school

So much so, that now John is featured in an amazing article outlining what he has been doing for the past 10 years. Now we are finally able to vocalize the change in reality it is liberating.

We live in a world were we “talk” about things, we “express” ourselves but sometimes the best form of expression is taking action to support our values. Walk the walk, instead of talking the talk. When you do choose to vocalize, you may find it freeing and liberating. And if you want to keep your actions a secret for now, do so as long as it is inline with your values.

Find ways and actions to express what you believe in.

All opinions and truths stated here are my own.

To learn more:

Gilly and Sandra’s Not For Profit: 100% Volunteer Run

UR Building Knowledge

John D. Stevens and Maung Maung Gyi

100 Schools — Setting Up Educational Facilities in Rural Myanmar (Burma)

Recent Article About John, Maung and