Remarkable New Documentary on Burma's Children

This week's release of All You Need Is Love (Portfolio, narrated by Sigourney Weaver, produced and directed by Stuart Cameron, and featuring the work by California's Muse School, will serve as a wake-up call for Americans whose knowledge of Burma's multiple crises is minimal. Most Americans know Myanmar as Burma, its former and still widely-used name. Some know about Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Xii, her overthrow immediately after being elected Burma's leader by a military coup d'etat, her house arrest for many years until a recent change in attitude by Burma's military led to her release.

But too few know about the decades-long plight of Burma's ethnic minorities, 300,000 of whom are stateless and living just inside the Thailand border. To say the Thais tolerate the Burmese refugee settlements there is a stretch and they are prone to arrest, fine and sometimes long-term imprisonment. Their education, even when completed, has no status in Thailand and they remain as they started, stateless and invisible. But they are now educated, made healthy by a remarkable health clinic, Mae Tao, run by Dr Cynthia Maung, and ready for much more if things change.

It was in this context that a small group of California educators visited Mae Sot, Thailand and helped strengthen a primary school called Good Morning School. While it is run by Burmese, the California Muse School vastly added value to what is being taught there and to the improved physical plant. These days, a successful school in that region must include health care projects, income generating projects for the children's parents (to avoid their being pulled out of school to work as child laborers) and community-building projects. Rather than emphasize individual achievement as we do in the USA, Muse wisely learned about the Burmese' own sense of community and focused on strengthening programs to build the school as a civil society institution.

Operation USA, for more than 25 years, has occasionally assisted the Mae Tao Clinic but had not encountered its educational partner, Good Morning School. The documentary is instructive, moving and a welcome wake-up call for those who think they know about development projects...there are always...always..better ways to go.