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Winter 2012

Study Break: Maung Ting Nyeu, Ed.M. candidate

Program: Human Development and Psychology
Tool for Change: A school for the poor
Hometown: Indigenous communities of Hill Tracts, Bangladesh

He remembers waking up on a hillside in the remote mountainous area of Bangladesh known as the Chittagong Hill Tracts with mosquitoes buzzing in his ear and wondering what was going to happen to him and his family. The day before, they had heard gunshots followed by the village headman, as he was known, yelling for everyone to run. So Maung Ting Nyeu ran into the jungle with his mother, brother, and baby sister. When darkness fell, they moved to the hillside. The next morning, they saw smoke rising. Their village and a nearby temple had been burned. He was six years old. By the time he was a teenager, the violence that marred that area of the country had increased, leaving his mother no choice but to give this advice: Get out. "My mother said to me, if you want to survive, you need to get out of this hell," Nyeu says. But as the son of a poor tribal farming family, he didn't know how. His dad told him to study hard. "So I put my heart into learning," Nyeu says. "In the end, education didn't change my life. It saved my life." And he got out. But his heart is still in Bangladesh, so now he's trying to save the lives of other indigenous tribal children with the Padamu Residential Education Centre, a primary school that he opened with a local monk on the grounds of a Buddhist temple.

Against all odds, you got a master's in engineering and an M.B.A., both in the United States. Why return home to a difficult life?
In the Hill Tracts, the percentage of people who have a primary education — just up to grade five — is 28 percent, and that is based on whether or not you can sign your name. I realized that the next generation of kids, particularly those who had been living in refugee camps in India and returned home with one or no parents, had not gone to school. Many had lost their homes and had no way to survive since my people live off of the land. I had seen the world, but so many [back home] had nothing. I had a responsibility to help these kids get at least a basic education to have a glimpse of what was possible.

Why don't children go to school?

  • Few schools
  • Huge distances between schools and villages
  • Parents need help at home
  • Severely limited resources

Initially, you earned a full scholarship as a teenager to a boarding school far from home. You went alone. How did you get there?
Walking, a boat, two buses, a taxi, and a rickshaw.

Number of televisions in your entire village: 1

How television is powered: Batteries

Your school is near a small town because … In remote areas, there is no electricity. In Bardanban, there is a limited supply of electricity. Plus we have access to a compounder — a medical assistant. In remote areas, it can take half a day to get medical help.

The XO computers from One Laptop Per Child you are trying to get for each student are:

  • Rugged
  • Low-cost
  • Battery and solar powered
  • Free

How will you get by without Internet access?
Using my computer background to build a server with Wi-Fi. Once a month, we will go to the nearest town with an Internet cafe, download new material on a disc, and upload it to our server. When an XO computer is in the proximity of the server, it will download that information. It's possible.

Your nonprofit is called The Golden Hour. Why?
In medicine, if someone gets injured, there's a window of time, maybe a few minutes to two hours, where if the person can get to the ER, the chances of survival increases. For our children, their golden hour is between the ages of 4 or 5 and 12. If we don't get them in school during this time, we won't get them at all.