The Water Pipe Monk

In Burma / Myanmar, displaced rural villagers find water, school, food and hope thanks to a cross-cutting community-led project organized by the Water Monk.

For hundreds of displaced villagers relocated to arid lowlands in northern Burma, water pipes mean more than just water.

Thanks to the creativity of a local “Water Pipe Monk,” the resourcefulness of our  local partners and the cooperation of neighbors on the lush mountainside above, here’s what springs from a small irrigation project in Shan State: an expanded primary school attended by 106 children;  terraced farmland for essential crops; agricultural training for people living with HIV/AIDs.

Two years ago, when government projects displaced hundreds of families from their villages to a dusty clear-cut tract in northern Burma, villagers were dismayed to discover their water source was more than a mile away and did not provide enough water for even basic drinking, cooking and washing.

A stream flowed high above on the mountain, but it was already used by an established village. Monks from a monastery midway up the mountain talked with the mountain villagers about the benefits of sharing their water with people in the new settlement below. The proposal: Valley people would pay a small fee for piped water with all proceeds going to expand a cramped monastery school that was so small, it had to turn away more children than it could teach. The mountain community had long wanted to educate more of its children, and they agreed to the plan.

Now, with additional space and teachers, children from mountain and valley communities attend first through fourth grades together, learning academics along with real-life lessons in community cooperation.

Along with water, people need food. The monastery donated to our local partners four acres of land—already cleared, terraced and ready for planting mountain rice, corn, vegetables, tea, fruit and flowers. The donated farmland hosts another of our projects that provides shelter and job training for people living with HIV/AIDS as well as impoverished community members. Crops have already been planted and a home built for six residents from an urban inpatient program we support.