Creating a Burmese connection
Building a relationshhip with Gei Lin’s home village
A RECENT trip back home with two friends has enabled Bright’s Gei Lin Thang Kinta to set his sights on building connections between his two communities.
After fleeing from Chin State, Burma (Myanmar) in 2004, the Kinta family moved to Bright in 2008, with the hope of creating a better life.
Gei Lin has often returned home to visit the extended family and friends he left behind.
After making the trip to Burma earlier this year, Gei Lin identified some projects within his small village, and a larger village up the road, and came up with the idea to ask two of his good friends in Bright, Travis McGregor and Rhett Chalwell if they would like to visit his hometown.
Along with Andy Sparkes, who originally helped Gei Lin and his family settle in Bright, the trio headed off to Burma last month.
Gei Lin said he hoped having his friends’ experience his country firsthand might help them to understand what life used to be like for the Kinta family.
“It was really good to have Rhett and Travis come to Burma,” he said.
“I’ve been going back almost 10 years now with Andy and I just wanted some people from here to know the situation in my village.
“I would love for more people from Bright and the Alpine Shire to go over.
“I can’t explain how different the conditions we live in here are to over there, which is why I wanted someone else to see it.”
During his visit in March, Gei Lin and Andy began organising a stable 4km water supply line for his village.
“We purchased some PVC pipe from the city which was sent to Mindat, and during the visit in July, Travis, who is a plumber, spent time with the villagers showing them how to properly connect the pipes,” Andy said.
“Showing them how to place markers in where the joins are in case there’s a problem was also another great thing.
“We have also begun constructing concrete water tanks for water to be stored in.”
During his visit Travis said he couldn’t believe the condition of the villages.
“I have seen poverty before, having been to the Philippines and India, but it sort of gets to another level where Gei Lin is from,” he said.
“There are no tourists and it’s almost like you’re stepping back in time a little bit – it’s not just about rich or poor, but a different scenario altogether.
“It’s not that they don’t have things, they don’t even know the things they don’t have exist; but they were so generous and welcoming towards us, it was quite amazing.”
Having never travelled overseas before, Rhett experienced a completely different world.
“It was a real culture shock. I have known Gei Lin since he moved to Bright and know bits and pieces about his story and other families that live here,” he said.
“I was really glad to meet the people that Gei Lin and his brother had been talking about for so long.
“They are all so giving, despite having nothing; they gave us everything they had like we were some special people.”
After working on securing a stable water supply for the village, Gei Lin is looking to connect his home town and the Alpine Shire by building villas’ for people to go and stay in.
“It will give people an opportunity to go to my village and see a place no one really gets to see,” he said.
“They can help out in the village planting crops or teaching the children or whatever they might like to do.
“My brother has already made the signs and we are going call the villas’ names like Bright, Porepunkah, Wandiligong and Harrietville and we hope the school will be called Alpine Shire so we can create a real connection between our town and the village there.
“There are some really important things to focus on in the village and education is a big thing.
“We have been supporting 45 children for quite a while with pens, pencils and book and for a start they didn’t even have a black board or white board.
“The school was falling down but luckily during some previous visits we were able to do enough repairs so the children could keep going to school.”
Both Travis and Rhett are keen to go back to Burma and hope to get a little more hands on during future visits.
“I would like to go back and use the opportunity to help out as best I can,”
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: (from left) Rhett Chalwell, Gei Lin Thang Kinta, Andy Sparkes and Travis McGregor have returned from a recent trip to Gei Lin’s village in Chin State Burma. Both Travis and Rhett received a traditional Burmese sheath and Mindat cloth from villagers.