U Than Htun leads two communities to build a better future together
The government had promised to build a road between the villages of Lin Ney Inn and Me Ne Taung for quite some time, but this had never materialised. The 1.5km path connecting the two mountain villages in Shan State, eastern Myanmar would become a nearly impassable bog during the months of rainy season, from May through to October.
Not only was this terrible for the farmers in these villages, who needed to be able to transport their crops to sell, but also for the children of Lin Ney Inn. The middle school is in Me Ne Taung, and it was a serious challenge to get the children from Lin Ney Inn to school each day. As a result, most people in the village only have Grade 5 education.
So, U Than Htun (61), who lives with his family in Lin Ney Inn, took things into his own hands. A carpenter by trade, he helped organize more than 100 people from the two villages to build a road linking them. Every day, dozens of people would come out to help, while others would donate what they could (typically $1-$2) to assist. One local business owner even donated the equivalent of $45 to feed all of the volunteers for one day.
The construction of the road followed a basic process: one man would drill a hole into a large boulder buried below the soil 50-100m away. The hole would be stuffed with gunpowder, and a makeshift fuse added and lit, before the man ran for cover. If successful, there would be a small explosion, blowing the boulder into more manageable chunks. One by one, these would be picked up by the volunteers and carried back toward the road, where others would place them down as if forming a complex rock puzzle. The larger rocks would make the base of the road, with the smaller pieces filling the gaps.
Twenty-five days later, they had built a road just wide enough for small tractors and motorbikes to pass along, and for their children to get to school. It’s too late for U Than Htun's seven children, only one of which has more than a Grade 5 education, but there’s new hope for his grandchildren.