A short history of money (and sweets)

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The corner shop close to where I grew up was called Hawker’s. Really. There was a Mrs. Hawker and a Mr. Hawker, and one of the great pleasures of the week was to walk down to Hawker’s on a Saturday morning with a ten pence piece keeping warm in my fist.

No coin was ever more carefully spent. The five minutes’ walking time was used to plan the exact menu of sweets so that my order was crystal clear by the time I got to the small separate counter at the side of the shop used for these important transactions.

I would allow myself two or three of the more expensive sweets – a toffee log, a flying saucer and a white mouse perhaps – and use the rest of the money to buy penny sweets such as cola bottles and fizzy lizzies. The odd time I might splash out on a fizzy cola lolly at four pence, or on a hot day spend the whole lot on a Mr Freeze.

As time went on, I started babysitting, a lucrative activity which brought in one pound an hour. This financed my broken Kit Kit habit. At this stage I liked to buy sweets from big jars by the quarter ounce, usually apple drops and pear drops, but you could also get loose bits of Kit Kat measured from a jar for 40p a quarter (or 20p for an eighth on a lean week).

Along the way I had become aware of the existence of other currencies, through my mother’s coin collection and my father’s special interest in sterling. He was always watching the exchange rate between the Irish pound (punt) and the other, rather more famous, pound sterling. The reason was that he was paid commission for the toys and stationary that he sold for an English company in Ireland. The products were priced in sterling. When sterling was strong, his customers might buy less but his commission was worth more. With the right fluctuations he could theoretically sell well when the punt was having a good couple of months and receive the some strong sterling cheques when the tide turned and the commission came in. I doubt this happened very often.

Through your first encounters with money and prices you build up a sense of the real value of things. How many penny sweets in a loaf of bread? How many loaves of bread in a bale of briquettes (compressed peat bricks for the fire)? How many bales of briquettes in pair of shoes? Eventually you have a well-developed internal price barometer and you know whether something is worth the price.

My first part-time job was as a lounge girl (waitress) in a local pub. I got paid cash in a brown envelope on Thurdays – two pounds an hour plus tips. It was more than enough to cover my expenses as a teenager. Later in college, I knew without calculating exactly what I could afford each week – the bus and train tickets, glasses of beer, visits to the places where you could get lunch for two or three pounds.

Rent on the first place I moved into when I left home was 150 pounds per month for a small room in a small house. As the nineties speeded up towards the long-awaited new millennium, life got more expensive in Dublin but I was perfectly tuned in to the value of everything, and my earning power was going up too.

A few years later, after a lot of hopping around, I was sharing a house with a colleague also in her twenties, paying rent of 300 pounds per month for a bigger room in a ‘better’ area.

And then someone had the bright idea to change the currency. The Irish pound disappeared from one day to the next on January 1st 2002 and we all had to embrace the euro. What used to cost one pound was suddenly €1.27; five pounds was worth €6.35. Retailers were accused of rounding up and hiding price increases in the confusion. Odd prices remained in place for years afterwards, especially for state services.

But we got paid in euro and we got used to it. Pretty soon I stopped trying to convert everything into old money and with one big effort, converted my entire inbuilt price barometer into euro. But it wasn’t to last. I only lived for 20 months in the Eurozone before coming to Switzerland.

At that time the Swiss franc was worth about 1.5 against the euro. It later lost a smidgen of value reaching above 1.6 in 2008 before the euro started to weaken in a steady decline that has continued (with some interludes) until today. Last year the franc was briefly worth more than one euro and it is now resting at around 1.09.

But this is happening in a country with a higher cost of living than Ireland. I am constantly surprised at the cost of things. The upshot of all this shifting about of currencies and countries is that I have lost my sense of price. The strong connection between price tags and banknotes that used to exist in my mind is gone.

We’re a long way from the toffee logs in Hawker’s and you would think that twelve years of earning and spending the Swiss franc would be ample time to adapt to its real value,  screen out the relatively changing value of the euro and completely bury all memories of the fabled Irish pound.

Maybe the only solution is to start again from the beginning. These days my kids get one franc pocket money per week and the ‘penny sweets’ here cost ten cent. How many sweets in a loaf of bread? How many loaves of bread in a pair of skis?

Does anyone else suffer from this problem? Have you ever thought about your money history? And most importantly, what did you spend your pocket money on?

Children behind the gates – writing about historical abuse

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We know what children need – love, protection, guidance, understanding – and we know what a travesty it is when they are deprived of those basic needs. But is this a recent discovery? Looking back at the treatment of children in the care system in the middle of the last century, you might think so.

The 1990s was the decade of revelations about failings and injustice the Irish system. More recently Switzerland has been going through its decade of revelations of historical abuse. It’s a process that is being repeated all around the world and it’s heart-breaking because there is nothing you can do to help those children. It’s too late.

Did the authorities and caregivers in those times have no concept of children’s welfare and emotional needs? I would argue that they did, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on their own experience of home life. But there were limits to their ability or willingness to provide for those needs. And these factors have to be taken into account when writing about this period. If we turn those involved into evil caricatures, we are incapable of gaining any insight into our own failings as a society today.

So why was it that some children mattered less? What was stopping the authorities and religious orders from doing right by the children in their care? Some of the limits stemmed from prejudice – in particular the prevailing prejudice against ‘illegitimacy’ and against the ‘bad poor’.

The stigma attached to children born outside marriage was so strong, so well enforced by the church and its followers, that people could hardly see the child behind the stigma, if at all. The shame and secrecy let the fathers of these children off the hook and also made it possible for families to reject their ‘sinning’ daughters, even to the point of having them locked up for years.

As for poverty, widespread to an extent that we have so quickly forgotten, there were prejudices at work here too. On the one hand you had the ‘good poor’, hard-working, honest people, scraping by somehow, tipping their caps and not making any trouble. And then there were the ‘bad poor’, parents overwhelmed by the daily struggle to feed and clothe their children, families whose mothers lived on the verge of a nervous breakdown, whose fathers turned to drink or crime, whose children appeared neglected. Sympathy for these families was not forthcoming.

That’s to speak of the willingness to care for children who were unwanted or rejected by society in one way or another. I also mentioned the ability to care for these children.

A well-run children’s home should have enough money to provide a good diet for the children, as well as clothes and play materials. In a cold climate it should be well heated. The staff should be well trained and recruited for their aptitude to provide loving care to children. There should be a compassionate discipline policy in place, with good oversight so that there is no room for abuse of any kind. But what if none of these requirements is met?

Let’s put the cruel sadists aside. They are in a category of their own and nothing excuses their actions. What about the ordinary inadequate carers? Two years ago I attended the presentation of a report into allegations of historical abuse at children’s institutions run by the Swiss Ingenbohl Sisters of Mercy. The worst allegations could not be verified but the authors of the report did find “excessive punishment” doled out by some sisters.

It also described the systemic misery for both adults and children living in the homes – long working hours without free time or holidays, large groups of children to look after with insufficient financial means in crowded living conditions and with insufficient infrastructure.

But the ill-treatment didn’t end at the gates. For my story I spoke to a remarkable man, Roland Begert, the son of a Swiss gypsy (Jenisch) woman who was deserted by her husband. He was given up by his mother as a baby and grew up in the system, first with the nuns and afterwards living with a farming family as an unofficial child labourer.

Roland Begert is forgiving of the tough discipline and lack of affection shown by the nuns in the children’s home where he spend the first twelve years of his life. What hurts him most, looking back, was the attitude of the people in the town to the ‘home children’.

The townspeople warned their children not to have anything to do with the ‘home children’ and the local children obliged by throwing stones at them. Roland’s excitement at being sent out to the town school quickly ended when the teacher started bullying him mercilessly.

So while the townspeople loved and protected their own children and did their best to give them a good start in life, they participated in a horrible double standard. Society was complicit in banishing the ‘home children’ from the mainstream in the first place and the community actively kept that exclusion in place.

Writing about failings in a system that happened fifty years ago does not serve any purpose if it stays in the realm of storytelling, with a cast of wicked witches. We have to try to understand the broader mechanisms of society that caused so much suffering if we have any chance of avoiding the same mistakes.

I think a lot of lessons have been learned. One huge problem was that, until recently, society did not allow for children to be raised by one parent, whether for practical or moral reasons. Marriage breakdown or the death of one parent left children in a precarious position. No access to contraception also made it impossible for parents to limit their family size to a level they could manage.

But there are still children behind the gates in society, for example the children of asylum seekers living in direct provision. Few countries today can claim that they have a best-practice care system in place that guarantees the wellbeing and protection of their most vulnerable children. Even Switzerland, which prides itself on ‘Swiss quality’, still does not have an exemplary system, as I discovered recently when researching an article about foster care.

The stories from the past are important and they have to be told. But they have to be told in a fair way and they should never be used to make us feel complacent about our own problems.

“Too much statement and not enough suggestion”

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This is what many writers are getting wrong, according to Irish short story writer Claire Keegan who passed through Bern this week. Keegan, a woman of strong convictions and deep thoughts, gave a talk and read from her award-winning story Foster.

I couldn’t believe my luck to hear that such a well-respected author was in town and that I could manage at the last minute to go along and listen to her. For Keegan, it is clear that writing is not something to be taken lightly. She spoke passionately about life, love and literature.

Foster is a story, about a poor young girl sent to live with more prosperous relatives for the summer. Written from the child’s point of view in the present tense, the story manages to convey that gulf that exists between children and adults and the disadvantage that children have in their inability to understand what’s going on in the adult world around them. It’s all the more poignant in Foster because the girl comes from a neglectful home and she is being looked after in a loving way for the first time.

As Keegan pointed out: “Love can come from anywhere, it doesn’t matter where.” The author sees herself as a critic of her society. Foster, set in 1970s rural Ireland, is in part a commentary on the plight of families forced, because of religious dictates on contraception, to have more children than they could love.

As I writer I was naturally curious to hear what Keegan, who has lectured in creative writing, had to say about the craft of writing.

The first thing that surprised me was that she goes through about thirty (!) drafts before she considers her stories finished. More proof that writing is rewriting!

During this process, Keegan does not give her work to anyone else for feedback, although she did admit she would like to have someone who would look at her manuscripts as closely as she does but from another perspective.

She explained that having spent decades reading attentively and developing her own taste, she trusts her own taste. A good place to be.

On the subject of what new writers are getting wrong, Keegan was very precise. In her view there isn’t enough priority given to the story, to the point that the story can be completely buried by the writing or even missing altogether.

Keegan is quite a purist when it comes to storytelling and confessed that she mostly preferred reading “dead authors”. For it to be a story something has to happen in a defined space of time, something irreversible that the character would take back if they could, she said.

Nowadays there is “too much statement and not enough suggestion”. Readers have to endure pages of analysis about the character before they even have a chance to go through something with them. In other words the analysis has not been earned.

Keegan is a great believer in “turning down the sound” and observing what people do with their hands and feet and eyes. That’s where the truth is, she said, and that is what she writes about. She won’t tell us someone is miserable and proceed to tell us why over many pages. She will show that misery and the context and let the reader reach their own conclusions.

Finally I liked what Keegan had to say about the elegance and efficiency going hand in hand in good writing. Not something that can be achieved in every blog post, but a good standard to aspire to in fiction.

The event was held under the auspices of the Swiss-British Society, Bern and SATE (the Swiss Association of Teachers of English).

Screen time, live to fight another day

stephenbyrne86 Irish Independent
stephenbyrne86 Irish Independent

Yesterday I spent about ten hours in front of a screen – eight in the office, one on my laptop at home and one watching television. More if you count the hypnotic hour of windscreen time I spent on the motorway. If this is the world we live in, why am I engaged in such an exhausting and long-running battle to keep my kids away from screens?

It’s almost as if (weird music) I’m trying to replicate the conditions my own childhood. The difference is that back then there was no such thing as games consoles, mobile phones, DVDs, internet, ipads, children’s channels and the rest. How easy it must have been for parents to limit screen time when the only thing on offer was a two-channel television.

In this house another Christmas has come and gone with Santa ignoring all the requests for screen devices that dominated my children’s lists. There is no television allowed during the school week and the children sometimes complain bitterly about the screen desert they are forced to live in. I’m starting to wonder if this puritanical approach will backfire one day. What if they spend the rest of their childhood seeking out contraband screen time? What if they become air traffic controllers?

I’ve tut tutted with other likeminded parents about kids staring at ipads in restaurants or watching films on car journeys. The prospect of a generation of people growing up unable to entertain themselves or practice the art of conversation is not very appealing. But I wonder if my resistance to the norm is becoming a little self-righteous? Not to mention a little hypocritical, considering that blogging and writing involve a fair amount of screen time.

So, while I will continue to worry about how much fruit and veg they are eating, whether they are dressed warmly enough and looking properly before they cross the road, I think the time has come to ease up a little on the screen restrictions.

By the way, if you can’t read what’s in the speech bubble in the cartoon above, the mother is saying: ‘Isn’t it great to have some quality time with the family’. I came across this back in the Irish Independent last September and it now lives on our fridge.

What do you think? Am I throwing in the towel too easily? Anyone else managing to keep the screens at bay?

Getting away from it all

New horizon, old horizon
New horizon, old horizon

There are the restless years. The years of trying out jobs, hairstyles, places to live. That era of cycling home with your shopping bags swinging from the handlebars and spending everything you earn. You get caught in the rain, you never have a decent coat and you laugh a lot.

When you are living lightly, unencumbered by pots or pans, children or a hard-to-replace job, changing location is as simple as walking away. You don’t own anything you can’t carry, you don’t owe anyone anything. You book your flight and you go.

Then before you realise what has happened, the landscape of your life has changed. It takes a team of men a full day to move the furniture you have accumulated. You actually read through the quarterly statement from your pension plan. Gardening magazines find their way into your home and you become concerned about booking holidays early.

Middle age. There’s no getting away from it, that gradual drift towards Sofa, the god of comfort and inertia. Or is there?

One of the great things about my sabbatical visit to Ireland (now three-quarters over, tick tock!) is that feeling of having defied the pull of middle age just a little. Packing up and setting off for new horizons was a part of my life I thought I would never have back again, or at least not until my children were raised. But it has come to pass, and this time, after a decade abroad, I have returned to the original horizon of my youth, Dublin Bay – and it feels good.

Has anyone else found a way to feel free again? I’d love to hear about it.

Once upon a time in Westport House

Westport House
Westport House

Once upon a time I went to Westport House. I know this not from any particular memory but because there is a photograph from that day and it was a holiday that was later much spoken about. My mother wore a scarf on her head and a long skirt. I was one of three little girls, content in a world that did not extend very far beyond our family unit at that happy time.

The real event of the holiday was the death of Elvis Presley.

The sad news sparked an impromptu sing song in the hotel where we were staying. I remember the children being left to their own devices that night as the adults all descended on the bar to sing song after emotional song.

The other drama of the holiday was an afternoon at the beach when we became stranded by the incoming tide. We had had a picnic on some sort of grassy hillock and to get back to the car my father had to carry the two eldest children on his shoulders through the surging sea. My mother saved the baby and the picnic basket.

That little rescue scene is one of my happiest childhood memories. It comes from a time when our parents could protect us from anything and we liked nothing more than just being together.

By chance, or perhaps by some subconscious design, this week I found myself in Westport House again, thirty six years since the last visit. Our three little girls are now very close in age to the three little girls of 1977. And yes, we took a photograph on the steps of the house.

The stately home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Sligo now has a Pirate’s Park in the grounds, amusement rides and a mini train. But the house is as beautiful as ever and the sun obliged by coming out just before we left for this picture.

Together Again

There it was, the scrape of the curtain pulley. Rosemarie braced herself as the unkind morning light pounced on her closed eyes. Why did the day have to start so early? You would think the old folk with empty diaries would have earned their rest. Now was her chance to say she didn’t feel well and ask for breakfast in bed; Ronnie had encouraged her to get his money’s worth. But she felt her customary shyness clamp down on her throat and the attendant was gone. Rosemarie didn’t like to think of how much that reticence had cost her over the years. By a happy twist of genetics her daughter Melissa turned out to be brash and demanding, a fact which never ceased to please Rosemarie.

Taking it nice and slowly, she got up and used the en suite bathroom. Then she tackled getting dressed. The tricky bit was getting anything onto her feet. If she could just go barelegged, it would save a whole lot of effort. Finally, with her tights on, hair brushed and glasses ready on a chain for the morning crossword, Rosemarie made her way to the mirror by the door. Fuchsia had always been a good colour on her, today she wasn’t so sure. When did her hair get so white? A dab of lipstick brought her face back into focus.

Breakfast was the best meal the place offered and Rosemarie was pleased to still have a good appetite. She was having diplomatic trouble choosing a table though, with two groups vying for her company. People with good hearing were in demand. Coming into the dining room was always a tense moment. The best thing was to be first there and let the others play musical chairs. This morning the Crowleys had made it down first. They beckoned to her and she took a seat between them. The dining room had the appearance of an English B&B, the kind of place she would have stayed in with Maurice thirty years before. Look what you’re missing out on darling, she thought. Bert and Tess looked at her with matching what-did-you-say expressions. Luckily they were distracted by the morning girl, Rosemarie’s favourite, come to pour their tea.

Conversation ran out as breakfast finished. Rosemarie looked despairingly at the scattered crumbs and spots of jam on the tablecloth. It was too blowy again for a walk; three-and-a-half hours until lunch. She excused herself and trundled over to reception with her walker to pick up the newspaper. Mr Farley beamed in his ingratiating way and handed her a letter. Letters were like gold dust these days. Rosemarie tried not to look at it, almost snatching the envelope out of his hand. She laid it face down on her walker tray and hurried to the conservatory, where she plonked herself down in an armchair half turned away from the rest of the room.

It was from Loretta, postmarked London. Her handwriting hadn’t changed since boarding school, bold and artistic even then. The three years they overlapped at the Ursuline Convent had been the happiest of Rosemarie’s life. Despite the age gap they had spent most of their free time together nattering and laughing, celebrating their joint relief at having escaped the stifling atmosphere at home. Since then they had never lived in the same country, and after Loretta took off with her husband on a succession of postings abroad there were years between visits.

The words danced in front of Rosemarie’s eyes – coming home, got the brochure, room for me. She blinked away the tears and reread from the beginning. Loretta wanted to come and live in Glengoran Lodge. She was selling her house, under pressure from the children to move somewhere supervised. The time has come to return to Dublin sis, if you’ll have me. Always so careful to be thankful for the small comforts and pleasures left to her, Rosemarie had tried hard to stay positive since she moved to the lodge. Now she sank back in her armchair to bask in the long lost feeling of happiness. A laugh bubbled to the surface and Rosemarie covered her mouth like a schoolgirl. The Cully sisters, together again.

The Hedgehog News

Everyone knows if you find a dead hedgehog it’s yours. So why is Manny taking over? Because he’s a robber, that’s why. Actually the hedgehog didn’t look that badly hurt the day I found him; only the left back bit was squashed so from one side he looked perfect. I just couldn’t leave him there on the side of the road. Vultures might get him. Now the whole street is coming to look at him under the hedge. Manny is explaining stuff about the maggots and poking with a stick. It’s the last secret I’m ever telling him. I think it’s all because no one else is just my age. Other ages don’t understand the same things. My Mum is sorry about this. It’s just a fluke, she says – twelve houses, twenty-one kids but not a single other seven year old. We weren’t to know, she says. I’m kind of not trusting Mum at the moment since I found some of my Christmas craftwork in the bin. They’re supposed to love that stuff.

When Dad said he was going to a place called Dubai, I laughed. It didn’t sound like a real place – Doob I, Do Bye – I was sure he was joking. But he just looked away for a couple of seconds like he was thinking hard what to say next and then he told me to get the atlas. Maybe he thought I was annoyed he was leaving but at first I was more annoyed about not knowing Dubai was a real place. I know loads of capitals, even really strange ones like Venezuela and Moldova. He taught me them when I was small and we had fun surprising people with that.

Now I’ve learnt a new word which is temporary. But if something is really temporary you should know when the end is. They said he would visit all the time. One week every three months is not all the time. I have a calendar in my bedroom. It’s got pictures of street children in Brazil. One of them definitely looks seven. It’s a pity he doesn’t live here. I’m starting not to like families with Dads living at home but I don’t tell people that.

Everyone keeps telling me isn’t it great we have skype. I don’t know. It might be great if you didn’t have a three-year-old sister. Hannah ruins every call. She climbs over me and taps on the keyboard and talks really loud. Dad doesn’t even understand what she’s saying. Also I don’t like the looking thing. You can’t look at each other properly. I don’t think Dad knows what to ask me.

It’s all because of the mortgage, according to Mum. Mortgage is another word for house. We’d lose the house if Dad didn’t take this job. I mean the house is OK but maybe we could move to a street with more seven-year-old boys. Would that be so bad? Mum didn’t like this question. She is not interested in things like hedgehogs but if Dad was here he would come and see him with me. Then he could tell me Manny is wrong and this doesn’t happen to people too.

Finally I did get skype time alone with Dad. Mum had this idea he could read a chapter a night so we’ve started a great old fashioned story called Kidnapped. The good thing about this is that Hannah is in bed. And the looking thing doesn’t matter; I just watch his face while he looks at the book. I asked Dad last night did he know what happens to hedgehogs after they die. He went quiet for a while and then started talking about animal heaven and it got a bit complicated and I didn’t want him to feel silly. I guess I won’t tell him about the hedgehog after all.

Circle of Stones

On her way across the green in the middle of her estate, Julie stopped and looked around her. She was due to leave for Cork with her mother in a few minutes and she wasn’t supposed to be outside. She gave up the pretence of walking somewhere purposefully. There were some children out playing, doing stunts on their bikes with an improvised ramp. They paid no attention to her. Julie knew every family in all the houses in this part of Chestnut Glen. She had sneaked out here because she wanted to say goodbye to something – she wasn’t sure what. All the kids her age were either still in bed or off doing their Saturday jobs.

This is it, she thought. I’ve let them take over and this is where it’s brought me. She sat down heavily on one of the small boulders, dropped there in a rough circle not by a glacier but by the developer of the virgin estate back in the 1960s.

Cork. The only person she knew there, apart from her mother’s awful cousin, was her first love from Irish College three summers ago. What sweet letters Marty used to write. Those few weeks away on the west coast had been exotic, enchanted. Not only the language was different – the air, the sky, the rain. Marty was staying with a neighbouring family. They used to walk home from the dances together, the boys from his house, the girls from hers. She remembered his pale face in the grey light of dusk. For a moment, she let her imagination take off. Dreaming up rescue scenarios had become her favourite pastime.

Somehow she would bump into him in Cork, and he would be filled with concern for her plight, realise he still loved her and decide to help her out. Marty would have matured beyond his years, he would have a proper job and his own place to live and they would set up family together. No, she didn’t like the last bit. The baby didn’t fit well into that picture.

Better if she stole some money from her mother’s cousin and escaped. She could rent a caravan somewhere by the sea in Wexford. There she would lay low and wait to turn eighteen, as long as the baby didn’t come first. She would turn up at the local hospital, a mysterious case. The staff would be intrigued. A nurse would take pity on her, offer her a room. They would become friends – and the baby, the baby. Julie felt the muscles across her swollen stomach tighten. It’s not looking good baba, she whispered.

If I had a giant camera, I would zoom out, Julie thought. First you would see this circle of stones in a field surrounded by houses, then up and up, the surrounding suburbs, the coastline, the hinterland of farms. Then Ireland surrounded by clouds and swirling blue sea, farther and farther away until the world looked quiet and harmless and nothing mattered anymore.

It was time. Julie walked slowly back towards the house. Her bag was packed, the adoption agency papers inside it. She would remember that walk; find echoes of it throughout her life. Each step leading her away from something open towards something closed. She recognised it when she walked down the aisle ten years later and the bitterly cold day when she walked into the doctor’s office to get her biopsy results. The moments when you realised the world was turning and you just had to walk with it.

A new start in life, aged five

Do you know any five year olds? Imagine a little boy whose daily struggle to survive was so hard, he agreed to go away with a passing stranger for a chance at a new life. His name is Kam Moung and he comes from Myanmar (formerly Burma) in Southeast Asia.

Despite the heart-breaking choice made by this child, his story is a happy one. He has found security and acceptance in neighbouring Thailand in a school and orphanage set up specially for ethnic Shan refugees. His dream is to go back some day to his mother and his village and to travel around his homeland as a big music star.

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In the meantime, Kam Moung is thriving in his new home. He is an excellent student and has won everyone over with his generous and bubbly personality.

A colleague of mine from swissinfo.ch, Luigi Jorio, introduced me to Kam Moung in the form of a book he had written with Mathias Froidevaux about the child and the plight of Shan refugees. Luigi discovered the school in 2010 and by chance arrived on the same day as Kam Moung, the perfect starting point for a story. I was only too happy to help out with the English translation.

The school and orphanage were set up by the young monk Noom Hkurh who himself fled Myanmar as a child after his village was burned to the ground. After getting an education in Thailand, he wanted to provide a caring home and safe place to study for orphans and other poor children to avoid the possibility of them being exploited or abused.

Last month, Luigi was able to return to Kam Moung’s school with copies of his book. Packed with photos and illustrations, the book will serve as a unique teaching tool. These stateless children will start English lessons with material written about their own lives.

More about the project here:
http://www.kam-moung.ch/index.php?id=10&L=1