OVERSEAS ADVENTURE: Linda and Chris Oxby who have just returned from Burma
OVERSEAS ADVENTURE: Linda and Chris Oxby who have just returned from Burma

Signing up for a cookery class took an unexpected turn for one Teesdale resident. Senior Reporter Stuart Laundy spoke to Linda Oxby about her adventures in Burma

TEESDALE’S Linda Oxby has spent much of the winter in Myanmar – formerly Burma – volunteering at a summer school which caters for hundreds of children in the area she was staying.

Linda was with her husband Chris, who was working as a hot air balloon pilot at the Inle Lake tourist area, some 150 miles north east of the capital Naypyidaw.

Having heard about a restaurant which offered classes in the local cuisine from one of her husband's fellow flyers, she went along to find out more.

She discovered that not only did the Bamboo Delight host cookery courses, but its owners use some of the proceeds to run an annual English summer school for local children which relies on the help of volunteers.

Intrigued, but with no background in teaching, Linda, 53, a former accounts clerk who now works as a retail assistant at the Mercury shop, in Barnard Castle, offered to help out in any way she could. Working alongside a volunteer teacher from Brazil, Linda spent several weeks helping with a range of activities for the children, aged from five to 14.

“The children have a long period of holidays during February and March time and what the summer school does is very different to mainstream education there,” she said. “The children’s normal schooling in very structured. A lot of what we did was building self confidence and providing new experiences.

“To start with, the children were very shy and nervous, but it only took a couple of days to break the ice.

“A lot of them had not seen a colouring pencil. Some had never been out of their street.

“We always had one day a week when we used to visit different things. We went to a museum, on the lake and took them on a train.

“There was always an environmental day, which could be anything from the importance of hygiene to the use of plastics. They don’t have a waste system like we do, so a lot of plastic is just dumped and washed away.

“They learned first aid and arranged for some people from the university in the capital to come down to work with the children.”

The youngsters also had access to a library of English language books.

The summer school is open to all children, although those families which could afford to paid the equivalent of £2 for the children to attend for the entire duration of the holidays.

As well as all the activities, children receive summer school T-shirts and caps.

“There were other supporters who would donate their time, or businesses that would help. For example, one gave us hundreds of oranges for the children,” added Linda. The charity which runs the summer school and library – Hand to Hand Foundation – was set up by local couple Pu Sue and her husband Leslie in 2013, the same time they launched cookery classes.

Pu Sue had worked in the tourist industry, while her husband is an experienced chef and after four years of running the Bombay Delight Cookery School, they expanded the business and opened a restaurant.

Pu Sue said: “We care about the community we live in and consider our neighbours a part of our big family.

“This is why we always try to help the people around us as much as we can. We use 15 per cent from very cooking class to fund our summer school and library project and depend on volunteers to teach English to the kids.

“We’re always happy to accept any kind of help, no matter your skills – the kids love to learn all kinds of different things, from sports and music to arts and crafts.”

Now back home in Bowes, Linda said helping out at the summer school had been an unforgettable experience, capped by a special thank-you from the children on her final day.

“It was fantastic. I would go back out there in a heartbeat,” she said.

“The best bits were seeing the children’s faces and their delight in the new experiences they shared and the fact they had achieved something.

“They would be beaming from ear to ear.”