Born and bred in the Inle Lake region of Myanmar, Yin Myo Su – affectionately known as Misuu – has devoted the past decade of her life to raising the standards around the area she calls home.
For the last 23 years, Misuu has been running a family business of hotels and resorts in the area. “I had worked in hospitality for a long time so I know how tourism can do good but also a lot of harm. Promotion and preservation go hand-in-hand,” she said.
With that realisation, she began sowing the seeds for Inle Heritage. What began as a Burmese cat reintroduction breeding programme in 2007 has today flourished into a full-fledged hospitality vocational centre geared towards helping disadvantaged youth.
As part of her sustainability efforts, Misuu also turned a traditional stilted house into a restaurant serving up her grandmother’s recipes and a garden to grow the fresh ingredients.
In order to receive organic status, Misuu had to get the soil and water tested. And while the soil passed, the water from Inle Lake didn’t. Misuu recalled: “As a child 40 years ago, I would wash myself with this water. Now in some places, it has intense chemicals from boats and other issues.”
Misuu set about collecting data and monitoring the water throughout the lake. She flew to Malaysia to visit projects there that were using natural water filtration systems, and subsequently created a cost-effective natural wetland with aquatic plants that filter grey water. This strategy was soon adopted by other villagers and communities living on the lake.
Since then, Misuu has continued building up her foundation, opening the Inle Heritage Hospitality Vocational Training Centre (IHHVTC), which enrolled its first batch of 42 students in 2013. To finance the school, she started the aforementioned restaurant, cookery classes, an art gallery, a small resort of stilted houses and a gift shop selling items made by vulnerable women.
“I wanted to provide a space for those who drop out of formal education. The high school drop-out rate is 70 per cent. Only 30 per cent of students passed their exams last year. This is a problem and there aren’t enough vocational schools to cope with this. What do we do with all of these drop-outs? I see them as raw stones and we can help shape their future,” she shared.
IHHVTC has built up a strong reputation across the country – its students intern at some of Myanmar’s leading hotels, including the Kempinski Hotel in Naypyitaw, and Belmond Governor’s Residence, The Strand Hotel and Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon.
Fresh graduates are snapped up by a waiting list of top hotels, restaurants and other hospitality-related businesses across the country. In future, Misuu hopes to expand the school and take in more students annually.
The hospitality school is also a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Social Enterprises for Training in Hospitality and Catering (ASSET-H&C), which recently scooped a PATA Grand Award for Education and Training.