December 19, 2017 / 6:54 AM / 5 months ago

Detained Reuters journalist wrote children's book on nature and absence

YANGON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - At the end of an illustrated book written for children in Myanmar, a much-loved village teacher who has planted many trees and a beautiful garden tells his students that the time has come for him to leave them.

“Oh students,” he says. “I won’t be here but you will still have the trees to give you fruit and shade and take care of you every year. So you will remember me and not be so sad.”

The author of “The Gardener” was Wa Lone, one of two Reuters journalists who were arrested in Yangon last week and accused of violating the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis that has seen some 650,000 Rohingya Muslims flee from a fierce military crackdown on militants in the western state of Rakhine. They have not been seen for a week.

“The Gardener” is one of a series published by The Third Story Project, a venture co-founded by Wa Lone that produces books in Burmese, other Myanmar languages and English and distributes them free to children across the country.

On the project’s website, Wa Lone says the aim was to promote tolerance and harmony in an increasingly multicultural and diverse world.

“Lack of understanding has led to conflicts between different communities and finally destroyed peace and stability,” he wrote. “I love every Third Story book because they address important issues for future generations.”

In Wa Lone’s story, which also carries a message of the importance of protecting the environment, the teacher scatters seeds from his bicycle on the journey to school and years later they have grown into huge trees. He also plants a garden with his students and, there, he tells them stories.

He leaves them one day to help another village, where all the trees had been cut down and there was no fruit, water or shelter for the people and animals.

The last page of the story shows a figure in the distance and the words: “The teacher said goodbye to his students and rode his old bicycle down the road toward the other village.” (Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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