“It has always been my dream to renovate my father’s house,” his daughter, Daw Aye Aye Thant, told Mizzima Business Weekly.
Daw Aye Aye Thant said the cost of refurbishing the house in Panwar Lane, Kamaryut Township, and turn it into a museum to honour her father’s memory and his contribution to the international community, would be about US$100,000 (nearly 100 million kyat).
“This is the right place to have a U Thant Museum that will reflect my father’s values and vision so that this generation and the next can learn from his peace efforts throughout his life, for both Myanmar and the world,” she said.
Daw Aye Aye Thant said that when she was living in the United States she had established a U Thant Institute but had always wanted to turn the family home into a museum.
“This is what inspired me to renovate his home; it will become a place to learn and study like an educational institute,” she said, in an interview at the house, at 31 Panwar Lane.
Work on upgrading the compound began after the home was returned to U Thant’s descendants by President U Thein Sein in August 2012 following a request by U Thant’s grandson, U Thant Myint-U, the chairman and founder of the Yangon Heritage Trust.
Private contributions have also funded some renovation work on the house and Daw Aye Aye Thant said, prior to Mizzima Business Weekly going to press, that a ceremony would be held to mark the opening of the house as a museum on January 22, her father’s 105th birthday.
Daw Aye Aye Thant said she had fond memories of the family home, in which she lived until she left Myanmar in August 1957 after her father, who had served as a secretary to Prime Minister U Nu, was appointed Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN.
“I had a wonderful time when I lived in this house and I was really sad when I left,” she said.
“I remember the day I left this house, the day that I left through this door; I was not really looking forward to going to a new place and having to make new friends.
“We left this house on August 5, 1957 and the day we got our house back, when I arranged to have monks perform a blessing ceremony, was exactly 55 years later, on August 5, 2012.”
Much work remained to be done at the house, Daw Aye Aye Thant said.
“We don’t have enough water so we need funding to dig a well; we need to do landscaping, we need electricity and we need to install a new ceiling,” she said.
Once work on the museum was completed she wanted it to become a venue for a range of activities.
“We will do programmes like interfaith dialogue and social dialogue and we will observe some international days and also arrange talks by visitors from abroad,” Daw Aye Aye Thant said.
“I have already invited someone who has written a book about my father’s role during the Cuban missile crisis [in October 1962, when the world was poised on the brink of nuclear war over a confrontation between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side and the United States on the other].
“He will be here in February and will give a talk about the crisis; he has also written very good books about my father’s philosophy, about Buddhist philosophy, and will also give a talk about that.”
Ko Ronald, a veteran tour guide and admirer of U Thant, said the home of the former UN secretary-general deserved wider recognition.
“Many people do not know about the house, except those in the tourism industry,” Ko Ronald said.
“U Thant is much better known abroad than in Myanmar because the previous military leaders did not like him very much; they censored and banned the writings about U Thant for a long time,” he said.
The hostility towards U Thant by the then dictator Ne Win was evident when his body was returned to Myanmar after he died in New York in 1974.
U Thant’s body had laid in state at UN headquarters but there was no honour guard or senior government members present when the plane carrying his body arrived in Yangon.
The insult triggered a protest by university students, who seized the coffin on December 5, 1974, while it was on display at Kyaikkasan race course before the funeral and took it to Yangon University where it was buried on the campus.
After troops stormed the campus six days later and took the coffin, reburying it on Shwedagon Pagoda Road, citizens rioted and martial law was declared to bring the situation under control.