Who would’ve thought that it’s December already. The cold that had seemed mild at first, now becomes harsh. Even its temperature would go down to a single digit sometimes. The biting cold of this season chills my hands into clumsy numbness quite often in the morning. Because the surrounding is quite chilly nowadays, my body craves for warmth and screams for my thick coats and gloves. I can say that December is the most memorable and spectacular month for me, more than I could ever imagine. Aside from the fact that it’s the last month of the year, S.A.G. has a lot of wonderful celebrations during this time.
My awesome month started when I and some of my students gathered outside the boys’ hostel in S.A.G. waiting for the arrival of what they called “Sweet December.” It was like welcoming the sweetest month of the year which I and my fellow Filipino volunteers aren’t used to. Students were near the bonfire and I haven’t seen it for a long time. Its flames leaped up at once then it began to smoke and roar and crackle just as I arrived there. In addition, many S.A.G. students had just came back from their hometowns that time. Some of them were even attending this midnight celebration with all the drinking and cooking of porridge, fish soup, and potato fries. There were also playing of guitars and singing of Burmese songs which we couldn’t understand but nevertheless good to hear. And when the clock struck twelve, the loud howling of “Happy Sweet December!” were heard even from afar.
It is on the fifth of December when the Integrated Program class started. At the same time, it was the day of international volunteers I didn’t know before. Honestly speaking, it’s good to see my old students back with the same faces. And upon their arrival here in S.A.G., they gave us some presents which were traditionally made from their hometowns. For me, Myanmar is a generous country I have ever known. Ha-ha! It’s just a sad thing for me that two of my students would no longer study in Taunggyi. However, I believe that they have a better decision for themselves and I’m happy for them.
In the middle of this month, many students and Jesuit candidates from S.A.G., as well as the Catholic communities in Taunggyi moved from one place to another for Christmas carols at night. They had their song practices three times during the midweek before they set out. While I was preparing for the young learners’ program one night, I could still hear the cheery and repetitive sound of Burmese Christmas carols emanating from the next room. In the background of some nights, we heard the joyous Christmas carols vibrating through the open air. Because of the locals’ enthralling and lovely carols, we even came out from our bedrooms and watched them as they were singing. I might not have gone out of my room if it weren’t for Fr. Paul’s invitation. Even though I’m not into celebrating this kind of occasion, but the few people around this house made me feel like a family. This season isn’t about lovely presents or great food. It is actually the memories that we create each year and the time spent with the people around us. It is also being simple and true to our faith, what we do and how we live our lives.
On the weekends, since I also have my young learners, Christmas song practices for the preparation of the Young Learners’ Christmas celebration were being conducted for every half an hour of our meetings. Aside from that, I also had to give time for them to practice their class performance for the celebration. Every level should have its own presentation whether it is in the form of dancing, singing, or role-playing. For my advisory class (Level 6), I told them to perform Christmas caroling with a surprising twist at the end of their presentation. Moreover, two of my outstanding students would be responsible in emceeing the program, so several preparations had to be done throughout our class hours.
I was also tasked to invent some children’s games, scripts for the emcees, program flow and invitation for the upcoming event. Stressed as I was, but the fact that I constantly imagined how much joy I could give to these children eventually made me alive, excited, and satisfied. After all, there is always a child within us. I was once like my students before: innocent, lively, and hungry for some excitements. Being a young teacher, it’s my turn to creatively plan and device some fun for my dear youngsters. I’m being sent here not just to help everyone, but also to give joy and happiness to everyone. With these small acts of kindness, the school itself will become a better place.
Anyhow, all of our efforts and the fruits of our labor with my students went well in the end. My Level 6 students were the last ones to show their colorful presence and performance after the various presentations done by the previous levels. Their presentation struck me as I was watching them opening up the colors of peace, forgiveness, joy, compassion, love, hope, simplicity, wisdom, honesty, unity, and kindness through reading of message after their caroling for everyone.
I couldn’t contain my excitement any longer that I almost felt emotional that time. As both teacher and trainer, I was very proud for what they’d done from leading a prayer, emceeing, singing, message reading, and even helping everyone out in giving prizes for the little children.
When the program was about to end, all the Y.L.P. students and teachers had to take pictures and perform community dance at the wide garden of S.A.G. A bit later, Santa Claus suddenly came carrying a bag of candies to be thrown away to the students. Not to mention, it was Paing (a third-year Integrated Program student) who dressed up as Santa Claus.
On the same day, Mr. Alvin Aung Myint (a scholar and a former teacher of S.A.G. who is currently studying T.E.S.L. at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) had arrived as early as five in the morning. It’s good to see him again. It’s been a year since he last visited his motherland. He wanted to visit his Alma Mater first before going to his hometown. The party was even better because he was there in our celebration and I even took a picture of him with my students after the program. All the students and teachers enjoyed every moment without regret. I and my students would definitely never forget that wonderful time.
The fun doesn’t end here yet. One Friday morning, I, my co-volunteers, Tr. Yi, Tr. Lay, and Joy went to the oldest monastery in Nyaung Shwe. It was a long way travel just to pass time while waiting for the guests from the University of Utah to arrive from their whole-day Inle Lake exploration. We had our lunch at Pwe Taw Win Nature’s Restaurant. I like the restaurant though with its simple and elegant wooden structure. In the afternoon, we spent our time and even took photos at Nyaung Shwe Museum and Inlay Lake afterwards until we fetched all the guests from their boats.
Fun! Fun! Fun! S.A.G. had an exciting Christmas celebration for all its faculty, staff, and students from different programs in the evening of December 25th. Also, there were international guests who came and participated in this momentous program too. Before it took place, another set of preparations, practices and decorations were being done at school. The Student Council were the ones who planned out the program together with their heads. Even we Filipino volunteers were included in the show. At first, all we could think of was to perform a funny Filipino dance known as “Budots” since the students really wanted us to showcase our Filipino culture to them. It was changed, however, due to the fact that one of us didn’t want to do it. Finally, we were able to come up with poetry reading and singing in our language.
For our poetry reading, we chose the poem ‘Kalangas sa Kahilom’ by Maria Victoria Beltran with Kuya Karlo’s English translation on it. This poem was later rehearsed. Apart from that is our Christmas singing as well. Only I and Precious decided to do it so we did the practices every night in the faculty room. The students wanted to hear any Filipino Christmas song from us, so we chose the song “Bro, Ikaw ang Star ng Pasko” by the ABS-CBN Christmas Station ID 2009.
The program proper began with a mass. Non-Catholic students and teachers like me were busy setting up the tables, chairs, table plants, utensils, and foods outside for the dinner. Later on, guests outside S.A.G. and the poor were invited and had arrived for the exquisite dinner before the second part of program started. It was 6:30 pm when the most awaited part of the program began. I never expected that the Year 3 students of the Integrated Program had given us teachers a lovely present at the beginning of the program. Because of that gift, I was so grateful. It was followed by traditional dancing, role-playing, poetry reading, singing, gay modelling, gaming, thanksgiving and a lot of surprises.
Our performance (poetry reading and singing) went smoothly and successfully during the program too. The students, by the way, were touched and inspired with our song that they wanted us to sing it again for them. That was my first time to sing in front of many audience and fortunately, I had enough courage to perform it knowing that I’ve never experienced singing publicly. I have to admit that I’m not a good singer but if you sing a song that is closely from your heart no matter how bad your voice is, then the way you sing it is alright.
I also had some fun for all my classes, tutorials and thesis-mentoring. There were many surprising, fun and exciting grammar games that were being done by my Year 1 students. Was it like a party or what? I couldn’t believe that the Group 5, because they had a report on Articles, could organize and prepare such amazing various games (fill in the blanks, I got a balloon, eat the egg and write about it, as well as sip the water) that can develop teamwork and learning towards ESL Grammar. I know that they’ll use these ESL activities and strategies again when they become professional teachers soon. The Year 1 students also had their lovely, creative, and splendid Reader’s Theater Presentation and Final Role Playing in our Speech Arts class. Surprises never stops. In celebration of the Akhar and Karen New Year for two consecutive days, my Karen students even gave me an eye-opener with their traditional dance after their fruitful presentations.
December has a never-ending fun in contrast to the previous Decembers that I had. Many birthday celebrants had treated us and it was really fun being with them. It’s just ironic to think that this month means a lot to me albeit I’m away from my loved ones. Sometimes, I miss them. But, I always take comfort in knowing no matter which path I choose, my family stands behind me and with the weekly Skype call that I have with them, I feel motivated, satisfied, and complete.
Time flies so fast. Never have I noticed the details of each day. Looking back at some memorable things is something that I can be thankful of. These things have been my inspirations of my whole life. This year might be quite tough for me with all the days of uncertainties, doubts, hopes, sadness, joy, and frustrations. But, I keep going on. No matter what tomorrow may bring, I shall face head held high for I count myself eternally blessed to have been given the best gift of all: the gift of life. As the year 2016 ends, I hope for a simple life and for the best of it to come.
Here are some additional highlights in December 2016:
Let’s then face life squarely, love one another, and be strong. I’m very thankful for the Almighty that he had given me a wonderful month and year. For my finishing touch, I’ll end this journal with a quote.
“Let us take a moment to appreciate our current condition. How we are now, what we have now, and who we have now, for there is no promise to how we will be tomorrow, what we’ll have tomorrow, and who’ll be alive tomorrow.” – Dr. Bilal Philips