“Time passes, things change, but memories will always stay where they are, in the heart.”
– Sarah Moores
Never have I noticed the details of each day passing by. The month of May is on its way. April may end, but I have collected more priceless memories along the way. Sometimes, I would reflect how grateful I am to have been given a chance to be a volunteer teacher abroad. My journey here in Taunggyi, Shan State, Myanmar wouldn’t be meaningful and fantastic if weren’t for my co-teachers and my students.
My April journey started when I and my co-volunteer, Precious were still travelling to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for our fourth Visa exit. The trip wasn’t that enough though. We had to go back to Myanmar the next day since we didn’t want to miss classes with our students. It was neither a twenty-four hour trip nor an exciting one where you can explore more places. But, I was still happy and contented that we met new people there like Fr. Paul’s friends. We were invited to go for a late dinner and for a lovely breakfast. We shared stories about our life as volunteer teachers to them and they too shared their Malaysian cultures to us. They treated us like a family. Our travel was a successful task even though it was our first time travelling by ourselves, I mean, just the two of us without Kuya Karlo, one of our co-volunteer or shall I say, a former co-volunteer. We arrived at S.A.G. safe and sound on the 3rd of April and it was Monday. We thought we could teach that day, but we were told to spend the entire day to rest after the long hours of travel.
One of the highlights for this month was the Class Field Trip that both Level 5 and my Level 6 family had on the 8th of April with our practicum teachers and teaching assistants. I and their Level 5 adviser, Precious organized the said field trip around Shan State. The field trip towards Museum of Shan Chiefs in Nyaung Shwe, Shan State Cultural Museum, Ocean Super-center and Organic Farm in Taunggyi gave these young learners educational experiences away from their regular school environment, as well as helped them understand and appreciate the importance and relevance of what they are learning in school by seeing real-life application of the lessons. My students really enjoyed that day and some of them wished to go back into that time as what they’ve written on their diary. They made my day awesome and made me awaken my childhood! I had so much fun playing water attack with their water gun and bottles of water. We were all wet, and it was like we had an early celebration of their water festival! It was truly a fun and memorable bonding experience for everyone involved.
By the way, I realized that because I handle the last level (it’s like Grade 6 (kids ages 11-13) in the Philippines), there’s one more month before they successfully graduate or finish their 8 years of fruitful elementary-like study here! Their field trip was also one of their greatest activities here in S.A.G. I love this awesome and unique class. I have full of talented students in singing, photography, music playing, drawing and sketching. I don’t know why I’m so attached to them, perhaps they were the very first students that I met first before I started working here last July 2, 2016 if I’m not mistaken. And until now, they’ve grown with more knowledge and wisdom.
On the middle week of April was the Thingyan Festival for the locals here. So, classes in S.A.G. were closed and it was a week-long holiday for the students. It is said that “Thingyan is the Burmese New Year Water Festival and usually falls around mid-April. It is celebrated over a period of four or five days (from 13th to 16th of April) culminating in the New Year. The dates of the Thingyan festival are calculated according to the traditional Burma calendar. The dates of the festival are observed as the most important public holiday throughout Burma. Water-throwing or dousing one another from any shape or form of vessel or device that delivers water are the distinguishing feature of this festival. It has been celebrated since ancient time of Burmese kings.”
Some of them went back to their respective hometown, some went to other places for vacation, and some just stayed in their hostel. We found almost the entire week boring because we weren’t able to go and explore the festival itself if there were any parades going on. We couldn’t go outside too often as well because people, regardless of age, would throw or gun water, sometimes a bucket of water on us if we passed by onto them. There were at times when we were being poured some containers of water several times by some of the teachers and our students. We had to change our clothes without getting upset for it is a disrespectful thing to them. Due to our boredom, we spent most of our time in watching different movies in the living room. We also had an attempt to answer 20 questions about our volunteer journey in two minutes by interviewing each other and by recording a video about it.
Looking at our students reminded me of my student’s life living in a hostel or boarding house. I could sympathize my students who weren’t able to go to their hometown mainly because of a long distance. In addition, it will also cost them a lot due to expensive transportation like bus. During the third day of the holiday, I got the opportunity to visit and stay inside the hostel of my student whom I call “Little Mr. Dats (one of the students who is closest to me)” for one night. It was my first time to go in a hostel (it’s like boarding house, but Burmese would call it as hostel) here in Myanmar. His hostel is just a usual boarding house: tiled and conducive enough to stay. There are three students in his room including him. Two of them are my students, but the other one went home. There’s another room for students beside them, and there are students who sleep in the living room as well. All are students who are studying in S.A.G. They all sleep downstairs and on the floor without any bed or mattress. They only used blankets to cover the floor and to be slept on. I heard that the pay for their hostel is expensive. The landlord took advantage on the pay maybe because they came from far away homes. So, it really is a common and the same thing when I was sent to a boarding house before. I spent the night having a movie marathon with my student and his roommate. I was also copying my movies into his flash drive as what he requested that time. It was already midnight when we finished watching. I slept beside him like my youngest brother was there sleeping with me. We slept together in a big mosquito net. We had a short talk for a while about his student’s life. In a bit, he slept and I was still like brotherly hugging him looking at his peaceful slumber. I couldn’t sleep that much because it reminded me of my family. I miss them… I thought I can come back home with my co-volunteer who’ll end up her volunteering work next month. But because I was still needed here in this institution, I decided to extend my stay and work for another semester which will end on September. My mom’s fine with it. So, I still have to seize more momentous times here in Myanmar.
I also woke up early in the morning. He too managed to wake up earlier than what he had set-up on his phone alarm. He went up from his bed and started to cook something for our breakfast. Later on, I got up and came up of arranging and fixing his stuff which were disorganized while he was on his business of cooking our breakfast. Then I took a short glimpse outside their hostel. In a moment, he called me that breakfast was ready. I was so grateful for his pleasant accommodation. We told our stories and cultures to each other while eating. After it, we had to go and hike the nearby mountain to pass time. I went back to S.A.G. and returned my things that I brought. One student of mine joined us to go to the mountain and that made us four. It was a fun-filled day for me being with them stepping on to some places of the mountain I’ve never been before.
On the last week of April, all classes from the different programs of S.A.G. had resumed. I was even surprised with a Myanmar New Year gift I received from my student. I felt happy and thankful for them. At the opening of class one Monday afternoon, all of us teachers were told to gather in the media room. There was one meaningful school event which was organized by the student committee of the Integrated Diploma Program. The student committee had proposed a simple ceremony to pay respect to us teachers. All students were there and they offered us a basket of snacks. It’s actually a Buddhist tradition, but I can see Christians also joined them in praying. I realized that they have a high respect for the teachers, and they treat teachers the same level as gods which is an overwhelming thing for me.
There are at times that I would reflect again and again. How funny it is that some of your students give you presents and have used your photos being with you (on Facebook cover photo and profile picture) because of great admiration. It’s not a surprising thing for me at all. It happened to me already maybe twice or thrice with my former and current youngsters. It’s not my goal or desire to be loved by students, but to lead them towards knowledge and meaningful life in my humble way. I guess they’ve seen how sympathetic I am to them.
There are bunch of exciting journeys that we also had to visit. I can say that this month has full of adventures. Just like my co-volunteer Precious, I had so much fun these days going around Shan State from visiting myriads of pagodas, to a canopy, to waterfalls, and then to a cave. To me, I can’t believe that I’ve been to several places already which I’ve never experienced in my childhood. I’m looking forward for more excitements in the coming days or month and I’ll be ready to whatever ups and downs I’ll be encountering with the help of God. In Sha Allah.