I’ve been quite surprised at how similar some of the thoughts are in rural Myanmar to those held by many people at home in my village in England.
When my students explain that girls have babies and have no other ambitions, I find myself nodding and thinking of the countless girls from my high school that had children around 16 or 17 years old and seemed content that was then their destiny fulfilled. It appears the general attitude of parents towards education in rural Myanmar is one that I have heard many times from my mother and friends when speaking of their parents: the small village attitude of an education being a waste because you don’t need to read and write, especially not the fancy languages, in order to be a farmer or work in a factory.
To change, it helps to have supportive parents who want to break the cycle and can see the benefit of having a broader education. Travels helps this as well, as does meeting people from new places that do things differently from you. At first, you often consider this imposter to be wrong and unrelated to the way you live your life. However, with time, I think that many people see that it’s not wrong, it’s simply different, and that perhaps some things from that culture are worth adopting into your own.
It is worth noting that none of the people that I had the pleasure of meeting in any of the three very remote villages held any gripes about their simple living. Most seemed to wish for a little more money, as a sense of security, and of course people wanted to be in good health. In total, I found my second visit to Rakhine to be much more calm than when we visited after the cyclone and flooding. I feel honored to have witnessed that time in Myanmar, but I am also glad to see that normal life is not the same as the August catastrophe even if the people are poor.
I fear that I used too much water when I washed in the garden of my host student, and watching him transport large silver jugs of lake water back and forth, ingeniously using small twigs as handles inside the jugs, didn’t too much alleviate my worries! However, I was generously invited back by the many villagers and gifted a woolly hat that will be just the ticket in the freeing British weather, so I hope I ingratiated myself. I certainly always felt happy and people were curious but without malice.
In my village in England, there is a definite air of fear and mistrust of outsiders, so the openness with which I was received here was lovely. Two of my students have now said ‘thank you’ to me, after having conversations with me in earshot of their mums! They both explained that their mum didn’t really think that they were taking their studies seriously, but after hearing them have an intelligible conversation with me in which I responded and we arranged timings, both parents are now very proud of their offspring.
I think that a huge learning experience is knowing how to choose the right teachers and people to focus our efforts on. Wanting to help everyone is very noble, but by spreading too thinly and trying to cover too many avenues, you do more harm than good because you miss the people who could really benefit from the help. If the student’s level is very low, they are unlikely to retain the information when they are not constantly using it. When I visited the monastery 3 times a week for 2 months, the teachers got used to using English at least with me. However, when I had the opportunity to return to the monastery about 3 months later, they were very pleased to see me, and seemed to want to talk, but couldn’t locate the words they wanted. Of course, if I, or any English speaker returned, they would remember and learn more quickly, but the initial momentum needs to be apparent in the beginning.
I have learnt that leading by example is the most useful; talking is simply air, action must be taken in order to progress. And if that action means me planning 60 hours of lessons in the 3 days before a 21 hour plane journey, then so be it!
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
Reflection: Then and Now
Improving Teaching Through Reflection
Reflecting Upon Return
Reflection and Hello 2018
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