Teaching English to young monks and nuns in Sagaing Hill / Myanmar
On a private guided tour through the suburbs of Mandalay, we passed more or less randomly in a convent school for orphans and children from the poorest families in Myanmar. The extremely photogenic little novices and nuns in their colorful robes have fascinated us. At second glance, however, was quick to realize that many of the children are sick. After we informed us about the history of the school and the fate of the children, it soon became clear to us that we would like to stay in this place and work here. And a few days later we were back and immediately we started to work as English teachers.
Most of the children who go to school here have no home. They originally come from all over Myanmar and were discharged from relatives or friends in the school, with the request to accept and educate them. After the foundation of the school in 2003 by „Pontschi“, a Buddhist monk, there were just 31 students there. In the meantime, there are almost 2100 students who attend classes in „Aung Myae Oo“. The problem: Lack of infrastructure, lack of accommodations, lack of school supplies … and above all, lack of teachers! For this reason, the both of us started the first morning with a class of 40 – 60 children, to teach them English.
I have to admit, the fact to stand suddenly and completely unprepared in a crowded, stuffy classroom without blackboard and writing materials with nearly 60 high motivated young novices and nuns, was a pretty big challenge, even for me as an experienced teacher! (That this was not easy for Vero as a nurse, must not to be said…) Fortunately, after a good while, an old „whiteboard“ and two markers were brought to my room – that made the teaching a little bit easier.
Vero taught the 12 – 14 year old children whereas I had the 15 – 18 years old teenagers. The work was a real joy. The children were very eager to learn, motivated, disciplined – and especially grateful! An example: After each lesson, the students stood up and spoke in unison: „Thank you, teacher“. And practically after every lesson, the students wanted to have something explained again, or they required additional tasks. When we stepped out of our accomodation in the morning, the children were calling to us from a distance, „Good morning, teacher!“, and accompanied us on our way into the classroom. If we carried something with us, it was immediately taken from us by the children and carried with the words: „Me help you, teacher“. Once, Veros students knocked at our door, asking her if they could already start classes one hour before. Again and again we were surprised by our „kids“ with small gifts such as jewelry or drawings. Usually, when we got up in the morning, the children were already learning. And in the night at around 11pm, when we went to bed, we heard the students loudly learning their vocabulary, lyrics, etc by heart.
The young novices and nuns live either in the surrounding monasteries, nunneries or in the school itself. They experience already as children the hard life of the „big“ monks. They get up in the morning between 4 and 5 am, pray, then they go on begging tour, followed by breakfast and after school starts. About 20 children live and sleep in every classroom. On the floor, of course, as there are no beds. And privacy is an unknown word. 2100 children share only 20 toilets.
Our accommodation was quite simple: We had a private room in a small house on the school grounds, but we slept on the floor, which we shared with many ants and other insects.
What was interesting was our progress in overcoming our disgust: Our „shower“ was a sink filled with brownish water from the river. At the beginning, we dared hardly to wash us with this water but we showered us at the end of it as if it had been fresh spring water. We were very astonished after Bobo had explained us that many people in Myanmar are using exact this brownish water as drinking water. But who is Bobo? Bobo is a young woman who has been working for three years with a lot of idealism and sacrifice for this school. Her salary is far below the average wages of Myanmar, but that does not matter to her: she sees the meaning in her work, and that makes her happy. Regular working hours? Weekend? Holiday? She does not know what that means. „The children and the school need me!“ (It is exactly this kind of idealism that fascinated us at this school!) Bobo was during this time our contact person and took care of us practically 24 hours a day. Particularly impressive were the trips with her to her family, to the markets and the surrounding villages – this was a unique opportunity to see Myanmar in its most authentic form.
Especially nice was the contact with our students: When we met for the first time Buddhist monks in Yangon, we did not really know how we should behave towards them. Also towards our students, we had at the beginning great respect. But eventually it became clear that they are only human, too. The ice was broken quickly and we laughed a lot together and talked about football (practically all guys are a fan of Manchester United). Once, a novice showed me full of joy his Manchester United T-shirt, which he wore secretly under his robe.
It was particularly encouraging for us when we saw how fast the students progressed in English. After a few trainings, they already dared to actively reach out to tourists and ask them all kinds of questions – what also was an interesting experience for the tourists.
During this time, we learned a lot about Buddhism and the life as a monk / nun. „Pontschi“ granted us the privilege that he invited us as guests in various religious ceremonies, that we never would have seen as „normal“ tourists.
Leaving the school was difficult – for us and for our students. Hundreds of photos were taken, gifts were exchanged and tears were shed. On the last night, we were invited by the school related parties a total of 4 times for dinner, and the next morning for breakfast. The gratitude and appreciation was unprecedented!
The school, the children and Myanmar have become very important to us! For us, it is clear that we want to support the school in the future, not only with words but especially with deeds. These children only will have a secure future if they have a good education.
Our next step is to create a website for the school with the most important information and ways for donations (the school is funded entirely by donations).
Want to learn more, or even donate something? Under the heading „School Myanmar“ you can find additional information. (The website should be online around the end of December.)