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Voices from Burma’s Borderlands III: Teaching and Learning Life Skills

By Saw Kel Taw

Guest contributor

Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) Teacher

On the way to Hpa Yar Thone Su, one of my colleagues from the school asked me to wait in the car for our other colleagues on the way to a funeral. After waiting over thirty minutes, we drove down the dusty road and arrived at our destination. One of my students, who had just lost his mother, greeted us with tearful eyes. We went up to the house and tried to comfort him but I knew how difficult it must’ve been  for him to deal with. Several people gathered at the house and some were decorating the coffin. Something I found shocking was seeing a burial site at the corner of the garden. I have seen this at churches but not in someone’s yard before. In the evening, we left after hugging him and saying “it would be alright…” even though I myself knew it would not be.

Six months ago, COVID-19 reached our campus. Two students had gone into town where roads were inundated by floods. Heavy rain, leaky roofs and over a hundred students made me feel scared, disappointed and desperate. Nevertheless, the teachers did not give up on our students. We took care of them by measuring body temperature, cooking rice soup, and making herbal medicines. Some of them were physically and mentally exhausted because there was almost no nutritious food left and even worse, they could not even call their parents on the phone as the access to mobile signals was nearly impossible in the jungle. Fortunately, I tried to contact one of my friends who worked at a humanitarian organization assisting those in need. They sent us packs of potatoes, onions and other food that could be preserved. 

My school is called “Taw College” as facilities are basic, and its located in the jungle. The good thing is that the facilities have improved for the better as time has passed, and we’ve spent time making life here better. Over one hundred students chose this place after the 2021 military coup to continue with their education. Many are from remote areas. Most of the students are quite weak in subjects such as Maths and English. These subjects are vital to be able to continue on with further studies. Some have finished their matriculation exams. Some had even finished the first or second year of university. Some had even graduated before February 2021 when everything came to a halt. For many students, their core purpose is to learn  English. We do offer other subjects like Maths, Social Science, Science and Thai language. I sometimes get upset when they do not complete their homework and other tasks. But I don’t let it get to me.

One night, I was hungry after watching a movie and went down to the kitchen from my room. Everyone should be finished eating dinner by that time. I looked for food on the table but there was nothing.  I wondered what was under the cover and flipped it with curiosity. My heart stopped as I saw the skinned head of a dog. It reminded me of the time, I refused to eat fried cow tongue at a restaurant and a friend said to me: “You already ate the other part of the cow, but why not the tongue?”. In the last two years, I have eaten monkey, rat, snake and numerous vegetables that I cannot even name. Living here now, we have to eat whatever is on the table in front of us (as long as it is not poisonous).


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