Tim: “I was one of their brothers before I was their teacher, I was part of a family before I was part of a school.”
When applying for certain civic services, I always had in mind “it looks good”, “it must be interesting”… But as soon as I read the description of this mission, I read the mission of my dreams, I even refused another mission in the hope of getting it, and luckily, I got it. I only had a few days to rejoice at the news that I already had to leave, and the mission went beyond all my expectations.
Zwekabin Myay is an educational project that is now seven years old, and is intended, in a country where education is not or very poorly supported by the government, to give more structured and intense training to young people, for a period of about eight months, followed by an internship.
My role there was being a teacher. For the first time in my life, I was looking through the looking glass, from the student’s chair to the teacher’s chair. It was already a big enough change and an impressive challenge, especially since the students were about my age (some were even older than me!).
But as soon as I arrived, I felt at home there. Burma is a country that lives in community, and that is the case everywhere, including in this school. We call each other “brother” and “sister” and consider ourselves part of the same family, working on the same project. The students cook, the volunteers help run the school, the teachers teach, the management team manages the administration and finance. The school has been running hand in hand for 7 years now.
Since my return to France, I am of course often asked the question “so, how was it? ». What can I say… It was incredible, it was beautiful, it was stimulating and sometimes difficult, it was also hot and humid, enriching, overwhelming. It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I met extraordinary people, who are living on very little and yet are happy, despite a fragile democracy, despite civil war. They welcomed me with open arms and introduced me to things, traditions and places that few foreigners have had the opportunity to see in Burma. I also learned a lot about the cultural difference between our two countries, which made me reflect on myself, and calmed (I hope!) the impatience I sometimes had, or the stress I sometimes felt. You often hear people who come back from long journeys say that it has transformed them. Whether or not this is true, and although it may still be early to tell, I feel slightly different from when I left, it’s true. I feel at peace, I feel curious about discovering even more of this fascinating country, and I feel happy to have been able to contribute to this beautiful project and to have met such fantastic people.
There were of course some difficult moments, given the climate, the life on site or the challenge of teaching students who are used to learning by heart without understanding, for example. But the few obstacles that arise during such an experience, I see them as tests to be overcome that finally allow us to do something even better.
Over time, we learn to sleep with less comfort, we get used to more restricted hygiene conditions, we always try to find new methods so that the students understand while having fun. For example, in the beginning it was difficult for me to keep the students’ attention, especially since I started with history classes, which, let’s be honest, is not traditionally the subject that students enjoy the most. But by integrating question-and-answer games, videos, role-playing, and later even interviews for my students to tell me their own stories, we managed to adapt together, erasing the few obstacles that at first stood in the way, and finally making the lessons suitable for everyone, in a good mood and with laughter. And that’s not counting all the moments outside school, evenings, weekends and holidays, which allowed me to get out of the strictly academic setting, discover the country in depth, and forge even stronger links with my pupils.
I will be able to go on for hours, and I will be happy to answer any questions I may have about my civic service. If I had to sum up my time here in a few words, I would mention the nickname the students gave me: “Brother teacher Tim”. I was one of their brothers even before I was their teacher, I was part of a family before I was part of a school, and I always will be.
I can’t wait to go back to their villages to see what my “babies”, as I liked to call them, have become!