Experiencing an all-too-familiar phase during travelling by which the hunger pangs have yet sank in when it’s dinner time already (perhaps due our stomachs filled by soymilk and heads still processing the scenes we saw during the distribution), we decided to head straight to the informal school for the street kids in a small dingy alley of Yangon.
We were greeted by Ye Ye, a bespectacled lad with a warm smile. With his rather polished English, he tried to make us feel comfortable (maybe because he saw seven very tired faces, haha).
Ye Ye ushered us into a room, seemingly a rented space. When we first stepped inside, I realised the sheer size of the room. It is rather small, slightly smaller than a the typical living room in Singapore. Despite its dodgy location, the classroom felt warm and cheery as the walls were filled with drawings and colouring of the students.
Curious eyes stared at us as we waved, wanting to melt the walls between us and the kids as soon as possible. At one glance, I sensed the difference between these group of kids and the former groups of kids we have interacted in MAY preschool and May Kyine village (while on the Myanmar trip with Actxplorer). They were clothed in stained clothes and were all rather scrawny. My heart was mixed with emotions. The volunteer Teachers, Patricia and Chome, looked rather tired but they were kind and warm and they readily supported us in preparing the kids for our lesson and helped us in translating our instructions to the kids.
Initially, they had difficulty using the introductory stem of “my name is…” and “my favourite colour is…” which is understandable. The kids here cannot afford to attend school and some of them even struggle with Burmese, let more English. However, this did not discouraged them. Every time a ball was being caught, the chid tried his best to pronounce to his best ability. I also noticed the two boys on my left murmuring the English introductory stems over and over again so that they could be at their best when it was their turn. They even whispered to each other to refine each other’s pronunciation. I didn’t want to damage their pride in any way but I just kept mum. But it is always a privilege to be able to witness people working hard to be their best (: Halfway into the game, a skinny boy with the top of his hair dyed blonde, entered the classroom. One of his eye was rather swollen and he was holding an ice pack over it. This hardy little boy acted like nothing happened though I could tell that the swell in his eye was very painful. The boy seated beside him kept checking on him and gave his occasional hugs to make sure he was doing alright.
The kids looked more ease after the game and I also tried my best to remember some of their names. Wanting to teach them something practical and useful, we decided on teaching them to tell time in English. They recited One to Ten in English with gusto when they heard us asking them to do so. They continued reciting, eager to show us how much they know. We were really impressed and played games to teach them how to count the hours in Time.
When we were done, we played “What is the time, Mr Wolf.” Due to space constraint, we could only call in around 7 kids to participate each time. The kids were squealing excitedly whenever they were reaching “Mr Wolf.” Some cheeky ones even decided to step on the spot when they found themselves nearing “Mr Wolf.” Both the teacher volunteers and us tried to correct their English throughout the game. But the clearest pronunciation was actually “WOLF”!
Soon, it was dinner time for them at 8. A young boy delivered food with his daddy to Yang Yang. The leaders amongst the kids quickly stood up and opened the foldable round tables. Though needing some reminders, the kids sat down in an orderly manner, waiting to collect their food as the volunteer Teachers rationed out the food for each child. When everybody received their food, they said their prayers and ate heartedly. On each child’s plate, which was actually half of a styrofoam box, was rice and just a simple portion of veggies and bits of meat. The children on each round table shared a styrofoam half bowl of soup. None of them complained about the food or the portion, none of them pick on their food, none of them had the problem of “eating too slowly” or the first world problems we experience. All of them ate to their fullest and some even asked for seconds. This made me wonder how their other meals of the day were like…
Many of us lament in pity when we see children begging on the streets but how many of us could turn such sympathy to something more empowering and proactive?
While the children were eating, I had the chance to catch up with the volunteer Teachers. I managed to catch up with May Hnin, whom I observed to be extremely strict with the kids. Whenever she spoke, they all looked at her with reverence, not fearful obedience.
She shared with us the origins of the informal school for these street children. Based on what she shared, it started with a street kid approaching David, the founder of this informal school, for money. Instead of pushing the child away or just giving him money, he asked if the kid wanted to go to school. The kid nodded and he told the kid to meet him at the same place at a stipulated time so that he could teach him. At the start, he really taught the kid along the street with just a foldable table. Through word of mouth, more street kids joined David. I was expecting David to be a middle-aged prof looking man but lo and behold! He is a young dashing hipster looking chap. This hipster David then used Facebook to ask for volunteers and May Hnin was one of them! She is a doctor and comes almost every day to teach after her hectic day.
“Aren’t you tired?” I asked in disbelief. May said she definitely is, but she thinks it’s worth it. “It’s alright~~~” she smiled warmly. Can you believe this? Many of us lament in pity when we see children begging on the streets but how many of us could turn such sympathy to something more empowering and proactive? Personally, I feel rather guilty as I still complain about the lack of “me-time” and “work-life balance”, it’s all about me, me and me. Instead, there are such amazing souls out there, going the extra mile to see how else they are able to contribute to the society, in the expense of their personal time after work. How selfish and myopic I have been. This really made me introspect and to perceive my life differently.
After finishing their dinner, we decided to build upon their self-introduction of their favourite colours and taught them the English names of five colours, Yellow, Blue, Green, Red and White. They were extremely excited and volunteered enthusiastically. Even beyond our expectations, they knew the English version of Black and Pink. We only needed to refine their pronunciation. Thereafter, We also played a game on pointing a colour they have learnt around the classroom in 10s. The classroom broke into a excited frenzy and the kids were running hysterically at one point in time that we had to stop the game to remind them to stay in order. All is well as we were glad that they were learning something.
Soon, we had to end the lesson. It was an interesting sight as the kids started to line up in a horizontal line in front of the volunteer Teachers almost automatically. We then observed them to be negotiating with May. After asking another teacher, she explained that this is review session for the kids and they had to self assess themselves and line up horizontally or vertically to indicate if they had behaved well or poorly for the lesson of that day.
For today, it was almost a horizontal line with an almost non-existent vertical line. This means that many of them thought that they behaved poorly and they were negotiating how many hits on the hand should they receive.
It was really an eye-opener as they need a certain level of maturity to be able to self assess but I’m sure these kids are rather street-smart, having to survive out on the streets.
In the end, May Hnin did not hit them, telling them she will do so the next lesson. The kids clapped happily and the Teachers even gave them a lollipop each for a sweet treat before they left. After teaching just one simple lesson, my heart felt full. Their energy and eagerness to learn despite their circumstances is touching and precious. I will remember this meaningful night for a Long Long time (:
Thanks so much Dione for penning your heartfelt thoughts, and thank you again for being an awesome teacher for the children for one night. Head back again soon! 😀 – The Actxplorer Team