In need of light and learning: A Naga village in Myanmar calls for help

School gate, with a signboard in Burmese language, at the Myanmar government-run school at Pounyu village under Lahe Township. The school is desperately looking for English teachers.

School gate, with a signboard in Burmese language, at the Myanmar government-run school at Pounyu village under Lahe Township. The school is desperately looking for English teachers. (Morung Photo)

Imti Longchar
Pounyu | June 6

A visit to Pounyu village under Lahe Township in Myanmar sheds light on the stark realities of a region that seems forgotten by time. 

The village, inhabited by the Khiamniungan Nagas, 15 kilometres away from the International Trade Centre (ITC) Dan under Noklak district, is a portrait of poverty and underdevelopment.

Thatched houses reminiscent of the bygone days dot the landscape, highlighting the harsh living conditions endured by the villagers. 

A partial view of Pounyu village. (Morung Photo)

There is no electricity here. Villagers have long relied on candlelight, kerosene lamps, and stacked bamboo lightings to illuminate their homes at night. 

Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic government offered a glimmer of hope with distribution of solar panels, but that was years ago.

 Since the military coup, there has been no sign of further development, leaving the villagers in a perpetual state of darkness. 

Despite their suffering, the villagers’ primary concern is not their immediate material hardships but the education of their children. They are very well aware that the dream of a better future for the next generation is through education, particularly English education. 

“Our children desperately need English tuition masters. In Myanmar’s government-run schools, English is taught merely as a subject and the rest are in Burmese,” Pounyu village council chairman Echuang stated. 

He highlighted that even the teachers send in by the Myanmar government lacks the proficiency to teach English. 

“Our children want to learn, but without proper guidance, they are falling behind. We appeal to anyone who can help us find qualified English teachers as well as sponsors,” Head GB, Badao echoed.

He said their children are compelled to go to Nagaland side to take English tuition which many cannot afford. 

The villagers also have to weigh in the pros and cons of sending their children to pursue education in the Indian side of the border as the Myanmar government doesn’t accept educational certificates from outside the country while applying for jobs. 

“If our children go towards Nagaland side to study, they would have to look for opportunities there only, which is also a problem,” Badao explained. He, however, felt that the Myanmar government cannot give much in terms of an all-inclusive education. 

The Pounyu villagers are grateful that the Eleutheros Christian Society (ECS) Tuensang have established a hostel along with three wardens who also gives English tuitions. However, according to the villagers, this is not clearly enough with students pouring in from villages under Lahe Township to enroll in their school. 

“When Rev Chingmak Chang opened a hostel along with three English tutors for our village, it opened our eyes on the importance of English. Now what the school desperately needs in English teachers,” Badao said in an appeal.

A community’s sacrifice 
The villagers’ commitment to education is palpable as in challenging conditions they poured their hearts and souls into sustaining the government school. Established in 1985 by the Myanmar government offering up to grade -2, the school has gradually expanded and now caters up to grade -11. 

When the Myanmar government withdrew financial support for the school after grade-4, the villagers took it upon themselves to ensure its survival. They toiled in the fields and took up labour works, channeling their earnings towards the school’s upkeep and paying the teacher’s salaries. “Every month, we had to provide Rs 1000 each (Indian currency) to 6 teachers for 5 years. And we had to look after their food and lodging as well,” the chairman shared.

Efforts to keep the school operational were not just limited to manual labour with a meager daily wage of Rs 150; they cultivated rice to provide for the teachers. Their relentless hard work bore fruit when, after years of struggle, the Myanmar government resumed funding the school from grade 9 onwards.

Haven in turbulent times 
The ongoing civil unrest in Myanmar has further highlighted the importance of Pounyu government higher secondary school. With many schools across the country shutting down due to shortages of food and essential supplies, more students are seeking refuge in Pounyu. 

In Myanmar, the school session begins from June and runs till February. This year, the school has witnessed an unprecedented influx of students-383 have enrolled till date. The villagers have also prioritized accommodating students from other villages, at the expense of their own children’s comfort at the hostel established by the ECS. 

While many Myanmar government teachers are reportedly refusing to go and teach in the schools as a form of civil democratic protest against the military government in the ongoing civil war, in Pounyu government school, at least 16 teachers have expressed eagerness to begin classes. This, taking into consideration that Pounyu village is near to the India side of the border and therefore considered more safe and secure.

An appeal for ‘Light’
The lack of electricity remains a significant barrier to the student’s education as villages like Pounyu and beyond remain in the shadows-literally and figuratively. The villagers have made a heartfelt appeal for assistance, with hope that well-wishers or organizations might help bring some semblance of electricity to Pounyu. 

“We have appealed time and again to the Myanmar government to provide us electricity but it has all fallen on deaf ears,” Echuang stated. He recalled how a Myanmar government official callously told them that “Staying in darkness would offer more opportunity to procreate.” 

A mini-electric project or any alternative source of light could transform the educational landscape of Pounyu and also brighten up their lives to a great extent, the villagers appealed.