A Woman Who Made Her Dreams Come True
What I see in front of me are two two-storied brick building and a wooden building. The time is about to be twelve noon. Some children entering into the school can be witnessed. Most of them have already arrived in their respective classes. I cannot move from a place where I am standing looking back to the past four years. At that time, in this place, there were a poor hut and old wooden building and nine nuns. In this 2010 academic year, total 350 students from kindergarten to the sixth standard (107 boys and 247 girls plus nuns) are attending at the school. There are 80 nuns living at the nunnery and the school has 12 teachers. I am being asked many questions in my mind. What brought this progressive community school for the poor and needy children in the community? Who made it?
The head of the nuns, Daw Vimala Saryi, is 36 years old now. She was the second daughter among eight children of her parents who were poor farmers working for landlords from Magway Division, the middle part of Myanmar. She completed up to the fourth standard for formal education although she is now a Dhammacariya class passed holder in religious education. She became a novice nun at the age of 11. At that time, she did not aim to be a nun for her whole life but later she found that she was very peaceful and happy for being a nun. She recalled the memory of her difficult moments “At the beginning, as a student nun, the life was very difficult. Parents could not provide the needy support. As a young nun, I did not have any well-wishers and donors for needy things such as books and stationery. So, even in illness, I had to go for alms.”
She arrived at Yangon at 2000 and stayed at a nunnery school which is not so far from the downtown of Yangon. Traditionally, people assume monks and nuns do not need to work anything except religious matters. By now, as more and more monks have been involving in social and community development works in their ways especially in education, health care, children and elderly issues, society accepts it and supports a lot. For nuns, as their participation in community work is considerably less compared to the monks, people start to wonder if a nun initiates a certain community works.
“I believe if we, the nuns, can help for the community, it will be a great benefit for the society and the country. I believe in the power of education. As I did not have a chance to achieve an education in my younger life because of poverty, I greatly empathize the feeling of children and parents who cannot afford to go to school. In my life till now, if I am asked what I was proud of myself most, it was that I could take part in the competition of outstanding students at the fourth standard. The rest two students are boys and I was the only girl. All my fellows very supported to me and they were very proud of me and that really made me motivated and delighted.” She taught Myanmar, English and Mathematics to smaller nuns at the spare times but she was very often asked and criticized by the elder nuns why she is doing such unnecessary things.
Fortunately, at 2006, a well-wisher donated her land at the outskirt of Yangon. Zabu Oak Shaung nunnery school is situated in Myaing Tharyar ward, Kyauk Tann Township, southern district of Yangon where most of the residents have very low income. In 2007, the nuns taught government curriculum to five primary level children from the nearby wards. Thirteen secondary students were also sent to the nearby school. In 2008, the school buildings were damaged by the effect of Cyclone Nargis in May. The huge success was the school became government permitted community school. Here, community school means all the financial necessities such as cost for students, salaries for teachers are afforded by the initiators, the donors and the community people, not totally by the authority. At that year, there were seven teachers and total 120 children (37 boys and 83 girls and nuns) joined the school. In 2009, a brick school building appeared and the school had total 250 students and nine teachers and the fifth standard could be integrated. Not only Buddhists but also other religious believers are accepted to join the school.
Now, children can have other co-curriculum activities which most of the schools cannot provide. One photography and painting class have been conducted. The school has clinic and library is in organizing. Children have been sent to excursion for three times. Here are her humble words. “All achievement is not because of only me. All are by the kind support of all contributors, organizations, youths who helped a lot in the whole process. I just initiated, organized and am maintaining all of your achievements.”
Her ultimate goal for this school is continuous development followed by sustainability and to emerge good leaders for the school and the community. When I asked her how she is leading such a big, diverse and forming group, she explained me her perspective for leadership in detail with examples. That made me remember “Be the change you want to see”.
All fruitful development now did not happen at a glance. It was built by pieces and pieces and along the way, there ware many obstacles. She had to discuss with the responsible person of township education department for six hours for school opening permission. She was asked the reason why a nun does such a work. Her energetic and impressive answer is “The things that children need cannot wait for time. The time for helping children is TODAY. The child’s blood, bones, flesh and intellectual are constantly developing. Such development cannot wait to start tomorrow, it cannot be postponed. So, help, protect and look after the welfare of children”.