October 19, 2017

Homage Paying Ceremonies

The cold season in Myanmar can be regarded as the season of misty eyes and fond memories as homage paying ceremonies are held by former students for their old teachers all over the country at this time of the year. This kind of ceremony can be said to be distinctively Myanmar, as in Myanmar society, one’s teacher is accorded the highest reverence together with the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha and one’s parents. The majority of Myanmar teachers do deserve this high honour for many reasons. Firstly, they have come into the profession with two main reasons—their love of sharing knowledge and their adoration for their students. Secondly, the teaching profession in Myanmar as in other part of the world is not a very lucrative one, and despite the unattractive salary and the hard work, teachers stay on till it is time to go on retirement, except for the small minority who either exploit their profession for personal gain, or leave it for good to seek a better paying job. Thirdly, 70 percent of the population of Myanmar still live in rural areas, and this means that the majority of schools are in rural areas, and the majority of teachers may never have the opportunity, or the inclination to serve in a school in a big town or city. Fourthly, teachers have very poor career prospects. There are over 300,000 basic education teachers and out of them only a trickle will become a high school headmaster or headmistress, a job that has some social prestige and authority, but entails a lot of responsibility and a salary scale that is only above that of a high school teacher. Fifthly, they also have very poor financial prospects. Unless they are married to a better earning mate, or they have other incomes, few can hope to own a house or an apartment upon their retirement, as there is very little extra money to save from their salary. However, interest in this profession, especially among women, never wanes, as the age-old belief still persists that it is a respectable profession very suitable for women.
While attending school, a person may not realize how much effort one’s teachers have to put in, to nurture them, and to provide them a sound knowledge base for their future success and well-being, it is only when they become older and more mature that some realize how much they owe to their teachers. This is especially felt among the majority of former students who were brought up in rural areas and had no access to tuitions, or the financial means to attend them, or have expensive guides. The only providers of knowledge had been their school teachers. Some will remember the extra classes that their high school teachers took after school, so that they will be well-prepared for their matriculation examination. Some will even remember that their teachers provided them with snacks out of their own pocket, so that they will not feel hungry during the extra coaching after school. Some will remember how strict their teachers had been to ensure that they learn. Some will remember how patient their teachers had been with them. Some will remember the admonitions of their teachers that have changed their lives for the better. Some bright students from poor families may remember that on passing the matriculation examination, their school teachers, although not rich themselves, have collectively funded them through university. If they still live in the same place, some will see their former teachers still travelling to their schools, or other destinations, on foot, on buses, or by bicycles looking as impoverished as they were in their student days.
It is little wonder that some former students remember the gratitude they owe to their teachers for the success they are now enjoying, and get together annually to pay homage to their former teachers in cash and kind. Some former students might not realize what impact the annual monetary gifts they present to their former teachers, who have fallen on hard times after retirement, have on their lives. Some former students may not realize that although some retired teachers may not be in financial difficulty, it brings them unparallel happiness to be remembered and appreciated by their former students. Some former students may also not know that the homage paying ceremony may be the only occasion when their old teachers have the chance to meet old friends and colleagues.
Some former students with a successful career have the means to donate to the homage paying ceremony for teachers, and do so very generously. Some do not have the means, but contribute as much as they can afford. Some give a lot of time to raise the necessary funds for the ceremony despite their many commitments, and some make the effort to attend the ceremony without fail.
There are also probably many who do not realize, or care to remember, what they owe to their teachers, just as there are many retired teachers whose contributions and dedications have been unrecognized. To the teachers who have been unappreciated, let me say that for those who have been true to their profession, their lives have been spotless, that every day of their career has been spent on doing meritorious deeds, that the personal sacrifices they have made have not been in vain, and that a higher plane awaits them. To those who have forgotten their teachers, let me request them to remember them, even if it is just once, before they depart this world.

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