Sailing on the Ocean of Life: All in the Same Boat

I often think of the image of the compassionate God who never abandons His people, and as a missionary I continue to live out and be a witness to His compassion.

Sailing on the Ocean of Life

All in the Same Boat


By Lenette Toledo, Columban lay missionary from the Philippines


      Myanmar is far behind in terms of education, compared to other countries, having been shut off from the outside world for more than 50 years by the military junta. Now, they are struggling to catch up with the rest of the world.  Moreover, I feel that the country’s education system here can be so oppressive. Students are required to pass the 10th Standard exam to attend university, otherwise, they have to retake it the following year until they pass. This includes going through the same process of reviewing which require staying in boarding schools where they are strictly supervised by hired teachers, from dawn to dusk. Studying starts as early as 5:00am until late in the evening, taking only short breaks to eat their meals.  Unfortunately, due to poverty, not all parents can afford to send their children to boarding school. If they don't pass the exam on the first try, it might put an end to their dreams.


     I teach basic English to students and young professionals aside from working in the diocesan curia office. With increasing numbers of non-government organizations (NGOs) coming to Myanmar, many young people are aspiring to work in one. However, they must be able to speak in English to qualify. Some of my students work in NGOs like Karuna (Caritas), while the others are young professionals, high school and university students who want to improve their grammar and speaking skills. I never envisioned myself teaching English, because even I struggle with my grammar. Thankfully, one can get help from resources found in the internet.


    Not all of the students come regularly because of various reasons and I would often wonder how many would turn up for the day. Generally, young people here are timid and inexperienced. My students were enthusiastic at first. As time went on, only a few retained the motivation to continue in the face of the other difficulties they are dealing with.


  Teaching is not really my forte. It's a challenge for me to be patient and to find creative ways to encourage the students to value the importance of education. I often wonder if my words are even sinking in or not.  For instance, I would often ask them if there's something they didn’t understand but they would not say anything.  When I ask them, "Do you understand?" they'd invariably say "yes."  But then I'd ask them to explain what they learned, and they would stay quiet, sitting with their eyes downcast.


     I have to remind myself to talk to them as gently as possible, knowing how vulnerable they are. They were never taught in school how to assert themselves and were never allowed to question authority. For me, it is a very oppressive way of learning. Therefore, my job entails not only teaching them the English language. It is also about helping them boost their self-esteem and confidence so they can express themselves to the world.


    To understand them, I have to dig deeper into their personal history. There are so many factors that contribute to how and why they behave the way they do. Some of them are orphans, some have been separated from their parents because of the civil war. At times, I cannot help but empathize in their resentment and sorrows, but I tell myself that motivating them to use their personal experience to achieve their goals is more important.  They need somebody who can listen and understand them without judgment.

     I hope that they feel how deeply I care for them. I hope they know that I will always be there waiting and unwilling to give up on them.  I often think of the image of the compassionate God who never abandons His people, and as a missionary I continue to live out and be a witness to His compassion. I tell them that learning is a lifelong process and like them, I too, learn from them everyday. We are all in the same boat sailing on the ocean of life.

 banmaw parish

 A boarding house in Banmaw, Kachin State, Myanmar