The People We Meet: Venerable U Nayaka

September 2, 2016

Daniela Ramos

Education is the key to democracy.

It was one rainy morning that U Nayaka granted me an interview. This admirable man, along with his brother, founded a school that now provides free education, healthcare and from time to time, even a home to over six thousand students. He believes the key to democracy is education and his efforts to provide it to those who would not otherwise be able to get it due to lack of finances or being born into a minority group, has been a protesting shout against Myanmar’s military rule.

During the military government, I couldn’t even say such a thing, I wouldn’t dare – it was very dangerous.

Without further ado, I leave you with his insightful responses.

What inspired you in 1993 to open the school?

In Myanmar, most of the people are poor and over 70% of them people remain uneducated. Most of the Burmese population lacks proper schooling and that is a big problem. That is why Myanmar is an underdeveloped country.

Education is the key to democracy. I know that very well, so I seek to provide it. During the military government, I couldn’t even say such a thing, I wouldn’t dare – it was very dangerous. Now I can say it, because now we have freedom of speech.

There has been a noticeable growth in the number of students attending – from 400 to over 6,000 this year (2016). What has driven the students to choose P.D.O as an institution to receive their education?

We started with primary level, with 400 students and 10 teachers.

In 1994, we began then the middle school level and in 2000, we started the high school level.

We charge no fees – no entrance fees, no certificate fees; nothing. Private schools are very expensive and government schools still charge fees. My idea is: everyone can join the school; they can easily get an education. That was my aim behind everything.

Classes took place inside the monastery, which was not very good and some other were held under trees, we called them the “tree classrooms.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced as the principal and co-founder of the school?

Now you see this very nice building where the classes are held. However, in the beginning, we had no classrooms. Classes took place inside the monastery, which was not very good and some other were held under trees – we called them the “tree classrooms”. We had no funding at the beginning, and that was very difficult. In 1999, we got funding from Japan, which helped us build the main building. We’ve also gotten private funding from people, a good example is that of an Australian family, they help us out financially every month since 2000.

Their (foreigners’) methods are good and modern. Students attain more critical thinking and their English improves

Both local teachers and volunteer teachers from developed countries run the classrooms. Do you feel that Western influence is important for the upbringing of the students and their education?

I believe having foreign teachers is very important. Their methods are good and modern. Students attain more critical thinking and their English improves. Teachers in Myanmar are good, but their methods are still very traditional and outdated.

I’ve often read that government schools in Myanmar are not the best option. Why do you think they lack?

They are very traditional in many ways. Their teaching system is very old-school and many have no respect for the children’s rights – many still use beating as punishment.

I’ve noticed there is no segregation between regular students and novice monks. This is something I have never seen before (even after having spent almost a year in Buddhist countries? Do you think this is beneficial for both parties?

We don’t separate. It’s good for them and they are used to it. This allows the novices to interact with the outside rather than staying inside the monasteries.

You seem very educated. What was your upbringing like?

I was born in Lua Bama. I attended a government school and at the age of 11, I became a novice. I studied Buddhist literature shortly after and then, I studied Chemistry at the university of Mandalay. I learned English at school, but not very well. During high school, I’d often go to Mandalay Hill to speak to foreigners and practice.

For the first time in a long time, we can speak out our minds.

I’ve noticed there is an immense respect towards monks in Myanmar as they have led political protests throughout history. Do you consider yourself to be a part of the fight towards democracy?

Not long ago, Myanmar was under British control and after that, we were under military control, too (from 1948-1962). A big part of our progress towards freedom was lead by monks. I wouldn’t say my movement has involved demonstrations, but my main idea is that, as I said before, education is the key to democracy and I aim to provide this education to everyone, no matter whom.

For years I hid this thought; I never spoke about it during the military government – it was extremely dangerous. But now I can say it. For the first time in a long time, we can speak out our minds.

You said in the past “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, but we must consider our rights”. What do you mean by that?

I believe in free thought, I like that very much and it is very important for everyone. However, you must consider your own rights and other people’s. For example, you are free to smoke – but smoking is harmful to yourself and those around you, so you shouldn’t do it.

 

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