At Laiza Schools, a Longing for Normalcy

Steve Tickner The Irrawaddy

LAIZA, Kachin State — In a town that finds itself in anything but a normal situation, ringed as it is by Burmese army troops and artillery, this week marked a return to a degree of routine as schools reopened for Laiza’ students.

Usually, schools would have recommenced on Jan. 7 after the Christmas holidays are finished, but this year with the intensification of fighting in mid December it was decided to keep the children at home with their families and the schools closed.

The Burmese government and Kachin rebels, who are headquartered in Laiza, have been engaged in heavy battles in the mountains around the town in northern Burma.

A Burmese army artillery attack on the town on Jan.14 killed three civilians, scaring many townspeople.

A senior teacher at Laiza High School named Joy said that although the resumption of school classes would restore some routine for his teenage students, the situation could change again soon.

“Whilst many students have returned, some 20 percent have yet to come back because of the ongoing situation in Laiza,” he said

“If the fighting, which has been less this week, restarts, we will have to close the schools once more because we are unable to reassure the children that they are safe,” he said.

Joy said that the war was having a great impact on the lives of his students.

“Many of our children have been quite directly affected by the fighting, some have lost fathers, mothers, or in some cases both parents, making them orphans of the war,” he said.

“One of our class 9 students, 14-year-old Hpau Yula, was killed along with two adult civilians when the Burmese army shelled Laiza.” Joy added.

“Naturally, the students, our teachers and even I myself are still quite anxious about the situation here,” he said.

The long-term impact of the war on the children’s lives was also a major concern, he said, as they were cut off from the world while education material and teachers in Laiza were scarce.

“We teachers constantly worry about our students’ future. They are not getting enough consistent education because of the disruptions,” he said.

“They know little of the outside world, almost nothing about modern communications technology and only learn maths, English, Kachin and Burmese language and writing,” Joy said.