Gawai: Child's Education vs Mabuk Ngirup

This Gawai, I want to highlight an issue that has plagued our people in Sarawak for decades.

Recently, a principal at a rural school in Sarawak told me of a toxic social media encounter she experienced when she questioned the need for parents to spend money, that should be put towards their children's EDUCATION, on DRINKING to a stupor during the Gawai celebrations.

Instead of thoughtfully considering her rhetoric, trolls began questioning her loyalty to her race, her knowledge of her culture, her use of English, & her right to question as she's just a teacher.

As a principal who encounters parents who complain about not having enough money for their children's education while spending excessively on alcohol during the festivities, I think her points speak for themselves. Have a read.

Yes, Cikgu Imelda. You totally should.
CONTEXT: Firstly, there's nothing wrong with consuming alcohol in moderation, according to one's means. Also, there are plenty of Dayaks who have given up drinking because of its disastrous effects on their community.

However, there are still plenty more, especially in rural areas, who continue the deleterious habit of indulging in excessive alcohol during the Gawai festivities; sometimes at the expense of actual needs, like food & education.

Finally, drinking excessively is NOT Dayak culture. The Dayaks have a rich culture through their deep connection with the land, spirits & art. It is reflected in their tapestry, dance, food & rituals. They have much to be proud of. Honestly, when I was in the US, their unique culture was extremely fascinating to the New Yorkers & there is definitely plenty of opportunity for cultural exchange.

In 2013, 2 RELOs from the US Dept. of State visited my school & we took them to a longhouse, TR Pillai Ng Miau. They spoke to parents & took part in the Miring, played the Engkerumong & danced the Ngajat.
Tuai Rumah Pillai, who will be retiring soon, was especially overjoyed. He said that the visit was the best thing to happen since he became the TR many years ago. He had never had foreigners visit his longhouse before.
Although it is scientifically documented that poor people make bad financial decisions, favoring short-term gain than long-term gain, so it's really hard to blame parents from low socioeconomic backgrounds for their decision to enjoy whatever they have in the short-term. However, if we let them continue drinking away their children's education, we're essentially leaving their community behind.

No, a civilization is measured by how it treats it's weakest members. Therefore, as teachers, we have the unique opportunity to ensure that the bucks stops here & to end this wasteful generational cycle. We don't have to put on a cape or do anything bombastic. Just focus on what is within our locus of control.

*1. CHECK our privilege with our most challenging students.*

This is a difficult one for me. When my students aren't perfect little robots that help me achieve the KPIs set by my superiors, I often go winter-is-coming on them. Whether we think that they are dirty or hopeless, or whether we think that they are capable of changing their world, we're right.

We don't have to do anything for them at this point. How we think about them determines how much eye contact, warmth & attention we give them. We need to step off our high horse & be willing to go knee deep in the trenches where our students are. THAT makes the BIGGEST difference & needs to be our first priority. Nobody likes to be talked down to.

*2. Live a AWESOME life that is worthy of your students.*

We need to walk the talk. If you have kids, you know that children don't do as we say, they do as we do. The way we live our lives is the best lesson we will ever give our students.

So live an awesome life. One that is worth telling stories about. See a new country. Ask that girl out. Take up drone videography. Read a book that will blow your mind. Go hunting/fishing with your students. Join a big bike convoy. Dress better. Show pictures, videos, & tell vivid stories with plenty of exaggeration for effect.

SHOW them that awesomeness comes through education & hard work, without the need to drink excessively.

*3. Spend QUANTITY time with your students.*

When I want to share wisdom with my students, I can't dictate the timing, however limited my time may be. For my words to be effective, I'll still have to abide by their timing. Just like how we can only take the horse to the water.

I need to invest QUANTITY time with my students INSIDE & OUTSIDE of the classroom to earn their trust & respect, all in search of teachable moments. It usually doesn't take long before they start opening up to you, as they probably don't get a lot of role models in their lives. That's when I open up to them reciprocally & drop some life lessons.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Every teacher is unique & every student is unique too. How do you tackle social issues like this at your school? Do share! If you haven't started thinking about the societal impact your work as a teacher can do, boy, you're missing out!

The trolls can call excessive drinking "culture" today, because it's all that they know. It's how they win pride & respect in their social group. Nonetheless, we, teachers, have the opportunity to make sure that it does not become our students' future, nor their children's future.

We have influence & we can make a difference!

Selamat Hari Gawai!

Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai! Lantang Senang Nguan Menua! Oooooha!
Bisi rumah terbuka? Aku ka ngabang!
Ka ngirup tuak, lama enda ngirup, enti berhemah meh!

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