The teacher with a golden heart

The teacher with a golden heart
By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 8/26/2019 5:53:55 AM IST

Samuel Beech

Mark Twain famously remarked,’ It is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.’ When faced with challenges that seem insurmountable and circumstances clearly beyond our control, we are often presented two choices - ‘Flight or Fight.’ 31- year-old John Khangnyu from a far flung hamlet called Shinnyu under Monyakshu sub-division in Mon bordering Myanmar and Tuensang chose to put up a brave fight for four long years in his quest to provide education to 78 students (nursery to class 3) in the only Government Primary School in Shinnyu established in 2009 but functional only in 2010. 

When government teachers prefer postings in town and cities where amenities abound and life is more comfortable, the heart rending story of John Khangnyu is one that must be told ahead of the Teachers’ Day celebrations this year. He has gone way beyond his call of duty to undertake countless risks and hardships to ensure students are not deprived of basic amenities and the right to education. 

Though his job title reads ‘Headmaster’, he is more like a father to his students. John is married to Angela Lelang and the duo has two children; a four-year-old daughter Enju Teresa and a two-year-old son Changku Raymond. His family though extends beyond the walls of his home as he spends most of his time taking care of the 78 students of Government Primary School in Shinnyu. 

John Khangnyu was born on August 15, 1988 at Tobu in Mon to Beanoba Konyak and Yongmai. He completed matriculation from Newman school in Tobu and studied further till class 12 at Government Wangkhao College in Mon. He then received teachers’ training at St Paul’s Institute of Education, Teachers’ Training College, Phesama, Kohima. He started his career as a teacher in 2012 and has been teaching in GPS Shinnyu since 2015.

Two more teachers; a male teacher H Moba Konyak and a lady teacher Tiehlem Penshy Konyak assist him in the school. As the school is understaffed, the trio teaches all the subjects. John lamented that requests have been raised for more teachers but no teachers have been deputed so far. Tobu Area Students’ Union (TASU) along with Shinnyu Village Council paid the salary of a teacher for 12 months last year; salary for the first 7 months was paid by TASU and for the last 5 months by Shinnyu Village Council. 

 The only lifeline that connects Shinnyu to the rest of Nagaland is the road to Tobu town which is 68 kms away and the only way to commute to Tobu is to either walk on foot or travel on a bike. John regularly undertakes numerous painstaking journeys on his bike on this treacherous route to get provisions from the government for the school.

To call the only “road” connecting Shinnyu to Tobu deplorable is not even an understatement as clearly visible in the pictures. It is not motorable during the monsoons and a bike ride then is nothing less than an off-road biking experience. The risks increase manifold when there are landslides as John has to precariously manoeuvre his bike on muddy trails less than a meter in width along steep slopes. One wrong move and he could go plunging down hundreds of meters into a steep gorge.

During the winters and dry seasons, it takes him about 4 to 5 hours to reach Tobu, while it takes 8 to 12 hours in the monsoons. More often than not, people along the way help him push his bike of out of the mud. It’s even tougher for the villagers as they have to walk 12 hours to buy household items and other commodities from Tobu and wait until the next day to return. 

Provisions for students like books, tiffin boxes, water bottles and the mid-day meal scheme ration are dropped at Tobu. While John carries smaller items /school stationeries on his bike, the mid-day meal ration is transported till the nearest villages where vehicles can ply after which members of Shinnyu Village Council and villagers carry the bags of rice on their head traversing steep hills and slopes for the last stretch of 25 kms upto Shinnyu.

Shinnyu has no electricity, mobile towers and network, hospitals, dispensaries and shops. People solely depend on farming for their sustenance. In case of sickness, the villagers have to carry patients on a stretcher to the nearest village that has a hospital or dispensary. If there is one thing the village does not lack, it is people with a big heart and children eager to study. 

John told this writer that parents of the students are mainly from poor families and lack education. Students are therefore not provided the right guidance and direction. Personal hygiene and cleanliness is also a concern. On many occasions, he notices children as young as four to five year old come to the school very shabbily. When he is not teaching in the classrooms, he spends about 30 minutes on certain days giving students a bath.

What is however heartening to note is that students are not dull. They are eager to study and can quickly grasp whatever it taught to them. They are sharp and bright. Very few kids struggle with their studies. Though John rues the lack of proper guidance and direction from parents, he is optimistic that given the proper guidance, they could do better in their studies and even life in general. 
Despite the lack of facilities and dilapidated classrooms, the trio of John, H Moba Konyak and Teihlem Penshy Konyak give their heart and soul into imparting holistic education to the students by regularly conducting various co-curricular activities like singing, dancing, poem recitation and speech competitions to shape their overall personality and make them confident individuals. 
Unlike other towns and cities in the State, students in Shinnyu cannot afford tuitions after school hours. As such, John has taken it upon himself to visit the houses of all the students in the village and spend time helping each student with their studies. As the village is small, it takes him a week to visit all the students and give them home tuition. He occasionally distributes pencils and notebooks donated by well wishers. He also visits the widows, widowers, the sick and tries to help them in whatever ways possible. 
Government Primary School in Shinnyu lacks proper infrastructures and facilities. The classrooms are small and the floor is made of mud. There is also no proper fencing. And as there is no electricity and mobile network, John has to make numerous trips to Tobu for any official school work or to receive and send any information pertaining to the school. 
The only time John can receive any messages on his mobile phone or make important calls while in Shinnyu is after he takes an hour hike up a hill in order to get reception on his mobile phone. The school currently needs a desktop personal computer and printer. But for them to work, the village needs electricity first. It is almost like being transported back to a different era as teachers use carbon paper to prepare question papers for the students. Also, as under the new system of evaluation of government schools, updates and reports have to be submitted online; John has to travel to Tobu where there is electricity and internet to submit reports on time. 
Despite all the challenges, the story of Shinnyu is not that of a lost cause. People are eager to improve their condition and willing to work hard. Led from the front by John, a classroom was extended with the help of benefactors. John has also received five bundles of CGI sheets from Village Development Board of Shinnyu village council and is planning to construct a mini auditorium for the school by this year. Contractor T Rio has helped the school by constructing a school road and mini playground for the students and the DIG of 7 Sector Indian Army Tuensang, on John’s request, sanctioned the construction of a multipurpose hall in Shinnyu.
While John is like a father to the students, to the villagers he is also a guide, clerk, mentor, translator, postmaster, resource person and many other roles, all rolled into one.
Earlier, the village council, students’ union, women organization and church would go to nearby villages to translate official communications or letter. John now takes that responsibility of translating letters and helping them reply. Any paper works or official works of the village council and VDB is also done by him, all these even as he keeps the villagers updated on any information. Apart from his designation as a headmaster, he also works as Registrar of Birth and Death and Secretary of School Management Committee. 
Ensuring the womenfolk are not left behind, he initiated the formation of women Self help Groups with each group comprising of 8 to 9 members. The villager leaders also consult him on numerous issues and activities pertaining to the village. 
So much responsibility for a married man you would say, but flight or running away from responsibilities has never been an option. After all, he is from the land of the most feared warriors in Nagaland and people in the hills are known to have big hearts as lofty as they hills that surround them. Question is- are we, the more fortunate ones, doing our bit to help them? 

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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