Straightway Mission School’s Story: Transforming lives amidst strife

A view of the Straightway Mission School at ITC Dan along the Indo-Myanmar border under Noklak district. (Photo Courtesy: Imnaakum)

A view of the Straightway Mission School at ITC Dan along the Indo-Myanmar border under Noklak district. (Photo Courtesy: Imnaakum)

Imti Longchar
ITC Dan | June 23

Against the backdrop of hardship and conflict, Straightway Mission School (SMS), located at ITC Dan village along the Indo-Myanmar border of Noklak district exemplifies the essence of mission work, transitioning from a modest beginning to become a vital educational lifeline. 

Headmaster Imnaakum (far left) along with the teaching and administration faculty of Straightway Mission School at ITC Dan along the Indo-Myanmar border under Noklak district. (Photo Courtesy: Imnaakum)

Initially opening with four teachers and sixty-one students, the school, founded by Dr Aotemshi in 2010, now educates 304 students with 14 faculty members. This year, the school is set to see its first batch of class 10 students take their exams, marking a significant milestone in its history. 

When the school first opened, the area lacked basic infrastructure such as proper roads, electricity, and internet access. The situation was further confounded by frequent clashes either between security forces and Naga Political Groups (NPGs) or among the NPGs.

Founder Dr Aotemshi with the first batch of students in 2010.

Despite these challenges, the school has made profound impact on the children from Pangsha range, Tobu sub-division under Mon district, and from across the border in Myanmar. 

The school’s administration and teachers have faced intense and often dangerous situations to ensure the continuation of education of their students.

Challenging environment 
Headmaster Imnaakum, who has been with the school since its inception, said there have been pressure to shut down the school due to the intermittent gunfights. 

Speaking to The Morung Express, he vividly described an incident in 2019 where, during an intense exchange of fire in the middle of the night, the hostel was caught in the crossfire. Bullets rained on the building, and terrified children lay on the floor and under the bed, crying. 

Children learning English language at Straightway Learning Ark at Kingphu village under Lahe region, Myanmar. (Morung Photo)

In a courageous move, Imnaakum dashed to the hostel, waving a torchlight to signal a ceasefire, ensuring the safety of the students. He said the school have witness around eight clashes in the area since it opened its doors. 

The bullet marks in the hostel walls still bear witness to the terrifying situations it encountered. There have also been instances when the school was caught in the middle of crossfire during class hours and students and teachers had to lie on the floor. 

The Headmaster said he is often being asked why he chooses to remain in such a perilous and remote area. His answer has been simple: “It’s for the children.” His commitment stems from the fact that even if only one or two children are educated, they may return to their community to give back, thus creating a ripple effect of positive change. 

“When I first decided to come here, I heard the name International Trade Centre (ITC) and it sounded very attractive and alluring. But upon reaching, reality was very different and very discouraging. But as I looked at the lives of the children and the good-natured villagers who were willing to do anything for the school and education of their children, I felt like I was at the right place, to contribute with what I had.”

Imnaakum noted that the children in this remote region are exceptionally bright and need only a platform and some encouragement to thrive. He emphasised that even a brief piece of advice or a sentence about the value of education and the opportunities beyond their immediate surroundings can significantly motivate and inspire them.

One of the recurring challenges faced by the school is the recruitment of teachers.

He explained that while many apply for teaching positions, the reality of the area’s remoteness, lack of proper access to communication and the volatile situation often deters them. 

“Despite this, I continue to encourage potential teachers to embrace the opportunity, even if only for a couple of years. The experience of teaching in such a challenging environment can be profoundly rewarding and enriching for the educators,” he stated. 

Thangpong, Dobashi of ITC Dan said the impact of the School on the community of Pangsha range and brothers at Mon district and Myanmar cannot be over stated. By providing a pathway to education, he said the school offered hope and opportunity to their children who otherwise had none.

Reflecting on the journey of the school with a mix of pride and humility, Imnaakum remarked that the blessings and happiness he derives from seeing his students pursue higher education and return as empowered individuals are immeasurable. “I only hope that more teachers will be inspired to join us, bringing their knowledge and compassion to this remote corner of the world.”

Learning Ark at Kingphu 
The SMS has also made inroads into Myanmar by opening a Learning Ark in the village of Kingphu. This initiative began after villagers pleaded with the school to find a way to educate their children. 

With the local Myanmar government school shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic and no signs of reopening due to the ongoing civil unrest, children were relegated to working in the fields and the jungle. 

Responding to the urgent need, Dr Aotemshi informed that the Straightway Learning Ark was established in 2022 aimed at providing basic education in English.

“A full-time teacher tutors the children in basic English grammar and communications. This initiative is to help the children keep up with their education and also equip them with language skills that are essential for their future prospects,” he informed. 

As per Dr Aotemshi, the SMS  was founded with the vision to provide education to children who are deprived of schooling facilities: “I wanted to do something for the community in the eastern borderlands so that they can live better lives. I wanted to give back what God has given me so graciously. To be an educated person is a privilege and to be a believer is grace.” 

The founder said he envisions empowering and emancipating the children from the region so that they can be at par with the mainlanders. 

Meanwhile, he underscored that the school at ITC Dan is an independent mission solely sustained by the proceeds from its sister school in Mokokchung. 

“Our financial independence is our commitment to our mission and determination to make a difference without relying on external assistance,” he added.