The Legacy of Friendship and Learning

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(The memorable photo taken in 1977).

By Min Zan

 

In a time when the world was transitioning through rapid scientific, cultural, and political changes, a group of young individuals in Myanmar (then Burma) found solace and purpose within the walls of Bassein Arts and Science College. This photograph, taken 50 years ago, captures a moment in the lives of these students majoring in Zoology, along with their assistant lecturer. It is a snapshot of camaraderie, intellectual curiosity, and the formative experiences that shaped their futures.
The Context of the Times
The early 1970s was a period of significant transformation globally and within Myanmar. The country was navigating post-independence identity and governance under a socialist regime, which emphasized education as a pillar for national development. In this setting, Bassein Arts and Science College emerged as a beacon of learning in the Irrawaddy Delta region, offering higher education in various disciplines, including Zoology.
The Department of Zoology
The Zoology Department at Bassein Arts and Science College was renowned for its rigorous curriculum and dedicated faculty. The students in the photograph, clad in traditional longyi and crisp shirts, represent a generation committed to understanding the biological complexities of animal life. Their assistant lecturer, distinguishable in his professional attire and demeanour, played a pivotal role in nurturing their academic pursuits.
The relationship between students and lecturers in those days was marked by respect and mutual aspiration for knowledge. Lecturers were not merely educators; they were mentors who guided their students through the labyrinth of scientific inquiry. For many students, their academic journey in Zoology was a path to discovering their potential and contributing to the broader field of science.
Bonds Beyond the Classroom
The camaraderie evident in the photograph speaks volumes about the bonds formed beyond the academic realm. These students, united by their major, shared countless hours in labs and classrooms, studying everything from the anatomy of vertebrates to the ecological dynamics of the Irrawaddy Delta. Their interactions were not limited to academic discussions; they extended to shared lunches, study groups, and social gatherings, fostering lifelong friendships.
For the students of Bassein Arts and Science College, the journey through their Zoology major was also a journey of personal growth. They learned to balance the rigours of academic life with the joys of youthful camaraderie. These relationships provided a support system, helping them navigate the pressures of exams and the challenges of research projects.
The Role of the Assistant Lecturer
In the photograph, Saya U Win Aung, assistant lecturer, stands out not only by his central position but also by his role as a bridge between the students and the vast world of zoological sciences. His presence was integral to their academic experience. As a relatively younger member of the faculty, he was approachable, often acting as a liaison between the more senior professors and the students.
His mentorship extended beyond formal lectures. He was known to engage students in thought-provoking discussions, encourage their participation in field research, and assist them in developing their scientific inquiries. This dynamic created a nurturing environment where students felt valued and motivated to excel.
The Impact of Zoology Studies on Their Lives
The rigorous training in Zoology equipped these students with critical thinking skills, a thorough understanding of biological processes, and an appreciation for the natural world. Many of them pursued careers in teaching, research, environmental conservation, and even medicine. Their education at Bassein Arts and Science College laid a strong foundation for their professional endeavours.
Moreover, the ethical considerations and ecological awareness instilled during their studies influenced their contributions to society. As Myanmar grapples with environmental challenges, the insights and expertise of these alumni have proven invaluable. Some have become advocates for biodiversity conservation, while others have contributed to scientific research and education, shaping the next generation of scientists.
Reflections from Alumni
Reconnecting with some of these alumni provides a poignant reflection on their journey. A former student reminisces, “Our time at Bassein Arts and Science College was transformative. The friendships we formed, the knowledge we gained, and the guidance from our lecturers shaped who we are today. We were not just students; we were a family.”
Another alumna adds, “The Zoology Department was a place of discovery. We explored the intricacies of life forms, from the microscopic to the majestic. Our assistant lecturer was a beacon of knowledge and kindness, always encouraging us to push our boundaries.”
Their recollections highlight the enduring impact of their education and the bonds they formed. Even after five decades, the spirit of their time together continues to influence their lives.
The Changing Landscape of Education
Over the past 50 years, the landscape of education in Myanmar has undergone significant changes. Advances in technology, shifts in political climates, and evolving educational policies have reshaped how institutions operate and how students learn. Despite these changes, the core values of mentorship, camaraderie, and intellectual curiosity remain timeless. Bassein Arts and Science College has also evolved, incorporating modern pedagogical methods and expanding its academic offerings. However, the Zoology Department’s legacy and its alumni’s memorable experiences continue to inspire current students.
The Legacy Continues
The photograph is more than just a memory; it is a testament to the lasting impact of education and friendship. The Zoology majors of Bassein Arts and Science College, along with their assistant lecturer, created a legacy that transcends time. Their journey reflects the universal themes of learning, growth, and the unbreakable bonds of friendship.
As the college continues to educate future generations, the story of these students serves as a reminder of the importance of nurturing both academic and personal development. It underscores the idea that education is not just about acquiring knowledge but also about building relationships that enrich our lives.
The Journey of Life
Time has a way of weaving intricate patterns into the tapestry of human lives. The students in the photograph have each followed their unique paths, leading to diverse outcomes in terms of career, wealth, and personal fulfilment. Some have ascended to heights of success and affluence, while others have lived contentedly within the middle class. Their experiences reflect a broad spectrum of human endeavour and resilience.
The Affluent and Successful
Among the group, a few individuals managed to harness the opportunities and resources available to them, rising to prominence and financial success. These alumni often pursued advanced studies, leveraging their knowledge in Zoology into lucrative careers in academia, research, and industry. Some ventured into entrepreneurship, using their scientific background to innovate in fields such as biotechnology and environmental consulting.
One such individual, after completing his studies, earned a scholarship to further his education abroad. With dedication and hard work, he became a renowned biologist, contributing significantly to environmental conservation projects globally. His success allowed him to amass considerable wealth, which he used to support educational initiatives in Myanmar, ensuring that future generations could access quality education.
A Life of Contentment
For many others in the photograph, life unfolded with a steady, albeit less spectacular, rhythm. These individuals found stability and satisfaction within the middle class, balancing careers in education, government service, and private sectors. Their lives were marked by the typical challenges and rewards of raising families, contributing to their communities, and enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
Ma Kyin Aye, for instance, became a high school teacher, dedicating her life to educating young minds in the very field that once inspired her. Though she did not attain great wealth, she found immense satisfaction in her work, shaping the futures of countless students. Her modest lifestyle reflects a deep-seated contentment and fulfilment derived from a life of service and intellectual engagement.
The Unseen Struggles and Quiet Resilience
However, not all stories from the group are tales of success and contentment. Some faced significant hardships and challenges, navigating life’s adversities with quiet resilience. Economic downturns, health issues, and personal losses have tested their strength and resolve. Despite these difficulties, they have shown remarkable fortitude, embodying the spirit of perseverance.
Ko Win Maung (Darkie), once a promising student, faced a series of unfortunate events that derailed his career ambitions. Health issues prevented him from pursuing advanced studies, and he struggled to maintain stable employment. Yet, his resilience and positive outlook allowed him to find peace and dignity in a life filled with unforeseen challenges.
The Final Chapter
As these individuals approach the final chapter of their lives, they are acutely aware of the inevitability of death. This awareness brings with it a profound sense of reflection and acceptance. The experiences of the past 50 years have given them a rich perspective on life, one that embraces both the joys and sorrows that come with the human condition.
For many, the enduring friendships formed during their college years have provided a source of comfort and connection. Regular reunions, phone calls, and letters have kept the bonds strong, allowing them to reminisce about their shared past and offer support in times of need.
Legacy and Contribution
The legacy of these individuals is not solely measured by their professional achievements or financial success. It is also reflected in the intangible contributions they have made to society and the lasting impact they have had on those around them. Their commitment to education, community service, and environmental conservation has left an indelible mark, ensuring that their efforts will be remembered long after they are gone.
The assistant lecturer, U Win Aung, whose guidance and mentorship shaped the lives of his students, has been fondly remembered by many. His dedication to fostering a love of learning and curiosity in his students laid the groundwork for their future successes and personal growth. His influence is a testament to the profound impact that educators can have on their students’ lives.
A Shared Reflection
Looking back, the alumni of Bassein Arts and Science College’s Zoology Department recognize the value of the education they received and the friendships they formed. Their time at the college was not just about acquiring knowledge; it was also about developing a sense of identity, purpose, and community. These experiences provided a strong foundation that helped them navigate the complexities of life.
The photograph serves as a poignant reminder of their shared past and the enduring power of friendship. It captures a moment of youthful hope and ambition, a moment that has resonated throughout their lives, influencing their decisions and shaping their destinies.
The lives of the Zoology majors from Bassein Arts and Science College, captured in a photograph from over 50 years ago, have taken diverse and fascinating paths. While some have achieved significant success and wealth, others have led fulfilling lives within the middle class, and a few have faced considerable hardships. Despite these differences, they are united by the shared experiences of their youth and the enduring friendships they formed.
As they approach the end of their journeys, they reflect on a life well-lived, full of challenges, triumphs, and meaningful contributions. Their stories remind us of the unpredictable nature of life and the importance of resilience, community, and the lasting impact of education. The photograph is not just a record of the past; it is a testament to the enduring bonds of friendship and the profound influence of shared experiences.

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