Mother tells of son’s ordeal to return to SA after Myanmar teaching job ended
Cape Town – Paarl resident Nicolette de Villiers said it was only faith that kept her going in efforts to bring her son John home, stuck in Myanmar for seven months after his teaching job ceased to exist on account of lockdown.
“In January, my husband and I enrolled our son at the Explore Asia Academy in Hua Hin, Thailand, to complete a Tesol (teaching English to speakers of other languages) course.
’’It was with much excitement and anticipation that as a family we went to Hua Hin to visit the academy and make sure their operations looked legitimate,” De Villiers said.
“We saw several foreign students and met lecturers who prided themselves in the fact their students were being sent all over Asia to teach English.
“Once back in South Africa, we were informed that our son would be placed in Myanmar to teach English and that there would be other foreign teachers. He joined the new school and started teaching soon after his arrival,” she said.
As soon as Covid-19 became more prevalent, De Villiers said things took a turn for the worse with the school first receiving fewer students and then being shut down due to lockdown regulations.
“In Myanmar, John and the other two foreigners were refused entrance to certain restaurants and some shops. They were told that the locals believed that foreigners carried and spread the virus.”
The principal, she said, then moved them around towns as the local population were unhappy with her hosting foreigners. The last town they were moved to was Thanbyuzayat, with the family battling to get John back to the main city, Yangon, where he could get a flight home.
All the while, the determined mother was calling around, to the Thailand embassy, asking friends, and calling airlines, in efforts to get him repatriated.
“I turned to my own group of Christian believers and asked them to pray for me to give me strength and make a way in what seemed an impossibility.
“On September 15, John received a phone call from a Mr Myint, who introduced himself as being part of the South African Embassy, and enquired on what John needed.
“John informed him of the documents he needed and the transport to Yangon.”
“I called John at 5am on September 17, he was hours away from Yangon.”
Flights cost around R40 000. John said during the entire ordeal, he felt helpless.
“I now feel relieved and realise that family is most important. To those South Africans that are still there – stay positive, try to exercise and read.
’’Those that want to go to Myanmar to teach – do proper research first and know what you are getting into. You need financial support should you need to get out of the country,” he said.
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele, said they had repatriated more than 30 000 South Africans in the six months of hard lockdown.
“They can either call our embassy or visit to get assisted. It is easy if people let us know where they are going before they leave the country so that we can advise them on the appropriate papers and other information they need,” he said.