PETALING JAYA: They may have long retired but thanks to the spirit of Christmas, these “forgotten” former La Salle teachers were brought together and honoured for their past contributions.
Leading the chorus of appreciation for the nearly two dozen ex-teachers was the Malaysian Federation of La Sallian Associations and Xaverian Club of Kuala Lumpur (XCKL).
Federation president Michael Simon said that despite the changes in the education system and La Salle schools over the years, the “old boys are still working to keep the spirit of the schools alive”.
“This is the time to honour and remember each and every one of you who have dedicated your lives to the cause of education. We will never forget your grand efforts, ” he said in his welcoming remarks at an Italian restaurant here on Saturday.
XCKL past president Jason Ong, who mooted the idea for the gathering, said it was apt to honour the La Salle teachers on the occasion of Christmas.
“You are the ones who instilled in us the spirit of brotherhood and good values. We are what we are today because of your teachings.
“There can be no better time than Christmas to say a big ‘thank you’ to all of you, ” he said in his address.
Ong said he had organised past events to honour the La Salle Brothers, adding that it was time now to cherish the teachers themselves.
Among the teachers who attended was Lee Kah Chee, who at 86 was the oldest of the lot.
Despite his deteriorating health and failing memory, the gritty former teacher from St Michael’s Institution in Ipoh came with his walking stick.
“I was determined to be a part of the reunion with my ex-colleagues and students, ” said Lee, who underwent brain surgery some time ago.
Former teacher of the St Xavier’s Institution in Penang, Michael Quah, 76, shared his enthusiasm for “continuing to learn and to give back to the community by being a driven and passionate individual”.
“Teachers devoted their life for the growth of young children and the ethos of the La Salle Brothers is about nurturing life.
“I spent the later parts of my life painting and being actively engaged with everybody, including my grandchildren who may think I’m a nuisance, ” he added as the others laughed.
Another ex-teacher of the school, Antony Gomez, who taught English and literature, said: “I treasure my formative years at St Xavier’s both as a student and a teacher because the interest I developed there was maintained for the rest of my career and my life.”
He spoke fondly of his regular meet-ups with former students, whom he said visited him often at his home.
St Francis Melaka alumnus James Sia underlined the sense of belonging that has driven the La Salle brotherhood over the years.
A strong believer of La Salle’s mission of providing education to the poor, he said education was key in bringing people out of poverty.
“In school, the senior boys guide the young ones. We used a mentoring approach and hopefully, the government recognises this. Our ethos has not changed much, and the mentoring still continues, ” he said.
Despite the meagre salary of teachers in the past, Sia said they were motivated by their passion to make an impact on students’ lives.
“Back in the early days, teachers were paid very little, probably RM30 to RM40, and the schools were surviving on donations.
“It is passion that drove the educators and because of that, we still have the sense of belonging to go back to school, even today, ” he said, adding that after leaving school in 1972 he still returned every now and then.
A former student of St Michael’s Institute in Ipoh, Angeline Lazaroo, said mission schools instilled a strong sense of culture among its students.
“We often give bursary to our students and sponsorship for clubs like musical instruments or any repairs and financial assistance.
“Mission schools also believe that the heart of education is the education of the heart, ” she said, expressing her pride in being a Michaelian.
To add to the festive air, the teachers wore Santa caps and danced and clapped as a Christmas choir group entertained.