Cheong E Von is a 2nd year Medical student at University College Cork. She is the Welfare Director for UKECharisma 2012/2013 and one of the volunteers for KL Education Project 2013. This article was previously published on The Malay Mail and Yahoo!News.
We traverse so many places throughout our lives and gain what we call life experiences, along the way. The people we meet and the conversations we have, sit atop the moments that give value to these experiences.
Between July 15 and July 28, 2013, 20 university students came together with an initiative to teach English at a primary school named SK Seri Setia. I was one of the lucky 20.
I believe we came with our individual expectations, fears and doubts. But when it was time to leave, we left bound by a common thread of shared experiences, cherished and invaluable to every single one of us.
Within two weeks, we taught the kids English in their classrooms, organised after-school English workshops and Fun Days, and performed Dikir Barat together during our closing ceremony.
Within two weeks, we bonded with the children. They never ceased to amaze us with how much they treasured our presence. Every morning, we were greeted with bright smiles, pleas for our autographs (I didn’t see that coming!) and questions like, “Cikgu, bila datang ke kelas?”
I remember how a part of me softened when I saw the happiest smiles on the kids’ faces after giving stars or high fives for doing a great job in class. I never knew a star or a high five from me would mean that much. Neither did I foresee the value my signature holds.
I felt their yearning for love and attention. With the quiet ones, I sensed their longing to be recognised, to be believed in, to be pushed to their highest potential.
Wei Jie, one of our volunteers signing autographs for the kids.
They taught me that there is so much to be thankful for. Finding joy in simple things is not an abstract quest, it is an inner necessity. The courage to surrender to joy is a gift that should not be kept hidden in the distant corners of our childhood memories — it is a treasure that deserves to be relished every day.
They made me realise that we are responsible for each other. We are all quietly searching for role models. I saw that in the eyes of the Year 1 girl who dreams of being a doctor when she grows up. I will never forget how her face lit up when I told her that I am going to be a doctor one day too, God-willing. We are always watching one another. Everything we do ripples with no logical end. By doing our best, we inspire others to do their best.
As we looked back, we all agreed that we worked extremely hard — waking up early in the morning to go to school, staying up late to prepare lesson plans and workshops. We were probably so engrossed in our work that we did not even realise it was hard work in action. Every lesson plan, every workshop and every event was prepared with love.
This experience gave us a fresh perspective on what it is like to be a primary school teacher. It is certainly not an easy task — managing such energetic kids. We now know by experience, how exhausting it can be. But the real challenge lies in the capacity of a teacher to take time knowing each student personally, to recognise the individual potential in each child and to create a platform that enables the child to fulfil his or her highest potential.
Fun Day for the kids!
At SK Seri Setia, we had the privilege of meeting some teachers who truly go the extra mile in nurturing these kids. Their service and their acts of kindness may not make headlines or get captured in pictures. But they know that their work is no less meaningful, no less urgent. Their work sets the foundation for the future they envision for generations to come. Their service takes on a life of its own through every child who becomes hopeful of the future, whose view of the world expands through education.
Young people like us draw inspiration and strength from such figures. During the course of this project, the volunteers learned to draw strength from each other as well. We helped each other whenever we could and went beyond our obligations. We filled in the gaps for each other whenever one of us slowed down.
Within two weeks, each and every volunteer bonded with the children in his or her own way. Each volunteer had something uniquely special to offer.
Teaching the kids in their classrooms.
Education is such a fundamental part of the interconnectedness of our world. It was education that brought the 20 of us together. It was education that brought us to the kids.
I remember being filled with fascination as I watched how our volunteers from the United Kingdom connected with the kids so well despite not knowing how to speak the Malay language.
Some of the kids might have struggled with their English accent but the volunteers’ goodwill and compassion transcended boundaries and resonated with something deep within these kids.
Left: Volunteers posing with SK Seri Setia’s former principal, Mr Ooi. Top right: Mr Ooi delivering his speech. Bottom right: Mr Siva, one of SK Seri Setia’s beloved veteran teachers.
There were times where we questioned whether two weeks was sufficient to make a lasting impact on these kids. Would we be able to inculcate a love for learning English in two weeks? Would we be able to instil positive values in these kids within two weeks?
I believe what a person takes away from every experience is unique and intensely personal.
But one thing for sure — every kid took away something from this experience. It was evident from how they looked forward to every English workshop and lesson throughout these two weeks. It was evident from the tears that were shed on the last day. The last chapter of our journey at SK Seri Setia was marked by volunteers repeatedly reminding the kids to study hard, and the kids nodding fervently and tightening their embrace in return. Gifts and messages were exchanged in the hopes of immortalising our time spent together. We were all guilty of stealing one final glance after another at each other.
Within these two weeks, in our own small ways, I believe we brought the human touch to education. We made learning fun. In a way, through our efforts, we were creating a movement and an awareness about the interconnectedness between education and the qualities of our hearts and minds. We realized that young people like us do have something special to offer to our community, that every child holds such promise and needs to be nurtured through education.
Beautiful volunteers bonding with the beautiful kids.
To me, that is the beauty of UKECharisma — bringing youths together in the spirit of student volunteerism, reaching out and giving back using what we have.
The most evident of truths — in our efforts to make these kids grow as human beings, we grew along with them. This project has been such an amazing experience for the volunteers in so many ways. One of the most cherished gifts we gave to each other was the bond we fostered. We worked hard and played hard together, laughed and travelled together and shared our stories.
We rediscovered Malaysia with our fellow volunteers from abroad. They marvelled over things that we occasionally take for granted. Through their eyes, we were reminded of how blessed we are to be living in a country so rich in culture and history. They tried Durian and performed Dikir Barat with us. Some of them loved Kaya so much that they brought them back to the United Kingdom.
I am humbled and honoured to call these 19 individually intelligent, dedicated and passionate volunteers my friends. I learned so much from each of them during our short time together. It is my sincere wish that we will continue using this special bond of ours to do great things and inspire.
Fiona has clearly impacted these kids profoundly.
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always — home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country — all of us —
facing the stars
hope — a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it — together.
— One Today, Richard Blanco
Till we meet again.
Lead. Live. Learn.
A truly amazing team!