Aishah Nadirah is currently a 2nd year Economics student reading at University of Nottingham. She was a volunteer for Project KL 2014 and is now Creative Director for UKECharisma 2014/2015.
Entering the dormitory filled with new faces, I was overwhelmed with nervousness. Nervous at meeting the other volunteers, all of whom were bubbling with enthusiasm, loud personalities and charisma (I couldn’t resist). Nervous at the prospect of meeting – and teaching! Inspiring! – school children, the age gap so wide the idea of having some common ground with them (at the time) seemed laughable.
The fellow volunteers (or UKECharismen), though, were friendly, easygoing, a mash of beautiful colours put together: most of them loud, bright personalities, others of a more mellow, subtle undertone. I thought it was going to be a very interesting two weeks, working and living with these people, who would gradually become my friends and – dare I say it? – my family.
Entering the hall for assembly the following day was equally daunting. Curious children staring at you wide-eyed as you queue up on stage, introducing yourselves, an experience akin to being the new kid in school. The nervousness I felt the day prior came back with a vengeance. And so began Day One.
What I remembered clearly from the first day of teaching was that it was exhausting, to say the least. It wasn’t the unbearable heat or the fasting or the stress from the previous night that seemed to drain me so much as the energy of the schoolchildren. They fed off our energy as we did theirs. This strange symbiotic relationship led me and my fellow group members (two lovely ladies, who I’d like to think of them as soul sistahs) delivering our lessons with maximum energy, enthusiasm, lots of exclamations! Dancing! Singing! Jumping! I won’t lie and say that this worked with every class. Some required more coaxing than others, as well as a higher level of patience.
Do take note that every group’s study plans, carefully crafted over a few weeks (some even a whole month!) were scrapped the previous night and readjusted to a more suitable level for the kids. This reflection of the day on the bus ride back home led to me in awe of how much a teacher went through in a single schoolday. I made a mental note to call my primary school teachers, beg for their forgiveness and thank them for their patience and kindness. Maybe even send them some flowers. (I settled for a visit and a hug instead.)
Day Two was slightly less awkward, and we began to recognise telltale signs from the students: when they got restless, we pulled out either the Banana Song from our sleeve or our Break In Case of Emergency aid, crosswords (it was a relief on how so much of their energy could be focused onto that one crossword puzzle).
However, by Day Three, we had all developed our own special rhythm: go in, break the ice with a song or two, teach them something new, play a game and then sit down with them, talk to them individually. It’s something we all know (or at least, ought to be known) but bears repeating: there is a story behind each name. And although I didn’t have the time to listen to each and every one of them, I’ve been lucky enough to hear a few and be amazed by how strong these tiny humans were.
The endgame wasn’t to improve their English but rather to inspire them: to love to learn, to dream bigger, to work harder to get that dream. It was perplexing, when our team leader shared with us this piece of wisdom (much like Charlie from Charlie’s Angels: mostly unseen but always heard), how does one inspire? Midway through the project, I realised the solution, so simple yet a little bit terrifying, was you do so by connecting with them. Talk to them and let them be heard in turn.
The two weeks was a blur of the cheeky kids, mostly laughing or excitedly waving at us from the opposite building, late nights with the UKECharismen as we added the final touches to our study plans and workshops, exploring our beautiful city that is Kuala Lumpur. The most eventful two weeks of my life (and quite possibly the most exhausting). I couldn’t imagine surviving those two weeks without that team of people, those beautiful colours.
The last day of this project was mostly filled with tears, from both the students and the volunteers (though they won’t admit to this). The kids would line up, shyly ask for our signature and contact details, then a hug and finally a reluctant “goodbye”. One even recited a beautiful poem (an original, mind you!). There were definitely tears by that point.
The final message from our boss man, our Charlie, stays with me till this day: Don’t worry about how these kids were affected by you but contemplate on how they affected you. What I got from this experience was I hope I’ve grown to be a better person, a kinder one, a more considerate one. Open my eyes to the world around me and not focus so much on my own little world. Give back to those who need it more. If I was given a chance to join UKECharisma again, I would in a heartbeat.