Haniesha Eliza is a 1st year Medical student at University College Dublin. She was one of the volunteers for Project Inspire Teringai 2013.
Upon arriving at Kota Kinabalu and meeting other volunteers, I was excited and did not know what to expect of the whole project at all! When I first met the other volunteers, we got along so well by having simple conversations at the backpackers, none of the ice breaking games were needed to break the ice among us all.
The journey to Teringai took approximately 3 hours from Kota Kinabalu, Louis, our director wanted us to brainstorm on the activities we could carry out with the students. I personally dreaded the brainstorming bit in the beginning because I did not know what level of English did the kids comprehend and how to approach them in the first place! Nevertheless, we all still gave out some simple ideas of what we can do with the kids, coming up with back up plans as well in case Plan A failed.
I was surprised when we arrived at Mr.Vernon’s house and it was on top of hill with an amazing view , the house was spacious and it even had hot water and a washing machine! I was mentally prepared for something worse! It was true when they said that we wouldn’t receive any telephone connection, we were all fine with that until one of us, a Celcom user had not only coverage but also 3G! But since we were prepared to live in the kampung for 2 weeks ‘phoneless’, everyone was fine with it.
We only started going into classes to teach on our second day at Teringai. We spent our first evening at the beach with the kids of Teringai that we met at the RCC and later went up to Mr. Vernon’s house, uninvited to play with us. The first time we met some of them i.e.: Suherni, she screamed everytime we got a little closer to her and ran away. Elouise caught our attention not only because he was Mr. Durus’ son, but also because he was holding three cute puppies! By the end of the day, we all got very close to the kids. We played and swam with them in the sea and bonded with them when we walked back from to the beach back to Mr.Vernon’s house. I got close to Pendilyn or infamously known as the ‘Ring Leader’ among us. I gave her a piggy back the first half of the journey and the other half she offered me her slipper as I was getting blisters from mine. I thought that was really sweet of her.
Our nights were spent discussing on the study plan for the students which normally starts around 9 pm. There was always at least one person who fell asleep during the meeting. However, we have a few regulars i.e.: Charmaine on the first night, Sharon- sleeping all the time (lol!) and Jing Shin – she’s really quiet so she falls asleep unnoticed! It always felt satisfying when we worked as a team, giving out ideas and constructing the study plan together. Some nights when we finished early, Louis would offer to tell us his Life Story also known as Bed Time Story. There were also a group of us who were always last to sleep! Up awake to have pillow talks. It was great that we didn’t have any technology to distract us from getting to know each other. Because we had no phone, no tv or whatsoever we all did a lot of talking. Although we just met each other, we know each other so much within the time span of 2 weeks.
The first day at school, we went into Year 3,5 and 6. Year 3 was lucky because we had them every single day. They were a smart bunch, very active in class but at the same time very naughty as well! I sat with the students who were sitting at the back of the class and they were actually the weaker ones – the ones who had to go to Class ‘Pemulihan’ (Remove Class). It was tough teaching them because some of them did not even know simple things like the colour Red in English! We realised that this was common in all the years. The smarter kids were put in front of the class while the weaker ones were seated at the back, leaving the weaker kids often clueless in class. I found them day dreaming and not participating with what’s going on in front most of the time. As a group, we thought it was a little heartbreaking, cause we wanted them to strive as well but there was nothing much we could for a long term effect as we were only there to teach them for 7 schooling days!
Teaching the SK Temuno students were not easy. I somehow find myself being together with the students sitting at the back of the class and it requires a lot of patience . When I taught them in groups of 5 for instance, there would be at least one or two brighter ones. Even so, sometimes they were too shy to answer the questions I asked and when they finally did, the other students would copy their answers. Either that, the brighter kids would help their friends by giving away the answer. Teachers would actually think that everyone knows and understand, but its actually just a copying chain! Since English is their third language, whenever we teach a word or say an English word we would have to translate it to Bahasa. That made the time taken to teach them something really long.
The Year 4 A students were really bright! It consisted of most of the girls that came to the RCC often and some of the Asrama students ; Pendilyn, Ajinah, Astiwina, Shikin, Ester Feeney, Feroznie and Shah Rizam. The whole class would participate in our activities! It felt really good when they were responsive, better when they did not even require our help to spoon feed them. However, the students in Year 4 B had a big difference from Year 4 A. With 4 B we had to go back to basics – Learning the ABCs. When we first entered their class and taught according to the lesson plan given, they actually did not even understand what we were teaching but were merely following orders and copying down what we wrote on the white board blindly! Some of the students had really short attention span , I wouldn’t blame them because they did not understand. So when we taught them the basics; ABC and Family Tree, they finally interacted with us.
As for living in the Kampung, it was an amazing experience. Everyday we had at least one unexpected drama that came upon us. For instance, on the night my group was on duty to cook, the electricity went off! I was halfway cleaning the fishes when the power went off and we actually had no electricity for a few days! Cooking in the dark was a fun challenge. It was fun to cook with my group mates as well ; Wen Wei and Jing Shin. Everyone else was also helpful when we needed light because we were frying the fish! So we had candlelight dinner for a few nights. The next day, the Kampung boys were playing around Mr. Vernon’s house and the water pipe burst! Wen Wei & Louis did all the fixing, so glad we had the guys. There were two times when I had to play Doctor. Once when a kid accidentally stepped on glass, he wasn’t wearing any footwear. They came up to the house telling us that a boy’s foot was bleeding. So I cleaned his wound and examined the cut. The second time was when Razaman was playing run-and-catch at the RCC, he accidentally knocked his head and it started bleeding! Panicked at the sight of a bloody head, I carried him up to Mr.Vernon’s house and got all the help I needed from other volunteers to clean his wound and checked if he was still in trauma.
I got very close to the girls easily. On the second day at school, I received a letter from one of the girls saying how glad she was to have met me and how she loves me. And after that day, we kept receiving more and more letters. I received bouquet of flowers plucked from the plants and they also made me a flower crown! I even had three ‘adik angkat’ or pet sisters; Rosita, Maznah and Jalita. This is supposed to be a secret though, they told me not to tell anyone, but they were okay if I wanted to tell the world because they were proud to be my sisters. I met them when we were going to the waterfall and they guided me through the big rocks. The girls even taught me some words in Rungus ; 1) Avasi koh – You’re pretty. 2) Ozie aku dikau – I love you and they taught me how to dance the Sumazau dance which I am terrible at!
On alternate days, the groups will split between RCC and the Boarding school. My group and half of group one had the asrama kids on the first day. We accompanied them during their self-study session and helped them out with their homework. After their tea break, we played some games. The asrama kids were a lot more disciplined and had a higher understanding of what was going on. It always felt good teaching them.
As a group we sometimes expressed our disappointment in how the school was ran. Often there were no teachers in the classrooms during school hours. Our country needs more dedicated teachers and the kids need to be inspired that there is a bigger world out there. When we asked the students to write down their ambition, the answers mostly were teacher, police, doctor and astronaut. We’ll get the same answers because they copied from one another. However, it was a great opportunity for us to inspire them and tell them how they have to study hard, to make it to secondary school and continue on to tertiary education as they are bright students. They just need to push harder and have the motivation to see the outside world. The thing about them is that they are all very contented with the life they’re living. Walking for one hour to school under the hot sun isn’t really a problem to them as they are used to it.
At the end of the 7 days in school, I’m glad to say that we have successfully inspired the children of Kampung Teringai. I can’t be sure that their spirit will last in the long run, but having them wanting to be like us at that moment was good enough. At least our efforts were fruitful. Leaving them was hard, during the official ceremony when we had to shake hands with all the students from Year 4 – Year 6, most of the girls cried when we hugged them, some did not want to let go! But all good things come to an end. I will definitely remember the Teringai kids forever. I hope I’ve made an impact in their lives and that they will remember me as well.
This volunteering project has got to be one of the best decisions I’ve made this summer. However, I do wish I could do more. If only the kids received more attention, and had teachers who gave their all and never gave up, the kids will then have a better future. I’m not talking in terms of their English proficiency only, but for every other subject. However, they are very smart when it comes to survival and living skills. Boys as young as 7 years old already know how to hold the parang properly to cut the coconut. After all they were brought up in that kind of environment.