Eunice Quay is reading law at the University of Cardiff, Class of 2017. She was a volunteer for Project KL 2015.
Two weeks isn’t a very long time to truly change someone’s life, but it just might be sufficient to leave a small mark which then creates a cascading inspirational effect. Ten years from now I may forget the way the 5.45am alarms rang in the girls’ dorm as half of us dragged ourselves to the showers and the other half spammed their snooze buttons.
As the rest of us rushed to get ready I will also forget how Kate sat up on her bed still half-asleep, or watching Xue Li and Priscilla draw their eyebrows in the faint dimness of Samsung brightness, next to Jeanette as she straightened her long layered coloured hair, right by Vivian who was carefully putting on black and bold strokes of mascara.
I will forget the sleepy bus rides where Emily would down her warm wake-me-up 7/11 teh tarik and Azell her morning dose of bread, or reaching the school and hearing the echoes of grateful ‘thank yous’ behind me said to our multi-lingual abang bas, with curious eyes and excited arms welcoming us as we entered the gates of SK Sri Setia.
I will probably also forget the way the kids gawked around Fattah as he grandly opened a can of tarts and how the little girls in blue-pinafored innocence remarked Ian’s mighty muscle strength. Not forgetting Cikgu X-Ray’s tiny hand-made notes for the kids on our last day and the way Jia talked about the 7-year-old who kissed her cheek sweetly, the same cheek that trickled with teardrops of overwhelming emotions.
I will forget Amanda’s stern eyes as she validated each statement with the pointy end of her long ruler, and how we all sang to Jannah’s very own version of ‘Hot & Cold’ with barely any voices left after a crazy night out singing and dancing to Uptown Girl & Taylor Swift classics (and how Kerry was on an absolute row that night).
I would have forgotten all about GK’s puns that either put our heads in our hands or our stomachs in laughing aches, as well as Aishah’s & Sean’s amazing photography skills that brought about the same effects. I may very well also forget Kharenee’s kind but firm guidance throughout the project, without which, Project KL15 may as well not have happened at all.
But I won’t forget the way we enjoyed each other’s company each and every day. I won’t forget singing off-key on bus rides back to the hostel and laughing ‘till we cried. I hope I never forget the way the kids clung onto us on our last day, vigorously sobbing and shoving ‘I love you’ notes in our hands. I hope we never forget that for two short weeks, we became figures that the children looked up to (and hopefully, will continue to, even in our absence).
I won’t forget the cheeky notorious child from 1M whom the teacher warned me about from my first day. How he threw a tantrum throughout my lesson and refused to participate in class. How he screamed at me and my fellow volunteers from the beginning right till the end and ran around disturbing his classmates when he realised I didn’t pay any attention to him. I will remember how I then dreaded ever having to go back to that class, and my guilt thereafter upon realising that every child deserves the right to learn. I will remember Jeanette teaching me how she handled him and Ian telling me about how he had sat him down for an entire hour a week later, and subsequent comments from others that he was not as disruptive in class from then on.
I will then remember my session with his class once more towards the end of the project, and how he, although quiet, was still rather unresponsive. The way he perpetually scrambled out of class in the middle of a lesson will replay in my mind in full colour because to him, anything was more interesting. And how, instead of getting upset, I told my teammate to continue coordinating the class while I went out and spoke to him.
I took a deep breath and started talking to him. I asked him why he was outside. Why he barely participated in class. It took a bit more probing, but he opened up. He was far from his family and he missed them. He told me about his favourite cousin and I saw his face light up at the thought of him. He said he wanted to be just like him.
And then I realised how human he was.
All this while I took him as a disruptive, badly behaved kid when all he really needed was (as every other child does) some attention and understanding. He just wanted a listener and a little faith. He said as much as he knew he had to study, he just wanted to play. I told him he could do one only if he had done an equal amount of the other. He kept quiet. I said that he was a smart boy, which he is, and that he could do all he dreamed of if he just believed in himself the way us volunteers believed in him. If he paid a little more attention in class and started finishing his homework, eventually he’d get to where he wants to be. He remained slightly silent. Then, carefully, he trodded back to class and sat in his seat. He slowly started answering and participating with his classmates.
As I left the classroom at the end of the lesson, I said goodbye to him and he took out his little finger and intertwined it with mine, promising me he would study hard.
And suddenly, I understood the purpose of the project a little more clearly.
I probably won’t forget how it made my day, and how it still does sometimes, even now. Because even if at the end of two weeks, after teaching over 200 children, only one is inspired, then we have done our part. And I won’t forget how important that is.
Most of all, I will never forget my decision to teach, and how I ended up learning instead.