Ashikin Thajudin is a 1st year Dentistry student at the University of Manchester. She was one of the volunteers for Project Inspire Teringai 2013.
Thomas Jefferson once said “All men are created equal.”
What I experienced these past two weeks seems to contradict this statement in so many ways. Some of us are born with the privileges that many of the children in Kampung Teringai are sadly denied of. All my life I have been provided with the necessities needed for a proper education; transportation to school, books, tuition etc. I never had to walk 1 hour under the scorching sun to come back home from school. I never had to worry about leaving my family in order to go to secondary school. I never had to think about marriage at the age of 15. These are the opportunities I was born with which unfortunately the children of Kampung Teringai do not possess. Thus we are in fact created unequal in many ways. Just like me these children have dreams and ambitions too. “Kamu mahu jadi apa bila besar nanti?” I asked. “Doktor, Cikgu, Polis.” They excitedly answered. As I told them “Kamu kena belajar rajin rajin jika mahu mencapai cita cita kamu.” I felt a sense of anger and bitterness in me as I knew that things are not going to be as simple for them as it is for me.
We were there to help them with their worst nightmare; English. It was both heart breaking and frustrating to enter a Primary 6 class only to find out that most of the students are unable to even make simple sentences. What’s worse was to enter a Primary 4 class to find out that some of them don’t even know their alphabets. We gave them all we had but we knew that it would take much more than 2 weeks to really be able to help them. They are bright students with so much potential in them. Entering their classes’ everyday brought us such joy as they are always very enthusiastic to learn but unfortunately the English syllabus of our education system does not favour them. The teachers seem eager to complete their lesson plans which are far too advanced for the children and as a result the children keep falling even further behind. It frustrates me that I can’t do anything much to change this. The hard truth is that this scenario will continue to happen for many more years to come and the children will continue to struggle with English.
Activities carried out in the evening with the children after school hours were more game based and it enabled us to bond with them. The fun times with the kids are the ones I cherish and miss the most. I believe that children are God’s greatest gift to mankind. Their innocence enables them to find happiness in the simplest things in life like chasing us around with a slimy frog in their hand or pretending to be soldiers by hiding in the bushes and shooting us with their ‘machine gun’ made of banana leaves. They know nothing of greed and hatred, just love in its purest form. There were so many amazing moments with the children like walking back hand in hand with the children from the beach sending them one by one as we passed by their homes, the petty little conversations about school and their favourite hobbies, being swarmed by children as I read ‘The Little Mermaid’ to them, being greeted by hundred cheerful faces every single morning when we arrived at school, singing along their favourite song ‘Anak Kampung’, acting as life savers when they come running to us with various types of injuries and receiving cards, letters, flowers & gifts from them almost every day. There will always be a little spot in my heart for the children of Teringai.
Among the highlights of the project personally for me as a Dental student was when I conducted a Dental Health session with the children. I came up with a little storyline (with teeth characters made of Styrofoam as props) to help the children understand the importance of taking care of their teeth. With the help of my team, we managed to perform a short sketch followed by a tooth-brushing demonstration. Each child received a tooth-brushing kit and we had a hands-on activity where they had to brush their teeth and we guided them with the proper techniques. It was quite worrying to see the state of their dental health. Most of them had advanced caries and would probably lose most of their teeth by their early 30s if proper care is not taken. I hope to have successfully created slight awareness in the children of the importance of taking care of their teeth.
As I am writing this I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with a surge of emotions. Born and bred in a city I have been sheltered from all things that are deemed ‘dangerous’ by my protective parents. Two weeks in Teringai for me was an amazing journey full of adventure and first-time-moment; I slept on a veranda surrounded by a galaxy of stars, travelled in a refugee-style-pick-up-truck, rode at the back of a motorcycle, bathed in a waterfall, hitchhiked a truck, gutted a fish and watched the sunrise and set in front of my very own eyes.
The project is called ‘Inspire’ for we are meant to inspire the children to achieve great things in their lives. But it is them who have inspired me to see that there is more to this life than just getting a degree and earning money. This is my second experience volunteering and I find myself craving for more after each time. There is no happiness greater than the one you achieve at the end of the day when you are tired and you know it’s because you did something good. It is the most amazing emotion I have ever felt and I find myself craving for that feeling again now that I am back home. My hope is that I will always find opportunities to use my skills and knowledge to help others throughout my life.
Air Terjun Moments
After an activity
Brave faces after getting injection
Makan Besar / Buka Puasa
Taking selfie with kampung kids
My two favourite girls Ayuni and Relovia
With the boarding school children
With beloved Shahrizam