Why did you want to do voluntary work in Malaysia? How did you start the process of seeking voluntary work in Malaysia?
Taking a gap year to volunteer abroad was something I had considered [before]. This was reinforced when I was in the process of completing my last year of schooling as I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with education. University fees had just increased three fold and I had no idea what I would want to study if I did attend straight from school. I was set on doing some kind of work or volunteering abroad but found it hard to find anything suitable, as most organisations offered trips at completely unaffordable prices. Towards the end of the year my Head of Sixth Form forwarded an email from Josephine Chesterton who runs the organisation ‘Just Volunteers’ (http://www.just-volunteers.org).
It was exactly what I’d been looking for, a chance to go abroad, paying just for flights and insurance, with Malaysia being the offered destination. I knew absolutely nothing about Malaysia, which made the trip more exciting as I was coming with no preconceived ideas. On my first trip I was joined by a close school friend, we spent ten weeks volunteering before taking a couple of weeks to explore Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
It was a completely life changing experience, leading to me to make a U-turn and apply for university. When I arrived back in England the trip felt rather unfinished, that there was still so much more I wanted to do and learn in Kuala Lumpur. Everyone I had met had been so welcoming from all the children and staff at the centres to Dr Saradha Narayanan and the members of the Soroptimist International Damansara who helped organise my trip from within Kuala Lumpur.
I returned to KL the following year after a short stint working in the UK and then for a third time after a year of university. On each trip I have spent time travelling, visiting a number of countries around South East Asia. Despite having an excellent time [on those holiday short holidays], it was always the time in Kuala Lumpur volunteering that was the highlight and the satisfying part of the trip. I have always felt comfortable in Malaysia, almost at home.
How is what you are doing rewarding to you?
… Seeing a child grow whether it be academically or just in confidence because of my influence is without a doubt the most rewarding aspect, as well as being rather humbling. Having spent about eight months volunteering over the space of two years I have been able to experience this a number of times, sometimes resulting in the child moving on from the centres. Although it is sometimes sad returning to KL to see a familiar face has left, it is nice to know that possibly something I did, said or taught may have benefited that child after moving on.
What has been your proudest moment?
An unforgettable moment from my second trip to KL came after a few weeks of trying to teach an 8 year old boy mathematics. I had always imagined I would find teaching maths relatively easy. This boy however, like a few others, was yet to grasp the concept of addition and subtraction. I had stripped maths back to its simplest level and he still struggled with adding single digit numbers. A friend suggested I use a number line, I explained to the child how to use it and gave him a couple of questions. He got them correct, when I let him know he looked at me with an incredible mixed expression of pride, happiness and surprise. Its moments like this that make coming and volunteering so worthwhile.