In Early March Faye Finished her 6 Month Placement at the BBBB Programme in Malaysia

She thought it could be useful for new volunteers if she described the average day at the refugee school

A typical day teaching at the Myanmar Refugee School

Every day of teaching is different and will come with its own set of challenges but also the moments of excitement. Here is an example of what a typical day may look like…


The School day did not begin until 10am, however, I used thehour before to print resources and get my classrooms ready for the first lesson. During this time the children began to arrive to school and some even had breakfast there! At 9:30 the children were welcomed to a Devotion in which they prayed and sung songs. By the time class started the children were awake and energised!


For the first lesson, I taught Maths to Year 5, who were the oldest class in the school and the students ranged from 13-16 years old. They loved to be challenged and pushed during Maths. I set a quick warm up activity which recapped what was taught in their previouslesson, and would often be a game of bingo or a couple of questions on the board. On the board, I would demonstrate how to tackle questions in the topic such as algebra. We then moved onto the main activity which may be a worksheet to test their knowledge. Before you know it, the hour is up, and it is time for the second lesson of the day…


For the second lesson, I taught science to Year 4. An example of a topic we would cover in a lesson would be Solids, liquids and gases.  Year 4 were at the age (10-13 years old) were they loved to participate in activities rather than copying from the board. I would begin by telling them the learning objectives of the lesson and askthem if they know anything about the topic. I would then show them a video explaining the topic.  As a class we would then categorise different objects into the classifications- solids, liquids or gases. We would then conduct an experiment; identify the properties of the three states of matter by feeling different balloons; each balloon filled with ice, water or air. After a messy half an hour of playing around with the balloons, the students would then write up their findings. 


Now it is lunchtime! The students went for lunch at 12:00. The teachers would then go to lunch at 12:30 after the students had finished. For the first half of lunchtime, we would usually take this time to have a break, chat with the other teachers and relax. You could also use this time to catch up with printing or lesson planning. We would then go to lunch, which was always a feast! There was plenty of delicious food to dig into. You could add extra spice to your food or have none at all if you struggle with spice, like me! Each day the food is different, but you would normally be served rice with either a meat curry or soup. There may also be fried vegetables or egg.


After lunch, I taughtYear 3 maths. As Year 3 is much younger than Year 5, they are taught different topics in Maths. For example, when I taught long division to them, I would first go through their basic division skills and remind them of how they can use their times tables to help them. I would then write up a step by step of how to use the long division method. The students would ask me questions as they went and could copy the step by step guide into their book for future help. We would then complete division questions on the board as a class. To make sure they all understand and feel supported I would not ask them to complete questions independently.


This was the last lesson of the day, and I would have taught Geography to Year 4. To begin I would write up the learning objective onto the board and ensure that everyone in the class understood what we would be doing. I would then introduce the topic,for example Volcanoes. We would then brainstorm on the board what the students already knew about the topic. I would then hand out a worksheet which required them to fill in the blanks. These activities meant that they could have all the information in the books and learn without realising it! The next activity would be drawing and labelling a volcano! The students loved art and any activity in which they could draw. As a plenary activity, I would show videos and photographs of real volcanoes. Before the school day finished, the children tidied up the classroom.

After the school day finished, you had the whole evening to do anything you wanted. You could explore Kuala Lumpur, try a new restaurant, or get ahead of lesson planning!

(NOTE FROM EDITOR: On some days the volunteers only teach a few hours at the school and spend their afternoons at homes for local children.)

Posted in Building Bridges Beyond Borders (Malaysia), Uncategorised, Volunteers' Stories

Eilish and Faye have been teaching the Myanmar refugees for nearly 6 months now

We belatedly post a blog in which Eilish reflects on their first 3 months.

My first three months in Kuala Lumpur with the BBBB programme: 1stSeptember- 29thNovember.

Eilish with the children at the end of the first term

Having been in Malaysia for 3 months now, my time as a volunteer teacher at[Myanmar Refugee School] has flown by. Part of me feels like I’ve been here a lifetime as the children and the Myanmar community have made me feel so welcome and at home despite being half way across the world! I’m a student from the UK, studying Social Sciences at the University of Bath and I’m currently on a placement year. This gave me the opportunity to get involved with the programme and unlike many other volunteers, I came with a university friend, Faye. Having a friend with me has made the experience even more enjoyable and it’s created so many incredible memories for us to share and look back on. 

When we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, we were greeted by previous volunteers (Ashley and Silvia) and we quickly got to grips with the local area. It was reassuring to know that the flat was located just half a minute walk away from the school so there were no issues when finding our bearings. We were introduced to the head teacher, Fam and another teacher, Thu Zar. I can’t tell you how great they’ve been from the get go. As fellow teachers but also as a point of contact and support. I felt like I could ask them anything and any issues I had they were always quick to respond and provided useful solutions. Whether it was helping us move flat; covering a class if we were ill; providing teaching guidance; ensuring we were always well fed or just generally chatting to us over lunch, I always felt relaxed and appreciated.

Faye and Eilish shortly after arrival

Now, having never taught before or had any real teaching experience I was pretty nervous. Despite this, after my first class, I realised I had nothing to worry about! The children were incredibly welcoming, excitable and inquisitive. They’re used to volunteers coming and going so, they even helped me to understand what they’ve already learnt and what classroom rules they follow, gesturing to posters on the wall. This made my first week a comfortable one – I knew I was in good hands with both the teachers and the students. Something I didn’t expect before coming, was how the children could look after me. They created such a positive and enthusiastic environment to teach and live in for 3 months. It didn’t feel like a job or work.On our first weekend we were also invited on a school outing. We attended a mooncake festival for the Chinese holiday. It was great fun and I realised how comfortable I felt with the kids and teachers after just one week.

The school day seemed short, as we only taught 10am until 3.30pm. However, don’t be fooled by the hours – it was very tiring at times! However, with each week it became easier and lesson planning became second nature. I taught English and history to years 4 and 5 and I loved creating my own teaching methods whether that be simple board/group work or more playful, game activities. The flexibility to decide how you shape your lessons has been a blessing and made every day different.

Faye with the children in the computer room

During these three months, I also took on IT lessons, something I didn’t expect to do. It’s been amazing to set lesson tasks on the computers and let the children explore how to use the technology. It was so rewarding to teach, as I know they’ll benefit from the skills they’ve learnt and hopefully use them in the future. Additionally, once a week I visited a juvenile centre and also an orphanage to provide English language support for these two groups of individuals. Both schemes were very different to MRCLC as my purpose was to support learning rather than to provide structured lessons. However, it gave me the opportunity to teach at varied age levels and meet more young people from the local area.

The children play cards

Before I came to Malaysia I understood that the community was a religious one. Once I arrived, I recognised the strong presence of Christianity and its role in the community’s culture as well as the children’s school day. They attended devotion every morning, Monday to Friday before I came in to teach. The children were quick to invite us to their weekly church service,  which myself and Faye attended. Despite not understanding anything (as we didn’t speak Myanmar), their prayers and hymns were astounding and showed such strong faith and hope in religion.This actually provoked the religious upbringing in myself. I have learnt more about the importance in faith and unity and how it has provided such support for these children. I loved visiting their church and being engrossed in another culture, experiencing something completely different to my life in the UK. (Editor’s Note: We take volunteers from every religious tradition at our projects and while, as Eilish says, the children love inviting volunteers to their services, there is no pressure at all to attend.)

These 3 months felt short and I created such strong bonds with all the children, that leaving so soon didn’t seem like an option. For this reason, Faye and I decided to break over the school/Christmas holidays and return in January for a further 3 months of teaching at MRCLC. I am so excited to see what the next 3 months has to offer as my first 3 have been extremely eye-opening, fun and heart-warming. I think I can speak for myself and Faye when I say, we have already made so many precious memories and our sense of purpose in this community only motivates us to come back and spend more time with everyone.

Lantern Festival
Posted in Building Bridges Beyond Borders (Malaysia), Uncategorised, Volunteers' Stories

The marshmallow tower game

Eilish and Faye moved into the new volunteers’ apartment this week and invited the children over to celebrate

On Friday morning the [refugee school] children took part in some team-building activities. They worked in small groups to achieve building the tallest tower using only marshmallows and spaghetti. They had just 10 minutes to construct a tower that would stand alone. The children were very focused, enthusiastic and were consistent at building their towers even when they fell. A successful challenge with tasty rewards!

A good start!
More eating than building?
Looking good!
Posted in Building Bridges Beyond Borders (Malaysia), Just Volunteers! News

Latifah Volunteered with BBBB This Summer and is Now Back in Her Native HK

If you are considering volunteering in Malaysia with the Myanmar refugee school you should certainly read this detailed blog by Latifah

PART I: My Experience at the Myanmar Refugee School

My three months at the Myanmar refugee school which BBBB works with were absolutely eye-opening. Prior to that, I worked at a think tank as a public policy researcher, where I conducted research on social issues in front of a computer. I decided to volunteer at the school to obtain more first-hand experience.

Me and Ashley with kids from the Myanmar school at the playground

From our first meeting, the children were amazingly sweet. Even though they were accustomed to seeing international teachers come and go within months, they were still ready to open up and grow attached to new teachers. On my first day, their warm reception made me feel like I’d already known them for years, not hours (though I suppose in child-time that equates to years). As with the intensity of their warmth, their energy levels were also about three times that of children I worked with before, and it took a little time to adapt and cater to their vigour when planning lessons.  

One thing I regret was not properly researching on the children’s cultural backgrounds before arriving in Malaysia. While I did read up on their political situation, it would have been helpful to have known more about their community. I quickly observed the omnipresence of their church culture. The children’s community centred around the Myanmar Christian Fellowship, with church services offered several times a week. The children extended a recurrent invitation for me to join them at church on Monday evenings. They spent an hour every morning before class in devotion, where the Myanmar teachers led them in songs and prayer. Often, during classes when I asked for examples, the children would come up with Biblical references.

Reading the Holy Bible

In fact, as my name is “Latifah”, the Year 4 class coined “Pothipar” (a figure in the story of Joseph) as my nickname. As another example, when doing an exercise on acrostic poems, the Year 3’s wrote one on “Christmas”, that started with “Church is so beautiful / Hallelujah”. 

Year 3’s poem on Christmas

Teaching the kids could be tiring at times, but the fun definitely balanced it out. I loved the independence I had with planning classes. For instance, I knew the children loved singing (they burst out singing spontaneously all the time). So, when everyone (including myself) was bored with repetitive grammar drills, I set a task where we analysed song lyrics for poetical devices like rhyme and similes, which they really enjoyed.

I also noticed how the children loved to role play. For example, after a class on the Civil Rights Movement, the Year 4 students set up their own makeshift lectern and read aloud Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech”. So as a fun project to train their creativity, group work and English skills, I had the students write, direct and perform their own short movies. They came up with their own storylines, characters, props and costumes. This task really allowed to students to showcase their creative talent and leadership skills. In fact, they kept pushing for me to hurry up with my part of the project (i.e. compiling the footage on my computer)!

You can watch the movies here:

Year 4’s movie:

Year 3’s movie:

I found the movies quite hilarious. In fact, on any usual day, I could expect to be entertained by the kids in some way. For example, when I tried to explain what a “sailor” was in simple English by saying “It’s someone who drives a ship”, one of the Year 3 students proceeded to say “Sheep? He drives a sheep!” and mimed riding a sheep while bleating “Mehhhh” around the classroom.  

I had a wonderful time with the kids outside the classroom as well. In particular, a previous volunteer (Teacher Lala) sponsored a beach trip to Malacca. In the lead up to the trip, the kids talked about it constantly. On the day, they were chatting and singing excitedly as we boarded the coach. The drive from KL was almost 3 hours long. After stretches of highways, on the first sighting of a beach, the kids all promptly erupted in clapping, cheering and whooping. Their pure joy was infectious all of the accompanying adults were smiling from ear to ear too. 

On the coach to Malacca

Cleaned up and tanned after playing in the sand

Another pleasant memory was taking the kids to the playground next to the school. The playground itself was in quite a state – all of the equipment was damaged, and we found the rotting corpses of a cat and a squirrel. The goalposts for the football court had been bent out of shape and the fencing full of holes and spikes. In spite of that, the kids had their own methods of having fun, and insisted the teachers join in their games. As expected, everyone had so much fun that they refused to leave.

In the playground with thanaka on our faces for sun protection

Despite the children’s innocent joy of childhood, I felt a constant melancholy undercurrent when interacting with them, because I recognised the harsh realities they faced.

Firstly, as refugees, the children and their families had been chased out of their homes due to their religion and ethnicity, as well as the poor economic conditions in Chin State. Their refugee status was on the brink of revocation, and even as refugees, their existence was parallel to mainstream citizens in Malaysia.

While most of the students lived with their families, their parents tended to work in the F&B or construction industries with long hours. While some lucky ones had involved parents who picked them up from school every day, many had absent parents. One of my students told me he never saw his parents because they slept when he left for school and would have left for work by the time he went home. Toddlers too young for nursery were left at home alone all day with just a toy for company. Their lack of interaction with adults left them stunted in development and unable to hold a conversation when they enrolled in nursery at age four. Some of the students also told me about their alcoholic, abusive parents and the prevalent premature deaths of alcoholic relatives.  

The students’ childhoods also had a ticking timer. By age 15 or so, the students would drop out and start working to support their families. Even while enrolled in school, some of the students would be absent from school for days in a row because the restaurant their mother worked at needed extra help.

The worst reality I witnessed was the racial discrimination they faced from their host country. An incident occurred in the school where a local couple accused one of the students from nursery of scratching their car that was parked outside the school. They trespassed onto school premises and attempted to take the child to the police station to “teach him a lesson”. While the teachers were trying to defuse the situation, one of the accusers grabbed the crying child and dragged him on the ground in a bid to bring him to their car. Throughout the incident, the couple spewed ethnic slurs against “Myanmar people” and how they were a “drain on the system”. We ended up filing a police report against the couple for trespassing on school premises and manhandling our student.

After a unit on the Civil Rights Movement with the Year 4 class, I set an exam question asking about their experiences with racial discrimination and some of the answers were quite disheartening:

This student was accused by a shop owner of stealing rambutan after receiving permission to pick them from a tree. The police were called and they asked for a bribe of RM50 from the student.

A man told this student that he had an unlucky day because he met someone from Myanmar.

Sometimes I wondered if the children would be better off staying in their villages in Chin State. However, they told me stories of alcoholism and drug use among children as young as eight or nine years old. They also told me of the prevalence of the rape of Chin women by men from the majority Bamar ethnic group. They explicitly told me not to visit Myanmar because it’s too dangerous for me as a woman.  

The sad reality is that they have no where they can call a safe and welcoming home. The ones who are registered with the UNHCR are awaiting the unpredictable possibility of resettlement to the USA or Australia. However, with the stigma of being refugees, their lives in these countries could not be guaranteed to improve. As short-term teachers, we can only try to equip the students with skills and an attitude that can take them as far as possible in their circumstances. And even after leaving, we have to continue to fight against the structural and institutional inequalities they face.

Saying goodbye to the Year 4’s before school ends

Children’s rights posters

A fundraising video made for Soroptimist International of Singapore Orchid:

Some pictures taken in class

PART II: Malaysia!

A contributing reason to why I chose to volunteer with BBBB was because I wanted to experience living in Malaysia for several months. Since I was there from April to July, I was able to observe the holy month of Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Post-early morning Eid prayer in Johor

During Ramadan, the mosque scene was particularly active, so I went “mosque hopping” around KL. I especially loved Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan with its spacious prayer hall and beautiful Turkish architecture. Also, all mosques provided free dinners (iftars) during Ramadan. I also discovered the concept of Ramadan bazaars which would be bustling with hungry shoppers just before sunset. There were so many food choices that I learned to identify the good ones based on the length of their queues. I once queued up for half an hour to buy nasi kerabu (a herbal rice dish) and it was definitely worth it.

After Ramadan, I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to spend Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Johor. I got to take part in the traditional Raya preparations such as making ketupat (rice dumplings) and peanut sauce from scratch. To fit with the festive atmosphere, I wore a baju kurung (the national dress of Malaysia) when visiting open houses.

Me wearing a baju kurung on the first day of Raya

Rather than visiting other parts of Malaysia or Southeast Asia, I spent most of my weekends exploring KL. As a result, I picked up some local habits, such as going to Kajang for satay and SS2 for durian. Due to the intense heat outdoors, I also adopted the mall culture (i.e. staying inside megamalls all day).

I also found the Grab culture quite amusing. The school’s location was not easily reachable by public transport, so I had to take a Grab to go anywhere. As a result, I’ve had the same friendly interrogation by different drivers countless times. They all start off by speaking to me in Malay, and when I say “Sorry I don’t understand” they ask me where I’m from, why I’m in KL (the usual guess is “You marry a Malaysian ah?”), and since I’m from Hong Kong, whether I like to watch TVB too. I once even had a driver who held an 8-month old baby in his left hand whilst driving with his right!

Overall, I had an amazing time in Malaysia and I would love to visit again soon. I want to thank Miza (and her family including one-eyed Milan) for being so hospitable during my stay in Malaysia. I’m also grateful to Dr Saradha, Auntie Noorma and Josephine for looking out for all the volunteers during our stay. And to the other volunteer teachers who were with me, Biaki, Ashley and Silvia, I hope we meet again soon!

Posted in Building Bridges Beyond Borders (Malaysia), Volunteers' Stories

Lisa reflects on her summer at SPICE in Hong Kong

Lisa was one of 5 UK volunteers from Edinburgh and London Universities and 10 HK undergraduates who helped run the SPICE summer camp this year

Preparing for climbing at Epicland

This summer I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong to volunteer for 7 weeks alongside 4 other UK students. I was volunteering with SPICE, a summer English programme for disadvantaged children. Looking back at my time, there are many highlights, experiences and challenges that I will always remember. Arriving in Hong Kong I was taken back by the beautiful scenery, the area we stayed in was residential but had great views. The accommodation was basic, but nice with a small kitchen and fridge we could use. The staff in the village were very helpful and the grounds were lovely, with a swimming pool and running track you could use if you wanted. There was also a big shopping mall with lots of food options and MTR station a 10 minute walk away from the which was really handy.

Billiards at the HK Country Club


We spent the first two weeks of the trip getting to know the Hong Kong interns and planning the programmes. Each class was led by two Hong Kong interns and one UK volunteer. We helped to plan some activities, as well as practice delivering them. There was also time to explore Hong Kong during these two weeks.

Before I knew it, I was in the first of three schools taking a class, along with two Hong Kong interns. For each programme we taught a class of between 12 and 16 children aged 10-13, each programme lasting 7 days. The days were not like a traditional school day but consisted of fun activities to encourage the students to speak English through activities including games, crafts and sports.

A definite highlight for the kids (and adults!), were the outings to Epicland and Hong Kong Country Club, as children were able to have fun and try new activities, they otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to.

Science experiments or just fun?

Some classes were more challenging than others, with children ranging from having no English to being more able speakers. However, it was very rewarding to have a child progress from having little confidence to speak English at the start of the week, to chatting in English by the end of the week. Some children even taught us a bit of Cantonese!

Designing their own T shirts

The trip was a great way to experience life in Hong Kong and find out more about education, culture and the history of Hong Kong, compared to just spending a short holiday in tourist areas. Although this summer was not without its challenges, with Hong Kong facing its own political challenges, it did not ever feel unsafe. With the help of the locals we were able to keep ourselves up to date with what was taking place, it was a fascinating time and interesting to gain different perspectives on what was taking place. Overall, I would recommend SPICE programme to anyone who has the chance as it was an exciting and worthwhile summer!

Sports can be relaxing even in the summer heat!
Posted in SPICE Programme (Hong Kong), Volunteers' Stories Tagged with:

The SPICE English Programme for disadvantaged children in Hong Kong completed its fifth year this summer

Mexican dancing!

The programme brought together 10 Hong Kong undergraduates and 5 UK undergraduates to run three 7-day fun English camps for a total of 240 children.

Apart from competitions, activities and games in the classrooms they all spent the day at the Hong Kong Country Club, one of HK’s most exclusive members clubs as well as going to EpicLand where they took on some challenging activities.

Below are some pictures.

If you are interested in helping to run the camp in 2020 and are still an undergraduate, or graduated within the past 2 years, get in touch!

Posted in SPICE Programme (Hong Kong), Uncategorised

Neil is now back in Edinburgh after his summer in Hong Kong

He reflects on the programme and has also prepared the short video below

The SPICE English programme makes so much difference to approximately 200 children over the 3 7-day long programmes which run through the summer, and it makes an enormous difference to the interns and volunteers involved too.

It is a great opportunity to gain an insight into the culture of Hong Kong, the education system and the people who call Hong Kong home. Working with students from backgrounds where it is possible that life is that bit harder for them and their families, you get to understand and appreciate how life is different for all of us and how giving your time and enthusiasm can make such a positive and lasting effect on the lives of others. In return, the memories, experience and knowledge which you will take home with you will be priceless and last a lifetime.

(Neil is studying for his MA in Primary Education at The University of Edinburgh)

Posted in SPICE Programme (Hong Kong), Volunteers' Stories

Harry and Rob are cycling across the world to raise money for a solar power project at Lotus Children’s Centre.

(Ireland to China via Mongolia so far. 18,000 kilometers and counting.)

Below is Harry’s report of their stopover at Lotus itself last month

Learn more about their amazing journey:

Press DONATE button at the end of this blog to make a contribution to this important project

We think its important to give you our loyal following and supporters a genuine warts-and-all appraisal of Lotus. A rose-tinted ‘Live Aid-esque’ money magnet advert will not give you the understanding of the real issues and dynamics at Lotus. These workings are sometimes bursting with love, at other points riven with pain, but for the largest part are filled with the sheer mundanities and profundities of growing up.

In Summer time and in some ways, the 100 abandoned or orphaned children in Lotus’ care enjoy a childhood that Western parents would pay thousands for, sending their kids to Waldorf schools or fancy Summer camps. The natural setting in an idyllic river valley is the start. Mountains tower to one side, this presented a pre-breakfast hiking challenge, where we were guided up by a pair of 10 year-olds and the Center’s predominant dog, Tina. Delicious wild berries were foraged on the slopes, and enjoyed on the summit’s panorama looking over UB in the distance. On the other side, the Center is flanked by a river breaking into miniature deltas and meadows. We led one sunny afternoon expedition up to the river’s spring, the freezing spring-water is long thought to have healing properties, and whilst our party slurped from our hands, a dozen cars stopped there to fill up too.  
In the compound itself, a few horses graze peacefully, whilst a clutch of hens can be more raucous,  dogs have been adopted and watch for intruders on bicycles. From the toddlers in the nursery to the teenagers on the sports court, hours of the day are spent playing outside. Screens are noticeably absent, just a few of the older sponsored children may have a mobile phone, but the tactile world dominates the digital one. The food is plain but healthy, we had more vegetables here than the rest of our time in Mongolia combined. The tap water is the same delicious spring-water as described above. The kids learn baking in a professionally out-kitted kitchen, there is a fully-tooled wood and metal workshop, and there is an arts and craft center with some activity ongoing most days. But more significant than all this, as many parents will testify, the kids have constant access to a near infinite pool of playmates. 
In these respects and from these angles, Lotus may seem a like a holiday camp, and you may question if more money or support is really needed. But this is the Center at its most carefree, in the beautiful summer months when kids can play outdoors, and the season when almost all of volunteers come to help and enrich the place in a whirl of group activities. However, while smiling volunteers come and go with the breeze, critical permanent staff are outnumbered and overstretched. The Centre’s founder, Didi, counts some  veteran staff of over 15 years, but staff churn is high where the stress and strain of the job can’t be well compensated. Burn-out can be contagious, and constant turnover doesn’t provide the kids with stability in key relationships. Moreover, the bitter cruelty of the winters puts an end to much of the outdoor idyll, and frustrations can boil over as fingers freeze in these harsher months.
Harry getting a quick perm in the Lotus Salon
Living in a true community, rather than as the dependents in a traditional family unit means that the kids are incredibly self-sufficient. During our stay the cook took 5 days off after a non-stop fortnight with extra volunteer groups. And so, cooking and cleaning was then done by rota through houses, split into age and sexes. So a house of 6 girls between from 9-13 will be fully and successfully responsible for cooking for 80 people, and 6 boys around age 8 will do all the kitchen cleaning. Alternatively, one of the dogs was wounded badly in a fight, few of the older kids could quietened him down, and then removed dozens of maggots from inside the canine’s head and disinfected the wound. We also witnessed a group of young teenagers bake an industrial quantity of bread in several varieties, enough to feed the whole center for 3-4 days.
In familial normality all of these undertakings would likely be performed or at least marshalled by a parent and all on a far smaller scale, here mass cooperative tasks are performed with minimal fuss, we were left feeling like skivers despite our best efforts. The mass teamwork and collaboration is astounding, be it in the kitchen, bakery, or mass choreographing birthday celebrations. I feel that many of these kids’ social and team-working abilities and ‘EQ’ would be way above average. Moreover, I suspect their is English is better than the average Mongolian child too, namely because of the number and nature of volunteers they have through.
Communal dance sessions are a daily occurrence 
The above paints a youthful eutopia, but in reality it was no contrived or all-smiling model of harmony. Older kids of 7-8 often seemed vindictive or sometimes outright cruel to the toddlers: they might remove their toys, slap them on the head, or even playfully lock them up en masse in a mini ger. Currently, self policing is the quick fix, where the most mature ‘sisters’ (+15 y/o’s) protect the youngest from the 8-10 y/o terrors. . But more staff and supervision would help limit this natural ‘law of the jungle’, like my own mother did in sheltering Tom, my own younger brother, from my vindictive abuses. Whilst the staff being in short supply maybe helps the kids accelerate to a form of independence and self-reliance, this is perhaps at the expense of encouraging self reflection or other forms of subtle nurturing.
A mountain view of the Lotus Centre
Mahananda is a serial volunteer at Lotus, as well as running auto engineering workshops he helps the children in self-knowledge and connecting more positively to themselves and others. The origins of the center lie with Didi and her path of compassion which is rooted in the same ground as Mahananda – they were both disciples in the same spiritual order. He is transplanting the sustainability of his life in an Australian commune to Lotus: creating buildings made from sandbags and recycled bottles and tires, starting off a permaculture effort, and getting the circular notion of wast products spinning there. His work here is really aligned with our solar project and a fertile conversation grows out of this.
He explained how this is more to alter the children’s mentality as it is to alter their living conditions. The emphasis is to get the children to understand that what they need is sometimes already in their direct environment if used in the right way, to pull the children and staff from a reliance on external aid to a cycle of sustainability where their needs are met on the land about them, the sunlight above them, and through the in-house initiatives that will grow and create value for them. This lesson and mentality applies as much of not more to the inner existence as the outer one also being cultivated. 15-20 years ago in Mongolia, nomadic life necessitated circular living and people practiced the skills and mentality for that mode of living. Since then the excesses of waste capitalism have rushed in and broken that virtue, even in the relative haven of Lotus. The most fertile and powerful place to reinvigorate that sustainability is in the minds of children.
Arts and crafts 
On the day of departure, we had breakfast in Didi’s cabin up on the hill. After two decades of living in a Ger (yurt) onside and despite protestations, a donor built her a small house. Didi drew the line at running water, saying the piping was too expensive given the other needs of the Center. The charming vegan breakfast of muesli and smoothie sided with salted cucumber toast could have been served up in one of the trendiest vegan brunch spots in Amsterdam. 
I couldn’t wait to push past the pleasantries and get into Didi’s arc of experience, ‘it started with lunch for one kid, then his friend, then a few more, and then before you know there are 120 of them.’ Help and love isn’t measured and metered out with Didi or Lotus, but flows in a torrent from a deep point of the heart. 
She explained how traditionally there is no culture of philanthropy in Mongolia, at the very start Didi found it difficult to explain to neighbours why she was helping the street kids. They could not easily comprehend why she would want to help ‘bad kids without parents’, there just wasn’t a category for her actions. Moreover, government authorities and regulation in constant flux have proved a regular thorn in the side for Lotus. Each 2-year government lifespan has a mentality of ‘get in, get rich, get out’. Every cycle entails the wholesale replacement of official posts with the new family, friends and ‘favour creditors’, all this leads to burdensome changes in regulation for Lotus to comply with.
The densely populated ‘Ger’ district in Ulaanbaatar
When pried hard on the real obstacles she is facing she was eventually forthcoming: there is a lack of male role models at Lotus, especially Mongolian speaking ones. The Center’s location is around an hour outside the city centre, more in traffic, this is great for air and life quality for the kids, but again doesn’t help in staff retention. Donations are not always the most sensible objects, which can lead to the hoarding impractical and expensive divisive toys, whilst money lacks for heating and food.  

There are donor Scholarships for a few kids to go to the posh English school, but there are concerns an observed up-swell in the arrogance and cheekiness of the beneficiaries, probably derived from their more privileged peers.
The focus is now moving away from such western-branded schooling, where the school itself can be conceited and western culture and ideas are pedestalled without critique or circumspection. She is looking to start up again the school at Lotus, and balance the acquisition of modern skills with the absorption of Mongolian culture and the development of good character traits. A powerful but unorthodox donation would be to sponsor an extra staff member over a scholarship for  just one child. This is suggested as to where the money could best go, whilst maintaining a personal nature to the gift. 
In the end the most fundamental fact is that more money for basic operations is needed, this comes from increasing the flow of cash donations, or being able to cut the running costs of the orphanage. With vegetable gardens and burgeoning beehives, they are working toward food independence, heating and energy is the area that the Rising Sun Cycle is acting upon. Plain money is not always the ‘nicest’ gift to give for the donor, but it is often the most useful when through long experience the charity really knows how to best spend it.
No child is singly good or bad, just as no family or Center can be either. The sheer numbers of people and of relationships at Lotus brought intense insight into this law of variety. Sometimes when one thinks of orphaned or abandoned children, the mind emphasises the ‘orphaned and abandoned’ part, rather than the ‘children’ –  there is an assumption that the kids must be different in a myriad of ways. Though really the same core elements of childhood ring out: laughter and tears, cruelty and grace, home and community and yet missing and yearning. How this normality of childhood shines through in potentially catastrophic conditions is the real testament to the beautiful work at Lotus, and why we want to work so hard for its continuation and ever-improvement.

This journey in its course has meant many things to us, but we learnt in this short stay that Lotus provides the anchor of meaning. An anchor holding the heart in place and the mind true for when the legs grow weary, a place and a community that grounds this mad trip in meaningful reality.

If you wish to donate to this important project please press the button below which will take you to their Virgin Giving site. (Just Volunteers does not take donations.)


  • 18,000km cycled of 22,000km
  • 70% raised of £22k goal

Posted in Lotus Children’s Centre (Mongolia), Uncategorised

Priya Finishes Her Assignment in KL

Priya, studying dentistry in the UK, has just completed her assignment at the refugee school in Kuala Lumpur

Priya running a small class

“Teaching at [the refugee school] in Kuala Lumpur has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences that I have had.

I spent the last few weeks teaching English, Maths and Science to years 1 and 2 at the Myanmar Refugee school and it was definitely an experience to say the least! Looking back, my first day was quite overwhelming as we were thrown straight into it. Feeling like fish out of water, I had to quickly scramble up topics and fun activities for the children to keep them engaged whilst learning at the same time.

Although I had taught before, it was difficult at first to find my feet as the children were all at different levels and communication was hard at times due to language barriers. But the teachers and students were very welcoming, patient and were happy to give you and each other a helping hand when in need. We were given a loose curriculum to follow and it was up to us to plan our own lessons and tailor it to the level of each individual student. This allowed me the opportunity to get creative with my lesson plans.

The kids in the school have definitely captured a piece of my heart. Their personalities and artistic talent has continuously amazed me.They were always full of energy and there was never a dull moment in class. I would be lying if I said I did not have a 2 hour nap everyday after school. The children’s’ enthusiasm for learning is astounding and they were always eager to learn new topics and develop new skills no matter how challenging it was. Seeing the joy in them just showed how grateful and appreciative they were for their school and education.

During my time, I worked alongside 3 other volunteers and we all bonded very quickly through shared experiences of our struggles and ups and downs. Our days would start at 10:00am and end at 3:30pm with an hour lunch break. I got to experience a variety of traditional Myanmar food which was provided for lunch and there were definitely some tingling lips and burnt tongues from the hidden chilies in the dishes.

Priya, back right, with other volunteers (anti-clockwise) Ashley, Latifah, Amirah

We also volunteered at a local juvenile detention centre every Friday afternoon. Here we taught around 15 individuals English, which would allow them to slowly build their confidence in the language and themselves. This was very different to teaching at the refugee school, but just as rewarding. By the end of the my time there I could definitely see that their confidence had grown and that they were slowly coming out of their shells. 

Volunteering for the “Building Bridges Beyond Borders” programme in KL has opened my eyes to how I have taken for granted basic things in life, like a sense of belonging and some certainty of my future. From this experience, I have definitely learned to think on my feet, to be patient and to step up and put others ahead of ourselves.

Priya with some of the children she has become so fond of

Though my stay was short, the generosity, hope and love from the community and people is one that I will never forget. I would without a doubt volunteer here again and would encourage anyone thinking about volunteering here to apply. The experience you will gain from this programme is really fulfilling and one that you will cherish when you look back in time.”

Posted in Building Bridges Beyond Borders (Malaysia), Volunteers' Stories

Biaki Thinks Back Fondly on her Two Months in Malaysia

Biaki, from India, just concluded her volunteering assignment in Kuala Lumpur, which she took up after finishing her Masters at Kings College, London

I spent two months volunteering at a school in Kuala Lumpur and I can say that the experience I had will remain unrivalled to any other for a very long time. My short yet memorable time spent teaching at MRCLC taught me things about myself and life in general which one cannot learn within the four walls of a classroom. The experience tested me in innumerable ways for which I will be forever grateful. I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Just Volunteers for accepting me to the program and allowing me to have this opportunity of a lifetime.

The children relaxing with Biaki after class

Looking back to my time spent in Kuala Lumpur from the very first day to the very last, the first thing that comes to mind is warm hospitality. Everyone associated with the school played an instrumental role in making the experience as memorable as possible. Miza Rashid, the volunteer coordinator, played a major role in making my stay as pleasant as possible. From picking me up at the airport to inviting us to her home for the weekends, she readily welcomed me with open arms and a warm smile. Dr. Saradha and Raja Noorma from Soroptimist International were also very welcoming and provided invaluable insight to the culture and lifestyle of the place. One could always have a nice chat with James Wong, the school’s founder, about any and every topic under the sky, and it was undeniable that the kids loved his presence whenever he came around to the school. Speaking of people who made my stay at the school so pleasant, I cannot leave out the other volunteers I worked and spent time with. For the first two weeks, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a volunteer from Scotland who taught me the ropes of everything there was to know about the school and neighbourhood. After his departure, I was joined by a volunteer from Hong Kong who was also a delight to live and work with. The bond shared with the people I met through this program is special as the circumstances under which we met are in itself special.

I have nothing but fond memories of the teachers and students at MRCLC. I taught years 2, 3 and 4 but the other kids also left their own unforgettable imprints. Though not a huge establishment, the kids make up for it through their amazing characters and personalities. Although a day at the school could wear you out at times, especially on a hot day, the bright smiles on their faces more than make up for it when they wave you goodbye (which they never fail to do) after a day’s work. Full of energy which never seems to diminish, they instantly welcome you with open warms. Never forgetting to include you in their games during break time, it was always fun to play old childhood games with them and teaching them new ones. Some liked to play during break while others liked to read storybooks, draw or colour. Little by little, one is able to paint a picture of each student’s personality which were all so diverse. Despite their circumstance, they will always come up to you to offer sweets or snacks that they had brought to school. Their love and acceptance will amaze you. They also love giving you little gifts of their drawings which have now become some of the most cherished gifts I’ve received in my life.

Teaching at the school itself can be a challenge if it is your first time but one gradually learns the ins and outs through the help of the other teachers, volunteers and the students themselves. For my first teaching experience, I couldn’t have possibly asked for a better environment. Making a lesson plan might come across as tedious work after a tiring day at work but the end result is always so rewarding. I learned a lot when it came to making the exam papers for Mathematics and Geography as well. Lunch is provided at the school and the volunteers are provided with a monthly allowance which more than covers for outings in the city. Though I was brought up in the sweltering heat of Delhi, I still cannot get used to the heat. As a result, I

did not travel much because of the hot climate. However, one should always have an umbrella ready when you go out because when it rains, it pours.

Although I spent only two months volunteering at MRCLC, the experience that I got from it will last for a lifetime. Not only do you get to have an amazing time but you’re also making a difference in the lives of the students who deserve nothing more than love in this world. If the least we can do for the kids is providing some sort of quality knowledge, then I would urge others to do the same. I was very fortunate that my last day in Malaysia coincided with the school trip to the city and beach of Malacca. The entire day was spent with bright smiles and laughter, and I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier ending to my short stay in Malaysia.

A special day at the beach with the whole school

Editor’s Note: Due to visa issues Biaki stayed for a shorter period than most volunteers in Kuala Lumpur – The usual minimum is 3 months.

Posted in Building Bridges Beyond Borders (Malaysia), Volunteers' Stories