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
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If you are considering volunteering in Malaysia with the Myanmar refugee school you should certainly read this detailed blog by Latifah
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.
and Ashley with kids from the Myanmar school at the playground
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.
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
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
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
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)!
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.
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.
the coach to Malacca
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.
the playground with thanaka on our faces for sun protection
the children’s innocent joy of childhood, I felt a constant
undercurrent when interacting with them, because I recognised the
harsh realities they faced.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
man told this student that he had an unlucky day because he met
someone from Myanmar.
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.
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.
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.
morning Eid prayer in Johor
Ramadan, the mosque scene was particularly active, so I went “mosque
hopping” around KL. I especially loved Masjid
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.
Ramadan, I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend to spend Hari
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
wearing a baju kurung on the first day of Raya
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).
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
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)
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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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)
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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.)
Priya, studying dentistry in the UK, has just completed her assignment at the refugee school in Kuala Lumpur
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.