In three months of volunteering, I lived and developed enough for a lifetime. My time spent teaching at [ The Myanmar Refugee School] on weekdays and travelling Malaysia during the weekend created an inexpressible change in my character, demeanour and outlook, for which I am immensely grateful to Just Volunteers for facilitating.
The Myanmar [ Refugee school] itself is a small school, but it is overflowing with the enthusiasm of the students and the commitment of the teachers (themselves also from Myanmar) and the average school day always involves as much fun and laughter as it does education, frequently through an entertaining combination of all three! The energy of the students is often difficult to keep up with, regardless of the consumption of countless coffees, but their excitement is contagious and ensures classes are powered along in the best spirit of boisterous education. But volunteers must make sure they are well rested because the kids are inclusive and always make sure the teacher is involved in the games!
This inclusivity and community ethos was a poignant feature of my entire experience in Malaysia. The students, though having comparatively little themselves, are among the most generous people you could hope to meet, sharing toys and snacks with each other and with volunteers. Volunteering here instilis this sense of society in the pleasantest way and makes the school day feel more like a family reunion than a job.
Outside of the school’s walls, those associated with the school continue this caring demeanour. Volunteer coordinator Miza Rashid and Soroptimist International administrators Dr Saradha Narayanan and Raja Noorma Raja Othman provided a constant source of careful instruction for teaching and living in Malaysia, as well as a supply of great company and camaraderie to the point you could believe yourselves to have been friends for years. And the school’s founder James Wong, affectionately known to students and staff alike as “Uncle Jim”, is perhaps the best guide of local culture and cuisine you could ever hope to meet. But he is also one of the most interesting and caring people I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and his anecdotes over Chinese noodles or Indian curries and marsala tea were always a source of wonder and inspiration. Indeed, all of the people I met during my time volunteering have left their own unique imprint on my heart and improved my character in one facet or another; making me braver, more receptive to the needs of others, more adaptable and resilient, and more appreciative of what I have.
These changes were wrought not without some difficulties. Having never lived abroad, and having never been anywhere on the Asian continent before, I initially struggled to settle. However, this was not because of the locale, for the neighbourhood in which volunteer accommodation and the school are situated is fantastic, in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur that feels like a town in itself with amazing, varied and cheap places to eat and everything you could need within a short walk. I found it difficult to settle because I was alone in the spacious accommodation, a state of living I know to be unusual for the voluntary programme as there are usually multiple volunteers living there at any one time. But I was fortunate for my final two weeks to live with a volunteer from India. Knowing how well we got along, I can say with certainty that the volunteering and accommodation, as well as the company of those associated with the school, are exceptional conditions for making fast friends with the kinds of people you might not readily encounter in other work or education.
The project provides a small monthly allowance that goes a long way to help with trips into the city and buying dinner (the flat has a kettle, microwave and fridge, but for a full meal you should visit one of the nearby cheap eateries for delicious Malaysian, Chinese, Indian or Western food) and the school provides a lunch every day. So if you want to make the most of living in beautiful Malaysia, this keeps your bank account relatively untapped and free for travel expenses at the weekends! Though young travellers are generally more familiar with the likes of Thailand, Vietnam and Laos in South East Asia, I found Malaysia to be equipped with the same sort of natural beauty as the other countries, and replete with its own cultural charm. It boasts rainforests and jungles, expansive national parks bustling with captivating flora and fauna, white beaches and limestone cliffs, coral reefs and paradise islands. The wondrous steel and glass city of Kuala Lumpur itself is just a fifteen minute taxi or rail ride away, and the metropolis of Singapore is within easy reach, everything on the Peninsula Malaysia being well-connected by bus routes (and the buses in Malaysia! My gosh! They are the most comfortable form of transport I have ever been on!). And a trip to Malaysian Borneo, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia only takes a quick flight, should you have time during a school holiday.
My experience volunteering at MRCLC is one that I would gladly repeat again and again, and had I known before my trip how formative and positively altering my time there would be, I would not have had a second thought in applying or booking my flights. So if you want to make a difference in the lives of so many people, as well as have a fantastic difference made in your own, you should not hesitate in applying to this incredible, life-changing programme!