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

Building Bridges Beyond Borders (Malaysia) 9 Apr 2020

Eilish and Faye are both interns from the University of Bath working with the BBBB programme. 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 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.

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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.

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.

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Building Bridges Beyond Borders (BBBB)

A collaboration between Soroptimist International Damansara  and Just Volunteers! Sponsored by YTL Foundation. MALAYSIA