Five years with Building Bridges Beyond Borders
Miza contacted the programme when she was finishing her Masters at Edinburgh University and about to return to her native Malaysia. After being a volunteer herself, she completed her PhD and has now become an invaluable member of the BBBB management team! Here she remembers some key moments in her BBBB journey.
I have spent five years with Building Bridges Beyond Borders. I started as a volunteer back in January 2017, where I met Alexia, whom I am proud to call my good friend. I also had to teach a great number of children that I still get to communicate with thanks to digital media. Teaching is a very rewarding experience though there were moments when I questioned myself if I am the right person for it. Ironically, five years forward, I am now a full-time lecturer at a local university in Kuala Lumpur.
I’d like to share some funny or tear-jerking moments that will always be on my mind.
Teacher, a cockroach.
It was just outside the door of the school. The kids have gathered around, and I always hang around them during break time as it is the time, I get to see their personalities and their little quirks that I don’t get to see in the classroom. I was just chatting with one student then all of a sudden another student came and dangled a dead cockroach to my face. I screamed then laughed. I asked him to throw it away.
I want to draw a sabre-toothed tiger.
I was teaching the Year 3 class and that day’s topic was “Animal on a farm”. I said to my students, “…alright everyone, today we are going to draw animals on a farm. So, draw any animal that you can find on a farm” Then one student said, “Teacher, I want to draw a sabre-toothed tiger.” I was befuddled, I said no, then he laughed, and I laughed.
Teacher, you will never understand.
Although most of my students were incredible happy bubbles that were always active and would jump at lightning speed when they see me, others might not be. There is constant anger and dread that I know I can never fully understand because I am not in their shoes. The situation of refugees is not an ideal one. Some of the students talked to me about the situation and one of them told me how I will never understand what they had to go through. Which had me questioned my privilege and to this day, I choose to continuously reflect on it.
Five years later
I feel like I know them so much better now that I can expect their anger, their sadness, and their joy and rejoice with them all the same. Two months ago, I decided to bring them to see the Merdeka Parade. Funny story, we did not quite get to see it at Dataran Merdeka. The morning was very uneventful, the kids kept complaining and it was quite tiring really. But I decided to be quiet and allow them to say what was on their mind. These kids, mind you, will say whatever was on their minds. Five years before, I would have festered them for continuous nagging and being ungrateful. This year, I just realized, they were just communicating their thoughts, saying what makes them happy and what makes them sad. Funnily enough, when we got to see the parade at another spot, I remember one student saying, “Teacher, I am finally happy.” That was a moment so precious. One thing I love about these young children is their honesty. And that moment, I just laughed and said, “yay, I am happy for you.” We hear a lot of young ones who become traumatized adults as they feel like they are not allowed to speak what they feel due to fear of being unheard. Although, I can’t fully change their life situation, I hope I can be a safe place for them to say what is on their mind without fear of repercussions. It was a joyous day and I hope it will be day inscribed in my mind for a long time.
Friends I have made
Through Building Bridges Beyond Borders, I have made many friends and I hope this friendship is a life-long one. Saradha, Josephine and Auntie Noorma has been wonderful mentors and each day I am grateful to have met and known them. Alexia, Lathangie, Constance, Harriet, Monica, Magnus, Tharuni, Elena, Eva, Yii Yien, Emma, Yan Yan, Hansen, the incredible and wonderful Fam, and all others. I wish I can see them all again and say thank you for the friendship and the experience. Through this program, I got to meet people with shared goals and see the world the way I do. I also had the chance to learn how to improve myself, and my thoughts of the world. Yii Yien once asked me what I wish to say to my students, five years forward, I really hope they are proud of me because to this day, I will try, in my own capacity, to fight for their rights. Rights to live, rights to education, rights to be happy and to be sad while rejoicing in life as they should be.
For those of you who are reading this and are interested in volunteering with us, I hope you will be inspired to volunteer. It is a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and find a new side of yourself. Volunteering has been the greatest decision I have ever made, and I do not regret it once. It certainly comes with its own challenges. As for mine, my parents were strongly against it, one of the reasons was financial. I worked three jobs in between my volunteering period just to avoid burdening my parents and to show my commitment to volunteering. It is not something that I would recommend to others and certainly does not wish for it to others. But I hope that if you find something you are passionate about as I did, you’ll get the opportunity to do it and have the best experience of your life.
Thank you, Josephine, for the opportunity to write this. Honourable mention to Dr Saradha and Auntie Noorma for constantly believing in me. To my parents and my siblings for their love that gives me many strengths to keep moving forward. To all the volunteers who have dedicated many hours teaching the wonderful children. To my good friend Fam whom I dearly love and cherish. For my students who continuously inspire me to be a better person every day.