Be That Person

With some of the kids I taught (Picture credits : The Kalsom Movement)

With some of the kids I taught (Picture credits : The Kalsom Movement)

By Aliya Nabil, Blog Editor

Aliya talks about her time volunteering with students in Malaysia and what the experience taught her about CoachBright's mission!

This summer, I decided to take a week off my internship. This is how the week went.

On Monday, I returned to my former school for an afternoon with some ex-schoolmates. We gave a talk to the students about their options after leaving school. Despite this talk being a first in terms of informing the students of what the pathways after school look like, I was reminded about how immensely privileged the students at my school (including myself) were. We had well-equipped classrooms, meals provided and we didn’t have to worry much about the cost of textbooks or uniforms. We weren’t necessarily aware of the struggles that some have to face to gain a good education.

The next day, after some last-minute packing, I was all set to go to another part of Malaysia (Kedah), further north and much less urban than what I am used to. I was part of a student-led organisation called The Kalsom Movement in Malaysia that has been championing the eradication of educational inequality since 1996. Not entirely sure what to expect, I boarded the bus with a group of other passionate university students and we set off to Kedah.

 We were to spend three days in a local primary school, helping to increase the students’ confidence in learning English. Through a series of engaging modules the facilitators (us university students) had prepared, the students became more and more confident to answer questions and try their hand at speaking English. This is not to say the change was necessarily exponential, but seeing the children grow at their own pace was so satisfying. Every time a student used the word you had taught them in a sentence, or tried to say something new in English, was a proud little moment for us facilitators. Throughout the three days we got to know the students more closely. I realised how different some of their lives were compared to my own. They weren’t complaining but I knew they deserved more.

The most heart-warming thing for me was the students’ willingness to communicate with us after the programme.  I thought about what might be fuelling this enthusiasm and realised that the facilitators may be the only people they could comfortably converse in English with, or at least, have a reason to.

After the 3 days, I took a flight to join another group of motivated people in the land of Sabah, off peninsular Malaysia, a place I had never been to. This time for a short 2-day programme to teach English to Year 6 students who would be taking a major national examination soon. The programme was organised primarily by a woman from the very same village the programme was held. Currently a consultant paediatrician in a London hospital, I admired her spirit to give back to her own community.

Growing up in a rural area didn’t mean that these students had a lack of ambition. In fact, the students I met were full of potential and had a strong willingness to learn. I recall a student mentioning that he’d like to go to Harvard to do Physics! I was involved in mentoring a group of students for a public speaking competition. Seeing them take note of my advice and speaking in front of a large crowd made me especially proud!

The week ended faster than I expected. In a rush to return to my laboratory internship, I took a *very* early morning flight and dragged myself into the research institute the same morning. I arrived at the laboratory, perhaps a bit shocked by the sharp contrast between my current surrounding and that which I experienced the week before. The air conditioning was cold and harsh, like the environment – silent, sterile, and objective. The loudest of sounds was the subtle whirring of the AC system. It was back to work, staring into my laptop and accurately measuring potentially dangerous liquids. I missed the warmth of being surrounded by inquisitive schoolchildren. Funnily enough, I missed putting in tons of energy into my day (as opposed to fiddling around with delicate laboratory equipment) and seeing results in front of my eyes (as opposed to technical errors).

Looking back, I realise that for that short period of time, perhaps us volunteers were the only people these children could speak English to, or ask about university, or what it was like living in a different country. Some of the questions may seem simple or unimportant but answering them is important!

 Being a volunteer is about being that person. Being that dependable face for these children because they might not have any other people they know to expose them to the outside world. Being that person who can show them that it is possible no matter where you’re from, to access high quality tertiary education. That your family background should not determine your destiny, and that there are pathways to success for all.

Obviously, educational inequality is still relevant and there are many issues that need to be solved to completely eradicate this problem. But being part of organisations such as CoachBright can make change faster. There are so many of us out there who are studying at top universities or are working professionals. If every child had someone there to help them figure out their dreams and show them that they can realistically achieve them, we’d be one step forward in levelling the playing field. Do not underestimate the power of a person having confidence in you. You can be that person for these children! You are not their hero or saviour, but simply showing them that they have it in them to succeed. As a coach at CoachBright, you are that person.