SK TERINGAI TEMUNO DARAT (2015)

Day 8 - Sean Thum

Day 8 began with a dose of nostalgia as schoolchildren, standing at attention, belted out the national anthem as the flag slowly rose to its rightful position at the top of the flagpole.Monday assemblies, which are an opportunity for the officers of the school to address students, is something I missed after leaving high school. Words of wisdom were always advised by the speakers on the stage; I felt privileged to be a part of it today.

As the headmaster Mr. George had to leave his station in Teringai to Langkawi for the call of duty, the deputy headmaster of student affairs Mr Edwin took the stage. He firstly allayed concerns of the students regarding the absence of the headmaster (it was heartening to see how much the students love the headmaster; there were constant questions regarding his absence at the assembly).Mr. Edwin spoke of student attendance being at 89%, which was very poor. He mentioned sources disclosing that several students of the school were working during school hours, and some students were collecting coconuts for 50 cents each. Upset that the students weren’t treasuring their education, he emphasized that this was not the time to work, but to accrue adequate knowledge so to be able to obtain better jobs in the future!

This is an extremely important talking point. A few nights ago we had a discussion on the importance of education, and we concluded that in addition to educators having the responsibility to make students understand what they teach, they also have the responsibility to make their students (and their parents/guardians) understand the reason, and the need for education. It is very disheartening to know that students are playing truant to work (Caveat: this is a general statement, not for Teringai only). The teachers have to put in their best effort to convince the students (and their parents/guardians) that the best thing at this age is for them to focus on their studies.

Class began shortly after recess. Celina, Shafiq, and I took the 5th years for English. We prepared cardboard cutting with simple nouns (spectacles, trousers, collar, ponytail; you’d be shocked to learn that eleven year olds can’t tell you what these words mean) and broke them down to three groups. I used a game where I give an instruction (etc: those with trousers, stand up) and they had to follow; those who didn’t would be punished. The kids responded very well to the game and we had a good time. The cardboard cuttings definitely made the task easier.

In the afternoon, I was supposed to take the two kids assigned to me (Relson and Wandeh) for Mathematics. Unfortunately Wandeh was absent, so I brought Relson for an impromptu outdoor Mathematics class. I got him to collect blades of grass, and then arrange it according to their lengths. I then brought out a ruler, and taught him the principles of the measurement of length. We did some simple conversion too (millimeter to centimeter to meter and back), and I measured his height, and used it as teaching material.

I personally feel education does not need to be confined within the four walls of the classroom. There are plenty of resources around the school which we can use to make the learning process fun, exciting, and adventurous. Teachers utilizing natural resources as materials to consolidate information will make the learning experience more real for the children, enabling them to understand the topics better. Relson came to grasp the concept of length pretty efficiently.We had frisbee in the evening (:D) and dance practice before dinner.Alas, disaster struck.

There was an electricity cut. Complete blackout.

We had to consume our dinner by candlelight, and our planned nighttime revision session had to be scrapped. Yes, Einstein studied by candlelight but we are in an era where prolonged blackouts shouldn’t exist! Nevertheless, we made the most of the situation. Using flashlights from our handphones as a source of light, I instead learned the Rungus dialect from the children.

Bahasa Malaysia – Rungus

Selamat pagi – Selamat minsusubab

Selamat malam – Selamat minsosodup

Saya – Yoku

Kamu – Yikau

Jangan – Kada

Jangan menangis – Kada pogihad

Sungai – Bavang

Laut – Dahat

Cantik – Avasi

Tua – Dumohing

Saya suka kau – Ozi oku dikau

Takut – Rumosi

Lapar – Vitilon

Mandi – Moudsu

Handsome – Ohinsom (kids insisted)

Lelaki – Kusai

Perempuan – Tendu

Mari – Sitiko

Sakit – Orulall

Datuk – Aki

Nenek – Yindi

Nombor – Numbur

Telinga – Telingar

Kepala – Tulu

Ikan – Sada

Hidung – Todung

Makan – Maku

Kening – Sambakon

Gigi – Nippon

I managed to get a simple list written down while visibility was poor. Any inaccuracy is regretted.

Relson, the child under my wing who does not stay in the hostel, had made a wasted trip to the school for the revision session. I brought him out onto the field, and we had a heart to heart talk on various topics while admiring the stars, which ranged from constellations (he loved the story of Orion), his interest in football (Relson aims to play for Malaysia one day), and he reciprocated by telling me the history of the village. It was a very touching moment we shared.

After the children were sent to bed by the matron of the hostel, we returned to our room (there was still no electricity) to complete the board for snakes and ladders which we would be using as lesson material for the following day. Thanks to the cooperation of all Charismen (Shafiq and I took turns to hold a flashlight while the girls completed the drawings), we managed to produce a decent board for snakes and ladders. Teamwork rules!

When the lights came on, it was close to midnight. I was assured by the matron that this was a common occurrence. One pertinent issue to raise is that if this phenomenon occurs frequently, how are the children able to focus on their revision of their studies? This is a blatant evidence of substandard service to not only the school, but the people in the village as well. This may very well affect the livelihood of the village folks, and indirectly affect the economy of the country!

Let’s hope this doesn’t happen again during our stay.

Day 9 -   Venoshini

Every morning, I wake up with a renewed gusto to teach the classes I am in charge of. This morning was no different.  After breakfast, all the volunteers headed to 6 Impian for math. 6 Impian was THAT class where the students seemed a tad volatile and argumentative. They were the weaker ones as compared to 6 Gemilang but personally, I adore them because though they were a challenge, they never failed to put a smile on my face when I think of their quirks.

The teaching concept for math was more personalised as compared to English for  6 Impian. Each volunteer was assigned two or more students. Fenty Retny and Jaita were my students. Both had very different personalities. Fenty was diligent whereas Jaita was slightly work-shy. It was difficult at first having to face two vastly different personalities. Jaita tends to lose her focus at times and hence, to keep both of them engaged I had to make learning mathematics fun. In order to fortify their understanding regarding perimeter, area and volume, I got them to walk around the class and explained the difference between the three concepts. Things did not go well at times as most of our students lacked the fundamentals of Mathematics so at times, I had to start teaching them simple multiplication and division, yet those were the small wins that made my day. These girls thought me something very important. They thought me humility and patience. So many times, we don’t realise that we all began the same; totally clueless and a void that required filling. I had the privilege of having a supportive family who put so much emphasis on learning. They held my hands when I was taking baby steps but for these kids, they might not have anybody to guide them. I hope, though I could not help them by leaps and bounds, they now know that learning is ubiquitous and ever present.

Later on during the day, I had drama practice with a few standard 4 and standard 5 kids namely Owen, Zizie, Alvin, Britney, Wecollant, and Esther. I wrote ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ for them and they were all excited about it from the get go. These kids were goofballs and they’ll always have a special place in my heart. At times, trying to control them seemed like a gargantuan task as they were always filled with energy. We went through the script together and managed to have three full practices. Who knew there were budding actors amongst these kids? Owen, who played the wolf, pulled off pretending to be the grandma with very little guidance. Though we had very few days to practice for it, these kids managed to adapt and put on an astounding play later that week. Drama practice was always filled with laughs as they never fail to crack me up with their antics. I vividly remember the look on Alvin’s face each time he said his line wrongly. To be honest he never managed to get it right till the very last day. Well, it’s better late than never.

Drama practice usually lasted for only an hour, thereafter I had to join my friends, Celina, Sean and Shafiq who were in the midst of teaching 6 Impian English. We stayed up the night before painting a large sized snake and ladder game for the kids on two conjoined mah-jong papers. But when I stepped into the class, I saw them playing aging charades. So I mouthed to Celina asking what happened to the snake and ladder game. Apparently, the kids got bored of it so they decided to change the game. The main obstacle we faced in teaching them English was capturing their attention. We had to come up with creative ways to hook them to our scope for the day. At times, it goes really well with the whole class engaged and geared to do more for class. But today, was not one of those days. Soon, they got bored of aging charades too so we switched to musical chairs thinking that they’d have more fun. Somehow, some of them got slightly carried away and began shoving other kids. The games session did not end well as Eryn hurt her neck and began crying. Celina, being the most angelic amongst all of us attended to her needs. Eryn was brought back to the dormitory so that Ibu (Puan Susan, the warden) could examine her condition. English class with 6 Impian resumed with a story telling session. I told them the story of ‘The Wild Swans’. Having very limited story telling experience, I just decided to take the plunge. By the end of that class, most of them were sitting around me, entranced by the story. When I finished telling the story, Ashikin cheekily asked me “Kakak, apa jadi dekat putera yang baju daun dia tak habis jahit?” Truth be told, I had no clue so I told her that the prince remained half a goose till the end. Towards the end, I realised that it was not the kids’ fault that they at times refuse to co-operate. As an educator, the duty of giving students the autonomy to choose what they learn was very important but we did not do that. By making an assumption, we lost sight or our mission of empowerment, but nonetheless it was a lesson learnt.

That evening, we had a ‘Getting to know the Volunteers’ session as we realised the kids lived in their own bubble not knowing what is in store for them in the future. Some of them did not even know West Malaysia existed even more so the United Kingdom. Due to this, they never really had dreams of going to high school and university was not even in the picture.  The words of their Guru Penolong Kanan during Monday morning assembly rang in my ears like a constant harbinger, “ Gaji puluh sen sahaja. Kita seronok dapat duit tapi kalau kelapa dah habis, apa awak nak pungut”. This kids needed to know that there’s a whole other world out there, all they had to do was put in the effort and make use of all the resources around them.  We began by showing them the Malaysian map and getting them to name a few states in Peninsular Malaysia. Most volunteers sang their state songs. I was genuinely impressed as they still remembered their state songs. Then, we continued by introducing ourselves, the courses we chose and yes, the most important question of all, “ Kakak dah ada boyfriend?”.

Sports with the kids was my favourite time as Jiale and I have managed to train a few kids namely Caldrym, Owen, Salfin, Relson and Sharizam to play Ultimate Frisbee. It was awe-inspiring to watch them learn and swiftly master a sport as though they have been playing it forever. These kids were truly talented as they managed to play against experienced players and score points. Playing with them made me realise how fun and well-balanced their live were as compared to city kids. They had no distractions, no gadgets to occupy their time and no idle time waste. They were very mindful of what they were doing hence able to focus on matters at hand.

That night, it rained really heavily and there was a blackout so we could not have any extra class for the kids. Xin Tian and Wei Teen got the boys to memorise their times table. As I was sitting at the table, Welfred came up to me and asked me if I could help him out with his Bahasa Malaysia homework. I was so touched at the fact that the darkness did not deter him from completing his homework. I immediately said yes and grabbed my phone. With the light from my phone, both of us slowly made complete sentences from the short sentence given by his teacher. I thought teaching Bahasa Malaysia was going to be easy as compared to teaching English yet again I was wrong. I was perplexed by this kid’s level of understanding of our national language. He could barely spell words that an 11 year old should have at his fingertips. This got me questioning a lot of things. He has been in our education system for a good 5 years and yet he can’t spell. What when wrong where? Should I blame him for not being able to understand his homework? When I asked him “Ayat apa awak nak bina?”, he was able to tell me amazing stories with his imagination. He just could not structure the sentences. As I skimmed through his work, I realised there were many incomplete homework. My heart sank as I am pretty sure he did not do it because he did not have the capability to do so. The one nagging question I had in my mind was that, “What do you do when you are so far behind?”  Till today I keep asking myself that. How do we expect 11 year olds who are so left behind to buck up if there are no proper support systems in the school?  Teachers are the solution. All they need is attention, plain simple undivided attention. I just wish I had more time to work with these kids individually. This experience, personally felt like a treasure trove of self-discovery and accepting the fact that education inequity exists. It is a problem, a major one that has to be addressed because if not, these kids will never escape the vicious cycle of poverty. SK Temuno Teringai Darat, mijumpa kitovagu.

t was another chilly and beautiful morning here in SK Temuno Teringai Darat and I woke up after Jacklyn, as usual. A sense of sadness struck us when we realised that today is the third last day for us to hang out with the kids, to teach them, to play with them and to converse with them in my worst language – Malay. We are so used to living here together without phone and internet services but solely focusing on the students themselves. Even water for daily usage originates from the river nearby. Mosquito repellents, Tiger Balm, Mopiko, Zam-Buk and red body oil are daily necessities. I wondered how it would be like to return to civilisation two days later.

From 8:00am to 10:00am, all of us entered 6 Impian to teach our assigned kids Mathematics. My three Impian babies, being the best Maths students in this class, had vast differences in their learning styles. Hebarth was always attentive and her learning speed was the fastest. She solved most of the questions correctly and made me so proud. Maxonel was slightly more easily distracted when it came to learning new concepts. Nevertheless, he was smart enough to undo his mistakes and asked for ‘kerja rumah’ whenever he could. As for Alever, just like his name, he was actually a clever boy. Although he tended to be lazy and not pleased when I explained questions to him, he was happier than everyone else when he finally got an answer right. At the end of the day, it was their gradual improvement which granted me a huge sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

After class, Sean, Wei Teen and I decided to complete the mural painting while the rest of them worked on the giant farewell cards for each class. Unfortunately, the day was hotter than before and my skin got really tanned after the mural painting. It did not matter as we had successfully created one of the nicest murals in the school compound, with our names on it as remembrance. My heart felt so warm when one of the teachers bought us three cans of Revive, seeing us holding umbrellas and sweating all the time while painting.

After the ‘kelas tambahan’ for year 6 in the afternoon, we decided to polish up our Indian dance which we will be performing on Friday during ‘majlis perpisahan’. We managed to memorise every single step thanks to our patient and dedicated choreographer, Celina. It was a rainy evening and we sort of danced next to the rain. ‘There is always a rainbow after a pouring rain’, and there it was! A beautiful rainbow appeared right in front of our eyes. The sun was also setting at the same time, creating a picturesque view which captured our hearts. How I wished I could freeze the time at that moment!

There was no ‘kelas tambahan’ for the night. Instead, we had a joint birthday celebration for Mei Mei and a year 4 kid, Maglina. Their happy and innocent faces reminded me of my childhood and how I used to celebrate my birthdays with only a cake, as simple as that. It was party time when finger food was served. We also brought various snacks for the kids to enjoy.

While the kids were sleeping soundly under their blankets, we took turns to shower as usual. Britney, Wei Teen, Jacklyn and I washed our hair together on the grass while bending down. That posture was probably the main cause of my serious back pain for the past few days. However, tonight was extra special for me because I actually stayed outdoors after showering to gaze at the stars. There were thousands and millions of them in the night sky, flickering as if they were blinking at me. It was really breathtaking as this would not be visible in cities where we come from. What made my day was when I witnessed two shooting stars travelling across the sky. It was truly amazing and I felt really lucky and blessed as watching shooting stars had always been my dream. I was so stunned I even forgot to make a wish while they lasted.

Before bedtime, we drew farewell cards for our kids with a heavy heart. There were thousands of words to be written but somehow, the space on the paper seemed too small to fit.

As much as we wanted to stay here, reality is harsh and tomorrow will be our very last day of teaching. There is nothing much we can do other than appreciating every second more than ever. And here I am, waiting to fall asleep, to dream of the kids hopefully and to be greeted by the pleasant people and things in SK Temuno Teringai Darat when I open my eyes the next morning.

Day 10 -  Xin Tian

Our hard work paid off. Love this mural so much

Day 11 - Sean Thum 

The day began with a somber mood, despite the sun smiling kindly on us all. The end of the project was nigh, we all knew it, and the emotional stirrings weighing on us took great mental fortitude to overcome.

We began the day’s activities with an aerobics session conducted by the Charismen (led by the exuberant and bubbly combination of Celina and Jiale) which all students and teachers participated in as well. It was a lively affair with laughter aplenty. Nothing brings people together better than a hearty session of endorphin-stimulating exercise.

The children had 30 minutes of physical education afterwards, which they could choose to be a part of the following sports: athletics, football, handball, netball, and volleyball. I, of course, chose to showcase my skills with a football. However, due to the sheer number of players, and limited space on the field (the schoolchildren share the field), a situation where too many people were cramped into a small area chasing a ball was created, limiting the players’ ability to develop technical skills. It was still fun, though, no dramatic lying prone on the field after a bad tackle. We all got up and chased the ball; because we wanted to play.

As it was the penultimate day of our presence in SK Temuno Teringai Darat, it was time for us to give out prizes for our incentive system.

[The incentive system is an initiative devised by our dedicated Charismen, where stickers are given to students for active and proactive participation during lessons. At the end of our two week project, we will reward the students according to the number of stickers accumulated.]

We pooled in the items we brought, and also items sponsored by our generous sponsors and gave the ones who have accrued the most stickers during our stay the first opportunity to select the prize they wanted. And the one with the second highest points go next, and so on.

As a treat we thought it would be nice to watch a movie with the kids. This does not happen often because teachers often have to race against time to complete the syllabus set by the Ministry of Education but it is nevertheless a fun yet effective way for children to pick up new vocabulary. We watched Dr Seuss’ The Lorax. It was a nice way to relax after two weeks of intense learning, and I hope the children also picked up the message that we all should play a role in protecting the environment. Our presence volunteering there may play a role in the improvement in their mastery of the English language, but we also hope the children are able to pick up the action of volunteering when they grow up; thereby creating a domino effect.

Happy times don’t last, and our time in Teringai was nearing its end. We were given a reality check when, as we announced to the class that it was our last with them, some students broke down. In an attempt to avoid the tsunami of parting tears the following day, I decided to pass my parting gifts to the two children under my care first.

[When we first arrived at the school, we were each arranged two to three students whom we take under our wings for the duration of our visit. The children under my tutelage were Relson and Wandeh.]

Later, I played chess with some of the kids. Petter, the success story of the school, who has played his way to state level competitions, clearly is gifted. The only way is forward for him. Keep it up!

Evenings were reserved for frisbee with the children and volleyball with the hostel staff and today was no different. I had a final game with the hostel staff and then thanked them for their accommodating my lackluster presence in their team. It was good to have played with them.

The frisbee session was great as usual. Watching the children sprinting and yelling for the disc, I felt immense satisfaction. They were disorganized little tykes when I first arrived, but have progressed to something resembling a team today. If frisbee sessions were coordinated frequently (may I suggest it is taken up as a sport during physical education lessons?) I would say we have a damn fine team on our hands.

Nobody felt like doing anything other than chatting to the children at night. It was the last night we had with them, so naturally we did our best to maximize our interaction (the matron gave us an extra 15 minutes to spend with the kids!) with the children. We sang, and chatted about life.

 Ah, if only tomorrow would never come.

Relson (left) received an old pair of football boots (given away by someone from Perdana University) and Wandeh got an Arsenal jersey with Ozil 11 printed at the back. Remember my conversation with Relson a couple of nights ago? I wished him the best of luck; help will always be given at Teringai to those who ask for it. Wandeh is a bright kid with lots of potential to unlock. The children taught me many invaluable lessons, especially through their enthusiasm and diligence in learning new things. I will remember this when the going gets tough; this indefatigable spirit is one I (indeed, everyone) need when facing challenges in life.

Day 12 - Jacklyn Lam

The last two weeks have flown by just like that. Each and every single day has been filled with so much joy and laughter. Normally, I would continue to sleep in despite the endless chattering by the girls outside our room at 5am, who were awake to prepare for school. Today, my eyes were wide open before sunrise. It was very difficult for me to accept reality. We were to leave Teringai today. Without wasting much time, I joined the kids for breakfast before they made their way to school.

All volunteers were donned in traditional Malay clothing this morning. Today’s assembly was conducted as our official farewell ceremony. After a few words of gratitude in front of the whole school, we gave out the UKECharisma Teringai 2015 Overall Award to two very deserving pupils, Mexonel Den Bibi (P6) and Presley Owen (P5). Both of them, we feel, have shown exemplary behavior and demonstrated passion (and improved vastly) in academics and co-curricular activities.

Each student came up to all nine of us, whom we then thanked and wished him/her luck. The Primary 1,2 and 3 kids made their way past us cheerfully. The Primary 4 students (whom I taught) followed on.  My regular students (Diego, Masarno, Maxwell, Wecollant) tried their best to smile back when I gave them a piece of advice. As more familiar faces made their way through, it became harder for me to hold back my tears. I broke down at the sight of Johnley (one of my first students on day 1). He was close to tears and tried to hide it when I embraced him with a hug. This episode repeated countless times with the Primary 6 students (especially those from 6 Gemilang, whom I often single-handedly took on for extra classes due to the lack of manpower).

Soon, we got ready for the joint Hari Raya celebration and Kembara UPSR event.  After I delivered my speech of appreciation, I changed swiftly into my dancing attire. Our dance went pretty smoothly, considering that we managed to learn and master the moves all in a week. Thank you, Celina for being such a patient and wonderful choreographer. All of us cheered full on for the Primary 6 students who performed and went onstage to receive words of encouragement from KEMBARA UPSR officials.  We were also very proud of our very own Venoshini, who single-handedly wrote, directed and produced a play performed by several P4 and P5 students, which impressed all.

The ceremony ended at 11.30am. I rushed out in search of students, who were about to make their way home. Lady Luck was on my side as I managed to spend some time with Diego, Johnley and a few others before their vehicle arrived. When it was time to go, my heart sank.  It was so difficult to bid goodbye to Johnley and Diego. They were very special to me, being the first students I taught here in Teringai. Tears streamed endlessly down their cheeks. Johnley was holding onto his Arsenal jersey (which I had given him the day before as a gift) and using it to wipe away his tears. I did not want to let go when we embraced in hugs but sadly, all good things must come to an end.  I promised both Diego and Johnley I would be back in a year’s time and I really hope I will.  I continued waving at them as they waved back until their pickup truck disappeared from sight.

The Primary 6 students accompanied us for a while as we packed up. Petter stuck to me until his father came to pick him up.  As I watched him take his leave, I longed to see him again one day. Petter, a quiet boy, could potentially be a top chess player and Mathematics Olympiad champion. He is very capable of succeeding in life one day, this, I am sure.

Not long after that, it was time for us to take our leave. The remaining P6 students, who stayed on, bid farewell. Parting ways proved to be difficult as the mini van made its way past Cikgu Larry and kids, who then ran after our van. We managed a final glance at our mural and took a good look at the school, which has become our home for the past two weeks. This place was indeed home away from home. To document my experience in SK Temuno would be a difficult task as there had been so many indescribable feelings, which I had gone through. I will miss everyone. My wonderful teammates. The kids. The teachers. The hostel staff. My daily dose of Abang’s Milo Ping. I will miss the simple kampung life. No Facebook or Whatsapp notifications. Mandi sungai. Life has indeed been very good.

All of us volunteers not only left this place with wonderful memories but also with plenty of gifts and cards/letters from our beloved students. Miceron and Rick Ryneld (my assigned Primary 6 Impian kids) wrote that they would not let me down and would work very hard for their upcoming UPSR examinations. Diego promised to master his multiplication tables and stop looking out for ‘cewek’ (pretty girls) to concentrate on his studies. Johnley promised to be one of the top 3 students in class, only if I go back to teach him in Primary 6 next year. These kids seem to have impacted my life so much in just two weeks, instead of it being the other way round. I headed back to Kota Kinabalu, holding onto hopes that these kids would keep their promises and continue to have proper education and I quote Petter, even get a PhD.

Thanks for all the wonderful memories, SK Temuno Teringai Darat. Till then.

Us in our traditional costumes

The crew of play – ‘Little Red Riding Hood’

Bye, SK Temuno Teringai Darat

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