Despite having a really tight schedule, this project was one of my favourites so far. It opened up an opportunity for me to visit East Malaysia for the first time. The students were a bundle of joy to work with, and they had shown nothing but interest, respect and warm welcome to the volunteers. Having to work with a team of volunteers studying different degrees in different parts of the world makes it more challenging yet interesting, like when we had to figure out how to utilise each of our expertise and knowledge for the betterment of the students.
There were a few learning points I wish to highlight from this experience. Firstly, recognising the urgency to combat education inequalities in rural areas of Malaysia, where an uneven distribution of resources can impede the development of young minds. We have seen many young children with potential which can go much further, but only with the proper guidance and resources. The importance of education needs to be emphasised in every community regardless of their social, geographical and financial backgrounds. Secondly, working cohesively with volunteers from different educational backgrounds. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to work with brilliant minds from various fields of studies. Working with these people is analogous to how a functional society should work, where experts from various fields come together, contribute ideas and put in their effort to solve problems either at a local or global scale. This made me look forward to working with society as a future doctor, knowing that I have reliable colleagues from various fields. Lastly, learning to adapt to the new volunteering environment. Having to deal with the lack of water in the school compound is not something we get to experience on a daily basis. Now I find myself more appreciative of what I have.
Making a change is never easy. For me, the most challenging part about this project is trying to answer the question, “Have I really made a change which will sustain even after my departure?”. Despite the love I have for the community in SK Teringai, I had to come to a difficult point where I had to accept the reality that I don’t belong here and I have to go back to where I came from. My time is very limited and so is the help that I can give. It would never be enough. The biggest takeaway I had from this project is to have a better understanding about “volunteering”. Volunteering is not about helping forever; instead, sometimes you have to take a step back and admit that there is only so much that you can do. However when you involve yourself in it, make sure you make every minute count, not only to make a change, but to teach the community to continue the change. I believe that that is the only way a sustainable change can become a reality.
Loh Tze Wei