Making the World a Better Place, One Volunteer at a Time

Guest article by Amelia Spinrad
Arizona State University

During my time in Perlis, Malaysia, the northern part of peninsular Malaysia, right on the Thailand border, I have heard my students mention people from Burma. I ask them who lives in the houses across from our school and they tell me that the people from Burma live there. I ask them if these students go to our our school and they respond, “No teacher, they cannot go to our school.” My students also tell me about the Rohingya people who have landed on the shores of Langkawi, an island less than an hour ferry ride from my student’s homes. The topic came up again when my students asked me if I knew about the “running people’s graves” in Wang Kelian, Perlis, less than thirty minutes from my school.

Amelia’s student Maisarah reflects on the importance of volunteer work and helping others

Although the students hear about these things, most of them do not understand why Rohingya people leave their country. They do not understand trafficking and why many of these people may be killed. I took this as an opportunity to discuss with the students the situation in Myanmar for the Rohingya people.

The students read articles about the people and thought about how it must feel for things to be so bad in your own country that you would take a chance that another country would let you come to theirs. They learned about the difference in saying Myanmar or Burma and about Aung San Suu Kyi and why she chooses not to speak about the Rohingya people. They brainstormed ways to help the Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. The students wanted to help by volunteering at a local school for refugees.

In collaboration with another ETA, Farrah, we were able to raise over $450.00 to bring students to volunteer at the Peace Learning Center in Penang. I was able to bring 11 students from SMK Syed Ahmad to volunteer. These students helped me prepare all of the materials for the camp. They were very excited. One of my students told me he was going to give the students his contact information and that he would tell them to call him brother.

Without my knowledge, the students organized a clothing drive for the shelter. On the day of the program they arrived to school with three large boxes of clothing. I was already so proud of them.

Students Anizah and Maisarah pose with the children and their ABC books

We arrived at the Peace Learning Center and ate breakfast with the students. My student volunteers began to mingle with the students. The fifty K-16 students at the center require a lot of attention and I have a feeling my students felt as overwhelmed as I did my first few days at SMK Syed Ahmad. We broke up into small groups and my students lead activities like fortune-teller making, book creation, and bingo.

During the volunteer event, Anizah had about ten students in her group (most other students had about five) because the students thought she was just the coolest human in the world (I also sometimes think she is the coolest human, so I cannot blame them). With a smile on her face she told me, “Teacher, I may have a headache on the car ride home!” We both laughed and she continued to enthusiastically lead her group.

After the program, many of the students messaged me to say thank you for helping them volunteer. Many of them told me they had never volunteered before and that they would like to go again. Zaidah, a student from form four (16 years old) said, “I’m so very happy because can make all Rohingya people smile.”

Syami, who worked with the kindergarten students, after the event told me, “I feel very fun volunteering and I hope I can go there again.”

Syami with his kindergarten students

Farah, from form 4 told me, ”I’m so glad to be volunteering. They were kind-hearted. I just can’t believe that they got spirit to go through life’s challenges on the young age. Then it hit me. If I am in their position, I don’t think I can be as strong as they are. I want to continue to help in any way I can. I miss the children.”

And Fatin, also from form 4 said, “They have a marvelous dream. They want to protect their community. I can see their spirit when we give support to them. They are so cute and friendly. I really hope that I can give support again.”

Watching as the volunteer activities transformed my silly students into inspirers, leaders, and role models made me think critically about the legacy I want to leave behind this year. The students have already taken the initiative to plan a trip back to the Peace Learning Center. The compassion they showed for these people was truly remarkable and I am so proud of them for becoming global citizens and using their knowledge to better the world around them.

Amelia with her student volunteers and the children of the Peace Learning Center

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