Eilish and Faye had to return to the UK a few days earlier than expected as the Corona Virus meant borders were closing across the world. Here Eilish reflects on the second half of their assignment and what the experience meant to her……
Being home for almost a month now, its given me time to reflect on my experience as a volunteer in Malaysia. The second three months of teaching (January – March) felt just as exciting, challenging and diverse as my first three months in Malaysia. Overall, I am happy that it was like this as it kept the experience fresh and stimulating despite feeling so familiar with the place, the people and the role I played at the school. After returning from my travels over the Christmas break, my first week back involved a series of icebreakers, a mixture of tired and excitable children but without a doubt a very warm welcome.
As I fell back into the routine of teaching I had to adjust to a few changes within the school. An additional 5th class had been introduced as more students had improved academically and there were also some students returning back to school after dropping out before I arrived. Children leaving the school as young as 14 seemed to be a common occurrence as many took on work in order to support their family financially. Therefore, I was thrilled to hear that more students were returning to education and would be joining my classes. I quickly became acquainted with new friendly faces. I think this is something to mention about the experience as a volunteer, you have to be prepared for changing dynamics but personally I feel its opens up greater opportunities to meet more people but also in terms of teaching. Although larger classes seemed challenging at times with limited work space, it actually made the lessons easier for group discussion and group work. My largest class consisted of eleven pupils. New pupils and class changes were definitely something I had to get used to, however, with support and communication from other teachers we found a system that worked well for everyone.
During my second three months I was able to be more flexible and creative with the lessons and the topics I taught. The children’s thirst for knowledge astounded me and they always communicated clearly about the topics they wanted to learn. I introduced new types of lessons to ensure the children felt engaged particularly for the older class (year 5). For example, a debate class. We discussed a range of topics and I split the children into groups and they came up with arguments for and against. I found this type of lesson allowed the students to practise their English-speaking skills and built on their confidence using a range of vocabulary. I also found it useful to set projects on the computers about topics we had learnt in the classroom to enable the students to practice basic computer and Microsoft skills. It’s important to follow a broad curriculum to ensure the students are learning the appropriate content, however, I would definitely recommend mixing up the lessons. Set tasks that are out of their comfort zone and you’ll find most activities will help their English skills without them realising.
Being a volunteer has given me the opportunity to try something I’ve never done before like teaching, but it’s also allowed me to meet so many amazing young individuals and learn about cultures completely different to my own. This was an important part of my experience, learning about Myanmar and Malaysian culture. During the week and at weekends myself and Faye were able to indulge in different foods, art, festivals, architecture, and appreciate the general surroundings. Some of my favourite experiences involved an evening with the Myanmar community, talking to everyone over a bowl of porridge and secondly, a batik class in which we created our own batiks that we still have today.
As I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of sorting through all my photo prints from my time in Malaysia. Looking back, I have so many fond memories of the school, the students, the community and the cultural aspects that we experienced in Malaysia. It’s certainly opened my eye to exploring more cultures and taking on more volunteer roles in the future. If you are considering volunteering with the BBBB programme, I highly recommend you do so. You will learn, experience and make so many valuable memories in such a short space of time whilst helping others and developing as an individual yourself.