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Have you ever seen any teacher wearing slippers to school? Wearing sport entire, pants or just a simple shirt every day to class? While holding portable whiteboard, story books, stationeries and a ball all in both hands with them? Well, if you see one, that’s probably me.

In 2016, before I join MYCORPS Mission 3 (Middle East), I have worked for 4 months with Ecoteer, a non-governmental organisation that connects travelers with grassroots charities and social enterprises around the world. Well, to begin with, I was responsible for helping my team to establish teaching sessions for the Batek Tribe children and also for the Malay community in Merapoh, Pahang Malaysia. I have developed few teaching materials and lesson plans for the session with my project manager and colleague. Also, I have helped to collect information on how the Batek people use the rainforest for foraging and hunting. I had been asked to help with the jungle trekking and camping, which I felt honoured to have taken part with me as they are very much connected to the rainforest, and I learnt a great deal from them. Even though I had been focused on teaching, I had also spent a large amount of time in the rainforest which I really fall in love with.

More to say, I love children. I like playing with them and most importantly, teaching them. I have been experiencing teaching in lots of places. One of my memorable teaching experiences was to teach Orang Asli’s children. Orang Asli means aboriginal people. There are 18 types of native aboriginal people in Malaysia. One of it is the Batek tribe. They are an indigenous group that lives mostly in the northern part of peninsular Malaysia. The Batek children and adult specifically in Kampung Becak Kelubi, Merapoh Pahang ranges from 5-23 years old do not receive any form of education due to misunderstanding between the local government school and the Batek Tribe which leads to children having low literacy skills.

Here are some studies about the Batek Tribe in Malaysia (Just to get clear about the issue on the Tribe)

When we were not teaching, the children go to the forest. So, they learn their jungle skills from their parents. For example, the father bring their children to the jungle teach their sons how to hunt the animal, to look for the right wood, rattan to light the fire.  For the daughters, the mother brings them into the jungle to look for the right Yam, Potato to eat and how to look for leaves for the Haiyak (shelter) roof.

We teach the children in a jungle school where, Ecoteer has funded the building of a bamboo learning centre (jungle school) in the village to act as a base to teach the children basic literacy and numeracy.

Me at the entrance of the jungle school

Jungle school built by Ecoteer and Batek Men

First, I went to the school and I thought it would be a proper school with desks and chairs, but no. There is a large hall. Day by day, I am slowly settling into the Batek way of life, learning the ways of the Batek people eat, dress and talk. Yes, I learned the Batek language. We have 3 classes in a week and every Sunday we have a good football match with the kids. Even though I said it is a School, it is just a loose term based on the fact that there is a classroom (all be it a thatched palm-leaf building on stilts). There is no compulsory syllabus so we basically improvise a lot within some sort of lesson plan, and the children are under no obligation to come. However, with the temptations of their very own book with a pencil, and eraser to rub all their work out with, most children in the village have been persuaded to come. Every time we came to the school, we need to shout ‘Sekolah! Sekolah! Jom pergi Sekolah!’ (School! School! Let’s go to school!) It was kind of hilarious at first, but then, it becomes a routine for all of us. One of my favorite moments was that, Anis a little 3 year old girl coming to school with short pants, no shirt, struggling on the way to school as she need to go through all obstacles like dogs (yeah the dogs are the school guardians), then she needs to go over the massive log and going up the high bamboo stairs. It was a nice feeling and cute too.

I taught them simple English, Malay & Math while eating Rambutan & Langsat that they gave

I think I am the only teacher that teaches like this. Actually, we have ended our lesson, but these kids want to do more colouring

I just love to see them do spelling exercise and math on the board

My cheeky bright students!

I felt happy, I felt good and I was so lucky to have this kind of opportunity to teach and mingle with them. I still remember the first day I came to the village. I was so excited, however, they were sort of terrified looking at me and telling me I am ‘gop’ the outsider. They don’t trust new people and that’s made a challenge for me. So, I went to the jungle school and start to teach the children. They barely came to me and ignore me the whole session. Then, I slowly laid out all the story books and pick one book and start reading in spite they don’t even look at me. I made some expression and voices. A little boy came to me and looked at the pictures in the book and the rest slowly came to me. That moment, I know what to do. Rather than just teach, a teacher and the students need to be bond first. Building trust and having fun in educational way was what I did. There was the day I brought home-clock, weighting scale and interesting facts about ambitions to class. I don’t expect them to underperform and I treated them equally because I have learnt that to be a good teacher we need to view kids and children as people and not as artifacts or object of cultural disposition. Hence, day by day. Months passed and I got the bond. The bond that I treasured.

I would like to thank to Azee (Project Manager), Dan, Lizzie, Helen, Odile & Xuan for being my Merapoh Ecoteer Family. Much appreciated!

Teaching Batek children requires sensitivity for their special needs and knowledge about the world, yet it was unpredictable but incredible.  Until then, I am signing out.

Peace and Love.

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