Saturday, 27 October 2012

Is Our Service Authentic?

Service at UWCSEA. A program that is unique down to it's core, it instills a sense of helping others into the smallest of infants all the way to IB graduates ready to get their first degrees. It's aim is not to make us feel guilt-stricken about living the opulent and charmed lives that we are leading. It simply aims to dig a space out in each of our hearts so that we might contribute to those less fortunate then us.Yet, I can't help but wonder : are we actually truly committed and passionate to the services we as individuals support? Or are we just doing it for the credit? If only for the credit, then we might as well not do service. For is it really service if we aren't actually committed?  We are investing valuable time which could be used for something else. Worse still, we have to exude a fake persona; One which does not really exist.

Constantly nagging at the back of my mind, these questions relentlessly attack me every day as I  go  through yet another day at school.  Therefore I decided to do something about it. Over the October break as my family and I went to Borneo, I went to visit a school for kids which did not even have the smallest sliver of hope of getting a formal education.
 The students are without proper learning conditions

 Set up by a church, this school was established in 2005.It was the result of the initiative shown from a church warden, Mr. Low Gee Huat, and a full time pastor at that time, Margaret Chong. They started this project when some Indonesian  laborers who came to the church complained about the fact that their children were not able to attend local malaysian schools. Unable to pay the astronomical fees that the private schools demanded, the free education was the only route out for their children. Unrecognized by the government though, their children were not offered that education. 

In that same year, 2005, because of this issue that was raised, a camp was held for these Indonesian children. Mainly to catch their attention and show them the possibilities and promise of an education. Working like a dream, the school kicked off with 37 students and 3 teachers. The record attendance at that time was 47 students. Due to some unforeseen circumstances though, the attendance drastically dropped. Further misfortune was to follow as the school closed down for the remaining kids could not pay the fees. That didn’t deter Pastor Margaret Chong though, and in May, 2006 when she was posted to St. Pauls church in Ranau, to pastor the church and Kundasang Ministries, she had talks with the  Ministries and the school was restarted on the 9th of August, 2006 with 27 children. As current as of 18th of October 2012, the average attendance is now 250 kids, with several teachers.  They are split into 11 classes based upon ability and not age.

The football punctured beyond repair
Something which I saw that made me question some of the things that I see in UWCSEA was what the kids did in their recess. Especially the conditions in which they played their football. They were playing on top of a seriously uneven surface of cracked mud with a ball punctured beyond repair. They didn't even have proper footwear and their goal was two rocks set upon the ground. Not one of their faces showed a sign of disapproval towards the conditions in which they were playing in though. Comparing it to UWCSEA, I find that even though we have an amazing field of astro turf, and the footballs aren't punctured, there are still times when I see individuals complaining about the type of football that they are using. There are also still times when individuals blame the inability to play football properly on their footwear. Another activity which the kids were actively involved in allowed me to see the resourcefulness of these kids. For they managed to create a simple, yet challenging game using only a string made from rubber bands. As the teachers called the students in to start the next period of classes, I realized that from even being spoon-fed activities more privileged kids lacked that little spark of ingenuity which less fortunate ones had.

The class that I taught

Taking up the task of teaching a group of what we would consider 6th graders english, the passion in their eyes along with the vigor and eagerness in which they wanted to learn made me reflect on what I occasionally see in UWCSEA classrooms ; A slumped body language, paired with conversations which go along the lines of  "There's too much homework....." as well as "School's boring....". It showed me that although the students in UWCSEA might be more fortunate than those in this school, the students here understood the importance of an education. What we take for granted, they treasure. The opportunities that education provides for them could be their way out of poverty. It could be the start to an educated generation in Ranau.

 As I drew the the english class to a close, I realized that in order to actually understand the message the school is trying to send across, first hand experience and knowledge is required; That's not right. It's DEMANDED.  Even my brother who's in fifth grade got some first-hand experience as he toiled like a farmer under the midday sun, harvesting broccoli.

So is our service authentic? I believe the question is up to the individual to decide. It's up to the willingness of each individual to take the schools message and apply it in their own lives; To go the extra mile and experience it first hand. To find that spot in their heart where genuine passion and commitment have a home. Then to dig deeper. Hopefully, it's not for the credit. Hopefully, it's because something has struck them and that they want to continue keeping a place in their lives for service long after their UWCSEA days are over. 


  1. Hi James,
    I am also a student at school and I loved your post. It talked a lot about what I was feeling but never had the courage to say anything. We should take the message and every input that everyone has given us and make sure that we do something with it.

    Mr. Raisdana, who is the Focus Africa leader has asked us as participants in the service to read this post and make a comment and I just wanted to say thank you for your confidence and for writing this post, it makes us all who do not want to share our thoughts on the subject have a voice. I will definitely take your thoughts and turn them into something worthwhile!

    Thank you again,

  2. Hi,
    I, the same as Ella is at the school and really must say you just said everything about service in my perspective that the school does in away that I would not be able to write. I really think some of the questions you put up there might come to everyone's minds.

    You have done something that I might never do but I might give it a try and write something that people might feel but not have the courage to say.

    I know I said pretty much the same as Ella but I think she said it all for me.

    Thanks so much