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Taking up teaching for refugees’ sake


Wee (in red) and Mok (left) tutoring Chin Burmese refugee children at the Zomi Christian Fellowship centre in Kota Damansara.

Wee (in red) and Mok (left) tutoring Chin Burmese refugee children at the Zomi Christian Fellowship centre in Kota Damansara.

 

IT WAS indignation that fuelled the fire for Let’s Tutor A Refugee Child (LTARC) when the group first started seeking volunteer tutors on social media in 2014.

Founder Jessica Wee, who works full time in the banking sector, said it all started when a client sought her help to start a school for Afghan refugee children.

“At that time, I was not even aware there were refugees in our country,” the 35-year-old said.

But she soon found out how much injustice refugees were subjected to because of their stateless status.

Despite the recognition accorded to them by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), their lives remain in limbo.

They are legally not permitted to work and their children are denied access to education.

Wee knew there was little she could do about existing policies but the experience gained from setting up an Afghan refugee children’s school inspired her to do the same for other ethnic refugee groups.

With help from volunteers, such as Mok Chee Meng, Wee started a private group on social media to gather volunteers in March 2014.

At its peak, between five and 70 LTARC volunteers were visiting nine centres every Saturday to conduct two-hour tutorial sessions.

However, the number of centres covered by LTARC volunteers has now decreased to six as a result of lack of manpower.

Wee (in red) and Mok (in black) with other volunteer tutors and Chin Burmese refugee children.
Wee (in red) and Mok (in black) with other volunteer tutors and Chin Burmese refugee children.

“It is important the children are not disappointed.

“We do not want them to come to a centre on Saturday only to find out there is no tutor to attend to them,” Mok said to explain why the number of centres had to be reduced.

But Mok also stressed that LTARC volunteers are not bound to fulfil a set number of hours. They are free to choose when they can come in.

The only currency here is time as the tutorials are purely carried out on a voluntary basis.

For more equipped refugee communities, volunteers leverage on existing facilities, following up on previous sessions completed by their predecessors.

In some centres, the head teachers have detailed records of each child’s progress to guide volunteers.

If the centre already has a home schooling system in place, volunteers are required to follow the syllabus.

“In most cases, the children need to be taught survival skills like how to converse with locals and count money.

“Many of our sessions see the children practicing how to speak English with volunteers,” said Mok.

To protect the children, all tutorial sessions are conducted in the open. Nothing happens behind closed doors.

Tutors are also strictly forbidden from taking the children out.

A desire to see refugees progress to a level where they can seek better job opportunities, have higher awareness on disease prevention and to have a better chance of creating a more positive impact in the society where they live, are reasons why Wee is charging ahead with LTARC.

“People must be aware that there are refugee communities living among us.

“Some families have been living here for three generations.

“What will happen to society if this section of the community does not have the benefit of education?” asked Wee.

She stressed that by no means are these communities small.

At the Zomi Christian Fellowship centre in Kota Damansara, LTARC volunteers attend to as many as 27 Burmese Chin children.

On a whole, LTARC volunteers tutor some 220 refugee children of Afghan, Burmese Chin, Rohingya, Somalian and Syrian descent at weekly Saturday sessions.

LTARC currently has a database of two million volunteers.

Their goal is to reach out to 10% of the existing 130 refugee centres nationwide.

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