PETALING JAYA: She penned down her experiences attending a team-building course with Biro Tatanegara (BTN) in her diary. And it was not pleasant.
Sahana, as she wanted to be known, recounted how one of the lecturers had picked on her physical appearance.
During one session, the lecturer even poked fun at some of the participants as a way of engaging the class.
"He would say things like ‘ah yang pendek tu, bangun (you, the short one, stand up).”
“I was seated next to an Indian girl when he pointed at my direction. When I turned to the girl next to me, he said ‘awak lah, yang hitam, besar tu’ (you, the dark and big sized one) to indicate that he was directing the question to me,” said Sahana, who is now a communication executive.
Sahana, 36, was a first year college student then. Her college had informed the students that they had to attend a series of lectures and team building exercises at a camp in Johor.
“We were looking forward to it because we were there with our peers and it was a long trip away from home. For some of us, it was our first excursion out of state so we were excited,” she said.
However, the excitement did not last long. The lecturer’s comments embarrassed Sahana, who cried in class but others including the lecturer just laughed at her.
“I already had this complex about being a plus size, so naturally, when remarks like that were made, it really hurt me.
“It was a big hit to my self-confidence,” she said, adding that she felt that being dark skinned and large was a big sin.
Sahana wondered why physical appearance and skin colour were highlighted at the camp that was actually meant to teach participants values and instil patriotism.
Sahana also found insensitivity when it came to food being served as beef was given to them.
“Not that I am complaining but it made me wonder back then; how a Hindu, Buddhist or vegetarian would survive when beef was the main dish served?” she asked.
A parent wrote to The Star to complain that her son was “hounded” for being Indian.
“Throughout the five-day course, he and other Indian participants were constantly hounded about the actions of the Hindraf movement.
“His friends and him are not supporters nor sympathisers of the group. Yet, they felt disappointed at the way the instructors kept harping on the issue at every turn and opportunity,” the mother wrote.
Another parent echoed the sentiment, saying that participants were repeatedly reminded of the “social contact” in the formation of the country.
“Throughout the five days of the course, participants are repeatedly told not to question Malay rights and so on,” said the parent, adding that even Malay friends of the family were upset by the programme’s content.
There, however, were praises for the programme.
“I must say that there were many great people there, especially the facilitator in my group. I have heard many unpleasant things about it and I don’t understand why.
“During my stint, I learnt many things from my facilitator, not only of a better understanding of Malaysia but also the spirit of a Malaysian.
“We, the non-Malays, really appreciated him as our facilitator. We never felt aggrieved or hurt. Through him, we learnt unity, not disunity,” wrote a participant.
Another participant wrote of learning more about Malaysia at the programme.
“I learnt more of our own country while having a great time throughout the activities and group-learning sessions filled with good values,” the participant said.