By Hooi Chee Mei
The Teach For Malaysia team is united by the belief that all children in Malaysia deserve the opportunity to attain an excellent education. We live out our commitment to the mission through 4 core values.“from https://teachformalaysia.org/work-with-us/
Malaysia is a beautiful country with many races, cultures and festivals. I am a proud Hokkien Chinese Penangite Malaysian, although I have been called “banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) countless times simply because I do not understand Mandarin. But hey, this is Malaysia, and I grew up in an English-speaking environment and mostly Malay speaking school settings, and yes, I do understand Hokkien, my mother tongue dialect!
Here is my “cerita rakyat” at UPM. My Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) days were quite stressful juggling between classes, research and writing. Fortunately, I managed to form friendships that have lasted to this day, with a number of fellow postgraduate students. We started a WhatsApp group, naming it BSS, after our study room Bilik Seri Setia. There were 16 of us, comprising 14 females and two males of all races – Malay, Chinese, Indian – and as the oldest, I am the “kakak besar” or “big sister”. Despite our different backgrounds and upbringing, amazingly, to me, not once has anyone ever belittled another’s race, religion or belief.
This group has been my rock since its formation. We celebrated birthdays with the birthday babies, went out for meals together and even bought food for those who were busy in their work and studies (that includes me). We joked and gossiped together, as well as took care of one another. There was a time, when I was really sick and bedridden, some of them visited me bearing food and drinks as they were concerned about me. It was not just me, when anyone was sick, some of us were sure to check in on them to make sure they were OK. In 2017, many started work and moved on with their new lives, but when Hari Raya Aidilfitri approached, they would always come back to BSS to celebrate the holiday with the rest of us. I have always felt so moved that they had taken leave from work just to be with us.
In August of that year 2017, I had to move back to Penang because my MyPhD scholarship had ended, and I could not support myself financially at the university. Nevertheless, my BSS friends continued to interact with me in the WhatsApp group. I was so thankful and grateful and was really encouraged that we kept in touch despite the distance barrier. My BSS group was my pillar of strength and hope. When I was on the verge of giving up my studies, they were always there for me. I really owe it all to them.
Today, during this pandemic season, we continue to treasure one another by sharing updated information, helping whomever is in need and even video calling although not everyone can make it.
In short, this is my story about Malaysians who are always united no matter where we are. I would like to point out that Malaysians will always put aside race when we want to help one another, even others who are strangers to us. Sometimes, we might hurl insults at one another, but whenever anyone else starts falsely accusing Malaysians of something or other you bet an army of Malaysians will unite to protect our name and reputation! This is something very unique about us. Thus, I would like to reiterate that I am really proud to be a Malaysian because Malaysia is my home and my country. You can take me out of Malaysia, but you cannot take Malaysia out of me. Let us all “sayangi Malaysia”. Love, peace and no war!
*The Teach for Malaysia project is an example of caring Malaysians reaching out to the youth of Malaysia. It has not direct contact to the writer of this story, except for the connection of being educators without borders. – myceritarakyat.
About the Author – Esther Hooi Chee Mei is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Modern Languages (DML), Faculty of Creative Industries (FCI) at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR)