Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When Service Stars Align

You don't know Moses. He's a rather short man with a gentle demeanor and shy but honest smile. He's married to a woman who was recently granted asylum in Australia there and, we are told by the UNHCR, even if he was interviewed next week it would be over two years before he got the paperwork to follow his wife. In the meantime he has set up - quite single handedly - a small school for children from Myanmar, like himself. 

The children at the school have little by way of educational opportunities. Public school is most often not an option. The cost of private school is prohibitive. So they attend the school Moses set up just 4 km away from ISKL's Ampang campus.The one bedroom apartment that he uses as a school is tucked on the first floor of a rather drab and dreary apartment building. Moses teaches daily from 8 am to 3 pm and runs two classes concurrently, shuttling from one room to the next to write things on the board and answer questions in English, math and science. If he's sick, school is off for the day. If he does, eventually, receive asylum, the school will be shut down unless another teacher can be found. Moses can't afford to pay a salary for a second teacher (which amounts to roughly RM500 per month) and so he runs the school on his own.  He gets a stipend from the UNHCR to make ends meet, and applies for grants through the UNHCR for supplies, but that's about it.  

Four short kilometers away Dave Neudorf, our Director of Technology, was speaking to me earlier in the year about coming up with a plan that would allow ISKL to donate our old computers, to avoid them being sent to the landfill. Wanting to avoid the typical disposal of equipment, or the simple handover of equipment to often un-trained individuals, he was looking into finding schools that would benefit from computers but also somewhat regular ongoing technical support.

Julie James, our HS GAP and Community Service Coordinator, is doing her part to get the word out that service can open the door to empathy, empowerment, personal growth and mutual benefit for recipients and providers alike. She's always looking for community needs that might also make good 'fits' with our schedule and programming at the high school.

It all came together recently, in one of those "all the stars lined up" opportunities. If all goes well - we're crossing fingers, feet, arms, you name it - ISKL will be working with the UNHCR to provide funding for an additional teacher at Moses' school, a woman. The funding will come from this year's GAP Fair Trade project whose aim was to support women in low-income communities. The hope is that that funding will then be "picked up" by the UNHCR, as they can only provide funding for teachers after they have been working in the same school for one year.  The Technology department will be providing the computers and support to allow free-access software and browser capabilities (perhaps a Google-based set up similar to that which we enjoy at ISKL) as well as on-going technical support. We have already identified a few students students to become 'tutors' for the 32 children that go to the school. Our 'tutors' can hugely benefit these students and teachers by developing curriculum and teaching English and computer skills to both students and teachers alike.

Why Moses?  Why this place?  Well, largely because it was where the UNHCR determined the need to be, somewhat serendipitously. Partly because it's close enough. Partly because we could make an immediate impact. Partly because it's the right thing to do. It's a win-win for everyone. It keeps children off the street and provides them with educational resources that might just give them a chance to change their own stars one day. It allows our students to learn about the power of service while doing something productive in their community. It allows us to reach each other, for our worlds to come together ever so slightly, with a common purpose. It allows all these students - at ISKL and Baru Cheras School - to edge their way to becoming "socially responsible global citizens".  

This article, of course, is intended to highlight the creation of a service-related program by identifying a local need and our response to it. It is not intended to outshine the already existing service programming that is taking place at all levels. Every day service is part of our school's universe. Every day the stars align for someone. Just as they should. 

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