Environmental Awareness Workshop By Students For Students In Malaysian Rural School
Please describe how your students exercised their leadership and the impact they had.
Before we jump to the story of what my students did, it is important to understand the context of the school. Most of the students in this school came from rural and underprivileged families with their own set of cultural setbacks and upbringing. Most of them grew up by helping their families gain a living by planting hill-paddy, various fruits and vegetables in their family “kebun” (translates to ‘orchards’). Many of them have no clue of what opportunities are out there to grab in order to learn and catch up with the skills needed to secure a good job in the future, especially in such areas of high demand in the 21st century such as technology and global communication era. This is the main problem that the school has been dealing with: lack of awareness. As for my students, they are the special enough to understand the challenges they face in this school. They try to have a picture of what is out there and keep an open mind. They were brave enough to step up and say they were interested to go for a leadership camp that was externally organised. After going for two different leadership camps, they were empowered to organise their own leadership workshop for their juniors. Days and weeks were put into planning to come up with a variety of teamwork modules that would keep their targeted 13-15 year old participants engaged with fun and games while learning. My students wanted to impart their passion of keeping the school clean and saving the environment in the process. They designed games using existing elements in school and even created a sustainable outcome of designing funny shaped bins to get the attention of younger students. They made their very own “Pak Buaya” (Mr. Crocodile) triangular shaped bin with three sections under the lid for separation of trash. Without realising it, they got the attention of their peers and also the school administrators who supported the idea in many ways such as volunteering and providing the space they need to carry out the workshop. I was amazing to see my 16 year old students organising a workshop in school to raise environmental awareness. This is something highly uncommon in this school, yet my students required no precedent to have faith to confidently carry out their own vision for the school.
What role did you play in supporting your students’ leadership?
Before the execution of this school based awareness campaign, I was the “guru pengiring” (translates to ‘accompanying teacher’) for two leadership camps that was organised by a university and a corporate body outside of school. It wasn’t easy to bring my students out for such activities held in the city, especially when our school is almost 85 kilometres away passing by national parks, dense forests and surrounded by plantation fields. I am thankful that we managed to get the organisers to sponsor our transportation. The most important role that I had to play was the facilitator. I believed in them throughout the hardships and heartbreaks they were facing when competing with city school students. I tried my best to provide them the platform to speak out. I had to also be the coach and cheerleader by their side when they were so close to giving up. I had to remind them that giving up is not an option and success only follows those who persevere. I am grateful to work with these bunch of students who understood me well as they carried out their tasks, meetings and activities alongside the daily routine of classes and examination weeks.
What did you and your students learn in this activity that will endure beyond today?
We learnt a lot from this process. My students learnt that they have the capacity to lead others like them. After post-mortem discussions with them, some of them know that they like working with people and they are now considering career options that may involve more people. Some of the more personal feedbacks includes feeling of sheer joy and a surge of energy from motivating others. The few shy students finally broke out of their shyness and felt that more can be achieved when they engage with their teammates more and share their ideas. All in all, the entire team learn that they can initiate something new, regardless of their background and status. One student also cheekily asked me if he could be a facilitator for life and good make money out of it. I told him that the job exists out there. He should go out and learn and come back to execute, because it would be most meaningful to carry out needed motivation camps here at home. As for me, their teacher, I find it important to drop expectations about what I knew about leadership trainings. Everyone begins at their own starting point and may find new ways of learning in difficult situations, such as a rural school in the middle of an oil palm estate. As a new teacher in school, I also find it hard to communicate with my students, let alone the language barrier, cultural and religious differences. But through my students, they taught me more than I could learn on my own about conveying messages to the larger crowd of students over here. Communication is key and I learnt that if students are willing to go the extra mile to learn something new, and if they are given the support they need to go ahead and pursue what they want, they can surprise you with something beautiful like finding leadership qualities within themselves and shaping their own character in the process.