My Volunteering Journey

My Volunteering Journey

Me and my assigned lady – Tepuq Ribed
A
lot of people threw me a question when I was back from Bario: “How does
Project WHEE! work? I thought you guys were teaching English over there, but why does it seem like you are all working in the paddy field?”
I
like the question. Before I decided to join Project WHEE!, I myself took some
time to figure out how this program worked. The main objective of Project WHEE!
is to empower Bario’s mountainous community generate an income
through eco-tourism. As such, we as participants are there to
teach the women English, so they are able to communicate with tourists more
effectively as community guides or home-stay hosts in the future. Besides, we
are there to facilitate the women’s development of eco-tourism activities for the
local community, guiding them to execute these activities, and helping them in preparation
of other sustainable projects.
Everything
sounds cool. Still, we are there to
teach the ladies English, so why do we work in the paddy field?
The main
reason is because Project WHEE! emphasises on teaching English by shadowing the
women. These women are not ordinary primary or secondary schools’ students.
They have their own schedule every day. It is hard for them to sit down for 6 –
7 hours in a classroom to learn English. For this reason, our classroom could be anywhere. In the morning, we would kick start our class in the lady’s house
over coffee and cookies. After that, we would have our lesson knee-deep in mud,
in the middle of the lady’s paddy field in the afternoon. It is quite exciting
and exhilarating when you think about it. Everywhere could be a live classroom
for them.
I
guess now most of you have a basic idea of how this program works and why most
of us are helping the ladies in the paddy field or in the farm. The idea of teaching
the women English by shadowing them sounds great. Nonetheless, everything has
pros and cons. There is a grey area of this project. A lot of people who don’t
have a basic idea how this project works tend to be bias. They perceived us,
the participants, are the budak bandar
(city kids) who travel there solely
to experience the lifestyle of the Kelabit’s people. I couldn’t say they were
wrong. We are there to teach the women English but the truth is we are there to
explore the way of life of the Kelabit too. This is when the participants play an
important role. As a participant, we have to prove to the locals we are not only
there to experience the lifestyle but we are there to teach as well. Besides
teaching English, we have to become the ambassadors of Project WHEE!, telling the
local folks and the tourists why we are there.
Anyway,
being a participant requires a lot of discipline and persistence, especially when we teach the
women English by shadowing them. We have
to keep reminding ourselves the reason we are there. I, myself faced a lot of
challenges when I was teaching English. The lady I was paired with is Tepuq Ribed. I was lucky, both of us clicked instantly when
we met. There weren’t a lot of awkward silences between us. She is very
passionate in learning. However, as she is illiterate, it took time for me to
build her confidence to open up and converse with others in English,
especially to the foreigners.
Other than that, she often couldn’t remember the things that she
had learnt. A lot of times, when I asked her: “What is this, tepuq?” She told me
she has forgotten the name of the item. I had to keep practising with her. It requires a lot of patience.  It was not as easy as I thought. There were plenty of times I felt my efforts put in seemed pointless. She just
couldn’t get it.
Whenever
I felt like giving up, I always reminded myself, do the best and God will do the
rest. Rui Ci and Jed, our coordinators always reminded us not to demand the
outcome and to not be discouraged if we are not able to see the outcome
instantly. I fully agree with them in this case. 3 weeks is just too short to
get everything done. It requires long-term efforts from a lot of parties to
achieve the goal of the project. I am glad she could finally remember some simple words that I taught her when I gave her a call after returning from Bario. 😀 😀
Anyway, it was an amazing 3 weeks journey in Bario. The experiences I have undergone
are among those I would treasure for the rest of my life.
I hope this post gives you a basic idea of ProjectWHEE! and perhaps inspire you as well. 

Cheers!

😀

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