And with those eight words we departed Kuala Lumpur.
Today was our final day to teach the children of the Chin refugees from Myanmar. We tried to review some of what we learned this week and based it all around The Avengers, which is one of their favorite movies.
Who are The Avengers? They are certainly an unlikely group of heroes.
These kids are another unlikely group of heroes.
As a white American who has had every advantage in life, it is not hard to be emotional as I look at their situation. Most of these families came here to escape a brutal regime in Myanmar , which is split between a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a military junta. Now that they are here in Malaysia as refugees, they crowd into 600 square foot apartments with 4 other families, most without air conditioning and with 1 squat toilet for everyone. They are not allowed to legally work in Malaysia so many of the refugees have to find work “under the table”. They cannot have bank accounts. The UN is supposed to be helping them but one can imagine how little that works.
But there is the "education center" where Kelly and I volunteered this past week. And the 69 children come there every weekday for 6 hours to study. There are 4 “standards” or grades, as we know them, based on some combination of age and knowledge of English. They have 3 permanent teachers, a principal and a rotating staff of ex-pat volunteers coming through to teach them.
Lunch is the same every day: Rice and a potato which is served by a few kids from each class. The tuition for the school is 50 ringgit a month or a little over $10. At least 1/3 of the families could not make that payment last month. It’s up to the local church, lions club and donors to cover the costs.
Even with of all this adversity, they come to school in their 1 uniform with big smiles on their faces. They horse around like any other children but I found them to be intellectually curious and quite smart. Their resources are so thin that the kids can’t write in their one workbook because the school needs to reuse them.
Myanmar is trying to convince the UN that the Chin people have nothing to fear back home and should lose their refugee status. So then what happens to all these families and their children if they lose that status? Does Malaysia tell them to go home? If so, what awaits a minority group that returns to Myanmar that already left once? I am sure they wonder the same thing and everything they have or don’t have is riding on that answer.
We are driving further north into Malaysia, stopping at Taiping and Penang. We will be there the next week or so and will do some work before heading up into Thailand to work with Elephants.
I don’t know if I made a difference this week for those children.
I like to think I helped them in some small way.
I pray for them and their families and I don’t think I will ever forget them.