By Daphne Foo
Our Year 6 class!
Being our first day of teaching, I had mixed feelings. I felt both excited and scared. I was excited because we were finally at the school and going to teach the children what we had been planning for weeks. But I was afraid that things that we had plan might not turn out as well as we had expected, and was also nervous about the Year 6s who my group was going to teach.
When we arrived at the school, we were greeted by the teachers and the students were all looking curiously at us. The prefects helped to arrange the students in rows according to their levels and we witnessed their morning assembly where they sang their national anthem, school song and pledge. The Year 1s and 2s looked so adorable and innocent. When I panned the scene, I saw the Year 6s. The guys looked very fierce and I was immediately intimidated. They had their collars up and were playing with each other during assembly. (Oh no!)
Students dancing the traditional dance
Max, Jeremy, Steph and Jocelyn with the preschoolers and Year 1s
After assembly, we were brought on a school tour and after that, we began lessons. When Jun Yang, Desmond and I stepped into the class, the children looked at us intently. My heart was beating quite quickly. Having already memorized the lesson plan for the day, I started with the first activity – making their own name tags. We gave them instructions and they gave us a blank stare. I forgot to speak slowly! The rest of the day went on quite smoothly. We gave them animal biscuits which they enjoyed. From the several activities we carried out and the worksheets we gave them, we identified what they enjoyed doing and what they were weak in so we had to go back and modify our lesson plans. Also, the children were very hesitant about speaking up and they would cover their mouths when they answered, even if they answered correctly. Being the first day, they were very shy and quiet. Speaking to them was also quite awkward as we did not know if they understood us.
When school ended, we went back to Agrotouri Longhouse (where we stayed) to eat lunch before heading back to school again to clean up and reorganize the library. We brought along new books to add to the library. The library was quite small, with a few wooden tables and chairs. There were 2 computers but they were all spoilt. We took out the books from the dusty shelves and cleaned the dust out. There were cobwebs everywhere. It was quite gross. We took 2 days to clean all the shelves and to reorganize the huge heap of books, ranging from Malay books, to English books that were non-fiction and fiction. It was quite funny to see some of us confused by the words “fiction” and “non-fiction”. After reaching high up to clean the shelves, sorting out the books into different categories, wiping the tables clean and sweeping the dirty floor, we were all very exhausted. However, after the 2 days of cleaning up, we were delighted to see how much cleaner and organized the library was and hope that the students will actually come and visit the library.
The last day of teaching! We started lessons earlier because we had to end earlier for the Year 6’s graduation party. We maximized all the time we had during lessons very effectively, not wanting to waste any precious time with them on the last day. The children were all very engaged and excited because our theme for the day was sports, something they could relate to very well. As I watched the kids actively participate in the lesson, a sense of pride welled within me. This was a stark contrast to the first day where they were all so hesitant to answer and only the same few would give answers. Now, everyone was confident to answer in English.
Towards the end of the lesson, things did not really go as planned. A boy made a girl cry and this spoilt the entire mood and atmosphere of our farewell activities as a class. We tried to console the girl which took quite a long time. In the end, we just proceeded with the things we had planned like taking pictures, giving them our letters, and giving them all the leftover sweets we had. Before the graduation, we performed a dance for them. Orientation mass dance of course! (the only dance we all knew) We only practiced the night before so it was quite messy but we all had fun. The children also performed dances for us. We also shouted cheers which they really enjoyed. During the graduation, we witnessed all the Year 6s received their certificates and testimonials. I was touched by the fact that they willingly came back to school even after they had graduated and I am glad they had a great time during the time we spent teaching them English. We also forged close friendships with the children and promised that we would continue writing to each other.
During our rest time, a group of us (Jun Yang, Desmond, Ernest, Wen Jing, Julia, Serena and I) decided to walk to a kampong to visit the kids there. We were quite surprised when Ms Ho wanted to come along. She thought we were going to look around at a nearby kampong, when in actual fact we were going to visit our students at a kampong quite far away! Well we thought the kampong was nearby too considering the students walk to school everyday. So while the rest of our friends stayed at the longhouse to rest, we eagerly embarked on our journey to Kampong Bayur. While we were walking, it started to pour. Fortunately, we had several umbrellas and ponchos to keep us relatively dry. Just as we thought we were reaching, we saw a long stretch of a road and a steep hill in front of us. Oh man…might as well continue walking since we have already walked this far.
On our way to Kampong Bayur
Say cheese….at Iren’s house
When we reached Kampong Bayur, we saw houses in quite poor conditions. The locals looked at us curiously. We approached several locals and asked them where the kids lived. They stuttered something in Bidayuh which was incomprehensible. Finally, thanks to our broken Bidayuh (their local language) which we learnt from the kids at school, we managed to ask a kid to lead us to the long house. When we stepped into the corridor, it was dark and gloomy. My heart was palpitating rapidly because I thought there might be some rats scurrying around in the shadows. We walked past each door. 1….2…..3………….and finally 8! We found the door to Iren’s (our student) house! We were all elated. The door was already open and the kid excitedly ran into the house. After a while, we were invited inside.
The house was surprisingly big. It had two stories and had linoleum tiles! Jun Yang commented that it was bigger than his HDB flat and Ernest said that his impression of a house they would live in was one made of straw! (Hahahaha! Like the 3 little pigs??) Honestly, I also thought they lived in houses made of some flimsy materials, but their houses were surprisingly modern. Iren’s family was very warm and hospitable. They even made us Milo and gave us bananas to eat. We sat in a circle and talked to them, understanding them and their culture better. After a while, we asked Iren to find all the kids who we taught and lived in the same kampong to come and they all gathered in her house. We all chatted some more and even arranged to meet at the Serabau waterfall the next day. I felt the kampong visit was indeed a trip worth going and we all had a great time. Even Ms Ho said it was worth the hour long walk! We walked most of the way back and we were picked up by a truck which was driven by our host as we were nearing the Agrotouri Longhouse. We stood at the back of the truck and enjoyed the wind!
At night, we headed to the jungle for a night trek. It was a trek that I was definitely not looking forward to. Trekking not something that I particularly like and my shoes will have to get all muddy! To ensure that we would keep quiet during the trek, our guide, Reeves, tricked us by saying that there were spirits in the forest and we were going to visit their ancestors’ grave. I freaked out when I heard that. During the trek, I was looking at the ground most of the time, careful not to step into a slosh of mud or a muddy path. There were so many obstacles such as tree roots, branches and leaves in our path. Halfway through, we had to cross a river, cleaning our shoes simultaneously. When we finally finished the trek, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I was so glad it was over and I admit I didn’t exactly enjoy it.
It was a day packed with adventure. It was our last day of teaching, we managed to visit Kampong Bayur which I absolutely enjoyed, and finally, we did a night trek.
Crossing the river during the night trek
I woke up bright and early and was the first time I wore my home clothes instead of our collegiate shirts, because we were going to attend mass at a nearby church. I was quite excited as I was curious what the church would be like and also some of the children I knew were going to be there! At breakfast, Julia made a passing remark that the service was going to be in Bidayuh, and it was then I realized that I wasn’t going to understand anything. For some reason or another, I assumed it was going to be in English.
When we reached the church, it was already half filled with people. We sat at the back of the church and waited for service to begin. We were welcomed by a few people (I couldn’t really see who) in both Bidayuh and English. At first I thought it was quite interesting as I observed the people and what was going on. Eventually, after an hour, mass finally ended and we went back to the longhouse to participate in the activities planned for us.
Our first activity was rafting. Fortunately, we did not have to build a raft; it was already done for us. Before lunch, we practiced rowing the raft with our partners. We headed to the pond which was behind our longhouse. The raft was quite sturdy and was made of bamboo. Rafting is similar to kayaking, just that the raft is not streamlined. I found it quite easy to maneuver the raft up and down the pond. Some of the others found it quite difficult to steer the raft. We practiced a few times with our partners, getting ready for the race which was to be held after lunch.
Ian Yang and Serena getting ready for their race!
We ate a hearty meal and were all geared up for our first ever pond rafting race. My partner, Wei Hua and I were the first pair to compete with another pair. We paddled as we had practiced before and managed to overtake the other team. It was fun but tiring. I had to use quite a lot of energy to paddle. After that, we sat at an area overlooking the pond. It was very amusing seeing some people putting up a show for us, as they made formations with their rafts. They kept colliding into the other team’s raft and formed letters like “V” and “T”. After a whole round of competing and cheering, Nadiah and Wen Jing emerged as the winners! The teachers then tried their turn at rafting and competed against some of the kampong children who came to visit us. They both paddled very hard and managed to win the small children by a lot! It was all in the name of good fun.
Our attempts at fishing
Grace and Jocelyn’s masterpieces
Next, most of us tried fishing while Jocelyn and Grace did some weaving. I was very excited to try fishing because I had never done it before. Our bait was belachan instead of worms. The children came and helped us. (They are fishing pros!) They helped me put the bait on the hook while I held onto the rod. Every time I raised my fishing rod, the belachan was gone and I did not catch any fish. When they held the rod for me, they always managed to fish for something. When Julia caught the first fish, both of us started screaming because we did not know what to do. One of the children expertly held the fish and put it on the floor and stepped on it until it died. I was very impressed. We stayed at that area for a while more before heading to the other end. There, we caught larger fish and I caught my first fish! I was thrilled. When I put the hook into the water, I felt a thug on it and immediately raised the rod. It was easier to fish because the fish were bigger and I could actually feel it when it bites onto the hook. Although I only caught 3 fishes, I was very satisfied with myself. In the end, I found out that we were not going to eat the fish and was quite sorry for all the fish we caught.
Being our last night at the longhouse, our host invited some prominent people of the community for dinner such as the reverend of the church, the principal of the school where we taught and a few teachers. There were also performers dancing for us. There was one tribal man who performed and his performance freaked me out because he looked menacing. He was brandishing a parang and kept on staring me. The other performers showed us the traditional dances of different tribes. There were many locals standing outside, curious to know what was happening. As expected, the adorable school children were there again. After dinner, we took our final photos with them before leaving for home the next day.
Scary man sharpening his blade
Performing a traditional dance
It was an exhilarating Sunday with local activities planned for us. This was refreshing change from the usual sightseeing activities one would do one a school trip and we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.