I teach refugees. Previously, most of my students were refugees from Myanmar with a few from Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The political situation in Myanmar and Sri Lanka has more or less stabilized, so I only get a few students from these nations. Of late, none from the latter.
In the last year, we saw how millions of North Africans and Syrians left on rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, many of them shipwrecked and drowned along the way. A trickle of them found their way to Malaysia. So, in my current batch of students, I have Yemenis, Somalis, Syrians, a couple of Pakistanis, one Rohingya and an Iranian.
They are all Muslims, except for the Iranian whose family, according to him, weren’t religious, and, he stressed, weren’t Muslim anymore. A brave lad to declare it openly to a class of all Muslims. (After getting to know him, I realised why; he is a tough guy!) Despite, his open stand, I didn’t see any discrimination against him.
In fact, one of the other students later said that many Muslims in Iran were converting to Christianity. That was a revelation. Really? That’s a trend we don’t read about!
When I talk with my students, I catch glimpses of life I don’t read or hear in the media. They have to struggle with the horrors of war, and off and on as they talk you catch a perspective that reveals much about their inner thoughts and feelings.
One Yemeni student lost his father who crossed the border into Saudi Arabia for a job when militant groups started bombarding enemy-held territories, and he has not seen his father since then. His mother is being strong and raising the family single–handedly without country and with minimal funds.
A Palestinian student — though not living in Palestine anymore — abhors the thought of co-existence with Israel. “They destroyed our villages and we have no where to go. Let them go back to where they came from!” She usually pauses and stammers, searching for words, when she speaks. But, on this subject, she spoke fluently, without a pause or an error!
Some of their emotions are raw, but, I let them speak, gently challenging them to consider alternatives, and they do. They start thinking!
A Somalian student who fled her violence-wracked country is still quite partial to the pirates who ply the coast off the horn of Africa! She says some of the pirates do kill those they kidnap, but most don’t kill but only want money, which, according to her, is given to the poor along the coast. Now, I understood why the pirates get support from the coastal folk and why they continue to thrive. They have the support of those they feed.
A number of the refugees are anti-West. If they had a choice they wouldn’t want to be resettled in the West. But they have no choice. Firstly, they have to go where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) sends them; secondly, they have to live and they go where they can earn a livelihood and that takes priority over their political preferences.
Their countries many be broken up because of politics, but the concerns of the refugees are economic. When they can’t live in their countries any more, they leave. They want to live and that is the fundamental human need that drives them to leave their homes for a strange, unknown world — it’s their survival.
That’s the reason why I teach refugees. I teach them English. They need to learn the language in order to live in this new world before them. I help them acquire it. As I teach them English, I open their eyes to the world they have been thrust into. Most important of all, I tell my students that there is a world in front of them and there are opportunities they can seize to make it in this world. I help them see those opportunities.
I care for my students and I enjoy interacting with them. What I like most about them is that they relate to me just like another person. I don’t scare them off — strangely! I seem to scare off others, but not my students! We get along fabulously, and as I relate with them I help them along in the life they want to carve out for themselves.
I know what it’s like to start on brokenness, and grow towards hope. Of all the compliments that my students have given me, one blesses me the most. In the last term, I asked my students what they had learnt most from my course, and one Myanmar student, a Shia Muslim, told me, without hesitation: “Hope!”
My students are eager to further their studies and I’m glad to do my small part to give them hope to do so.
If you would like to fully or partially sponsor one of my students or provide any other kind of financial aid, — which is their most urgent need — please contact me.