After my family left it was time for the commencement of the second round of camps, or as we call it here, Camp Season. As I’ve mentioned before all 100 ETAs are required to host two camps during their ten months in Malaysia. April and May were when the majority of us held our first ones, and August and September are the most popular time for the second. The camps, although fun and rewarding, dominate your weekends for months at a time. You want to be able to help out your fellow ETAs and meet new students, but you have to find a balance for the sake of your sanity. The three camps that I attended in August were an environmental camp at the world famous Taman Negara National Park, a women’s empowerment camp in Terengganu, and a lacrosse camp in Sabah, on the island of Borneo. For completely different reasons, these camps were the three best camps that I have attended.
Although the women’s empowerment camp was the second camp that I attended in August it will be the first that is mentioned in this post. I say this because it was the most influential and impactful program that I have been a part of during my time in Malaysia, and possibly in my entire life. It was conducted by all of the ETAs in Terengganu- there are 15 of us. We planned, organized, and carried out a 3-day-2-night camp for 120 female students. Each ETA’s school sent between 5-8 students to take part in this event. The planning process was strenuous and time-consuming. It didn’t help that we were trying to pull this off in a state where the English is limited. Thankfully we had teachers and principals helping us at every step of the way with things like reserving buses, and booking the resort where we were planning to stay. We were also fortunate to receive grants from the U.S. embassy and the JPN (education department) in Terengganu to really make this program something special. Some of the topics that we wanted to address with these young women were leadership, confidence, self-image, goal-setting, and many more. All of my fellow ETAs and I were solely responsible for creating all of these sessions and gathering the necessary materials. Looking back on it I can’t believe we were able to execute this camp with the success that we did. The impact and change were visible in all of the girls. The bonding that took place over the three days was monumental. I was so proud of my girls for stepping out of their comfort zones and allowing themselves to be vulnerable. I made countless new friends with other students, took more selfies than should be legally allowed, and left Anguilla Resort with a heart filled with emotion. One of the many jobs I had for this weekend was to be the photographer (paparazzi), and I took the photos and interviews that I held with ETAs and students, and created a short video to share with everyone.
Here is the link:
After reading the previous paragraph and watching the video it should be evident why that camp had to be first in the post. The weekend before, though, I attended a fantastic camp in Taman Negara hosted by my friend Miss Sabrina who lives in the Malaysian state of Pahang. Taman Negara had been on my list of places to visit in Malaysia and I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it until I found out about this camp. Taman Negara is the oldest rainforest in the world. As the rest of Malaysia is deforested for palm tree plantations, Taman Negara remains a place for unique wildlife and attracts visitors from all over the world. Miss Sabrina is also fortunate enough to have some great students, each with their own personality and a minimal fear of using English, which made working with them delightful. The activities for the camp were a canopy walk and boating. The canopy walk is highest one in the world (see the worldly theme here?). Although sturdiness was not its strong suit, with a tight grip on the ropes you were able to observe the jungle from a distinctive and encompassing perspective. Later in the day we were taken in boats out onto the river. The boats were narrow speedboats that the drivers would rock to and fro as we entered rapids and drive close enough that we could splash one another in neighboring boats. We stopped along one part of the river to take photos and have an impromptu water fight/wrestling match. I’m proud to say that it took about seven Malaysian boys to tackle me in the water. This was one of those camps where you leave thinking that this was the best day of those kids’ lives. Even with a drive of three and a half hours in each way, I was thrilled that I attended this camp.
The last camp that I went to in August was two-plane rides away on the island of Borneo. Just to give you a refresher, Malaysia is composed of eleven peninsular states, and two states on the island of Borneo: Sabah and Sarawak. Sabah is home to Mt. Kinabalu, which is the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia. Until the earthquake struck there a few months ago, many of us were planning on hiking it. The ETAs that I went to stay with live in Ranau, Sabah, situated picturesquely beneath the mountain. They have a stunning view from just outside their house. Another unique aspect of their placement is the student diversity. Sabah and Sarawak are home to Muslim Malays as well as Chinese Christians and Tribal people like Dhusun and Khundasan. I know that when the word ‘tribal’ is used it is immediately assumed that they wear headdresses, live in the jungle, and engage in witchcraft and sorcery. In fact these students were just like any other, although the females did not wear hijabs and they had their own language in addition to Malay. The camp itself was lacrosse themed. My friend Kelly coordinated with a newly formed organization called Lacrosse the World to have sticks and balls donated to her school. Elliot, the founder of this nonprofit, and his friend Samsun came from the U.S. and had been running clinics all week. I arrived on Saturday amazed at the progress they had made in just a few sessions. Aside from the surprising amount of eye-hand coordination (remember that soccer is the fan favorite here), what most impressed me was the enthusiasm. These kids had already developed a deep passion for the game. Right away after picking up my stick and throwing around I was in heaven. Many of you reading this know how much lacrosse has been a part of my life for so many years, and it was hard to believe I hadn’t touched a stick in 10 months. I spent the day teaching technique, encouraging competition, and instilling the lacrosse fervor that I know so well. The next day in Sabah five of us went for a two-hour hike in Mount Kinabalu National Park. The park boasts that it is the most bio-diverse in the world and judging from the density and array of vegetation that we saw I am not in a place to dispute that claim. To finish off my trip in Sabah we spent a night in the capital, Kota Kinabalu. With waterfront restaurants and even several vibrant bars and nightclubs it sure didn’t feel like the Malaysia that I called home. Even though I was looking forward to seeing my students after a long weekend, it was hard to leave that paradise.