We want to build a better world, and we want to contribute to society
23 July 2021
Sam, the headteacher at Kachin Refugee Learning Centre works with her community to give back to society.
By Sam Htoi San Nhkum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
My name is Sam, and I am 45-years-old. I am the headteacher at the Kachin Refugee Learning Centre and a mother-figure to my students. Together with the teachers, I teach the students, manage the school and help their families with daily needs. We call ourselves the Kachin, and we are a minority ethnic group from Myanmar.
Over 12 years ago, I fled my homeland in Myanmar to escape the ongoing conflict there. If I had stayed there, I don’t know if I would still be alive today.
Before I escaped Myanmar, I lived a normal life. I did house chores. My husband and I used to own a small shop selling food and snacks. My husband also planted corn and other crops.
The day I left my home, I did not know that I would not return. I had gone to a clinic in the next village with my husband. While I was away, the army came looking for me.
When they couldn’t find me, they took all my belongings. And then, they burnt my house. People from my village rushed over to warn me. When I heard what happened, I was scared for my life. My husband and I decided there and then that we had to flee. We don’t know what would have happened if we stayed. So we borrowed money from friends and neighbours and escaped. By the grace of God, we arrived safely in Malaysia in 2008.
I feel safe here in Malaysia. When I first arrived, I worked in a restaurant kitchen for a year before joining the Kachin Refugee Learning Centre as a teacher.
Today we depend mostly on volunteer teachers for the secondary-level classes. All the teachers work together. We understand each other. We do not always have enough resources to cater to the older children who need more specialized classes for their exams. But whatever the problems, we go through it together. Even with all the struggles in keeping the school running, I am happy that the children are getting support.
Education is an important part of every child’s life. Without education, we will think differently, we will not have confidence, we will not know our rights.
Officially I teach, but unofficially, I also help the families in my community. Sometimes I go to the police station or hospital to help translate if someone needs it.
During the Movement Control Order (MCO) last year, all the families were suddenly confined at home. I remember receiving desperate phone calls from parents of my students who were fearful about not having food and not paying rent. I knew that I had to find a way to help. In times like this, we need to help each other.
I worked together with NGOs and donors to distribute food to 2,000 refugees around Klang Valley.
Together with a church, our community also raised over RM100,000 to help refugee families in need.
I was really touched by the support we got for the refugee community. So when the opportunity arose, I brought together some members of the refugee community to sew PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for Malaysian medical front-liners. We made over 10,000 head covers last year.
As refugees, we want to help others in society. We want to show Malaysians that we are thankful for their help.
I want to tell the world that we have refugee status, but we did not choose this. We have traumas already, but we also have hopes and dreams. We want to build a better world, and we want to contribute to society. We have the heart to help, just give us a chance.