Name of the intern: – Mukesh
Institute: – Indian School of Mines
Organization interned with: – Agathians Shelter Home
It is a big statement to make, but my experience as an intern in Agathians Shelter Home (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia) was nothing short of life-changing. It was one hell of an experience and the best six weeks of my life so far, undoubtedly. The internship came under the ‘Young Visionaries Project’ run by the AIESEC chapter there and the shelter home was associated with it.
My internship work involved:
- Teaching children of 5-17 years of age Science, Maths and English.
- Working towards improving the spoken English and communication skills of the children.
- Tracking and evaluating the progress of the children.
- Guiding the children in various contests and events.
It was an unpaid internship but the lodging, food and awesome experiences were sponsored by the NGO. The work was 6 hours a day, five days a week. To be very honest, I was quite apprehensive about the whole thing in the beginning because, firstly the internship was in ‘just an NGO’ and no MNC as such. Secondly, it was an unpaid internship. Obviously I had no inkling of what was going to happen in the next six weeks.
I worked in a team of 8 people, mostly undergraduate students, from 6 different countries. There were two girls from Indonesia, one from London, one from Latvia, another from Kazakhstan, one post graduate student from Germany and another two from Botswana and Holland. It was one hell of a multinational team and ‘cultural diversity’ did not remain just a word for me thereafter. We all had our own funny stories to tell from our native places and we shared them every night in a gathering. Mostly we taught and took care of the children together and hence developed a great rapport with each other. We even went for sight-seeing together over the weekends. The children at the shelter home were mostly orphans or single parent offspring. They were already attuned to the barrage of teachers coming from far off exotic places, because of the fact that the shelter home had had a long history of housing multi-national people (mostly university students) who were looking for some social service or work-experience, so there was never an issue of them getting bewildered by the sheer diversity in the group.
In fact the more I interacted with my fellow interns, the more I started getting the feeling that we all were quite same and had much more in common than just a single language. In fact the children never differentiated between a black, brown or a white teacher and were equally mischievous with all of us. Seems straight-forward enough but ended up teaching me the value of tolerance and respect for other cultures.
Another lesson in tolerance learnt : One of the interns was homosexual, who was great fun to work with and more than that, when I actually came to know about his orientation at the end of my internship, it hardly registered in my mind and I exclaimed “So…?”. Wow! From being someone who had all those negative perceptions about gays and lesbians I ended up exclaiming “So…?” Drastic change!
Now about the brand value of the shelter home: It was very popular among the participating chapters of AIESEC, a fact corroborated by the huge numbers of diverse people coming to the place every year. Also, it was a top-notch NGO of Malaysia (I did not know that Malaysia had a system of providing star ratings to various NGOs working there). It received huge amouns of sponsorships from the corporate sector, and there were parties sponsored by a KFC or a Dominos almost every week. There was no lack of funds and the shelter home ran on an annual cost of RM 18000. A rather disturbing observation that I made during my stay was that the living standards of the children in the shelter home were far superior to that of an average Indian university student or an average Indian child for that matter.
When you are having fun you end up contributing more than what you had hoped. This proved correct for me too. I was so awestruck by the magnificence of the music studio in which the children had their music lessons that I ended up learning to play the piano myself and eventually, I taught some of the children to play that too.
But the story will remain incomplete without me praising the country that is Malaysia! What an incredibly beautiful place and what hospitality. Right from the breath-taking sight of the Petronas Towers to the heaven like ambience of the Genting highlands, to the carnival-like atmosphere of the Times Square in Kuala Lumpur, absolutely mind-blowing. Although I lost my phone in a train during my stay there, even that could not dampen my spirits that had been aroused by the sheer beauty and orderliness of the whole place.
And the society there is a mix of modern and traditional, with the Malay population (mostly Muslims) living peacefully with the Chinese and the Indian population. It also dispelled the negative notions that I had about Muslim dominated nations. It was heartening to see Islamic Banking flourishing there, and benefiting the people. It was one of those examples which showed how religion and industry can work together for a common goal.
As is pretty evident, the internship that was supposed to be just a teaching job ended up being a cultural and social study of the Malaysian society as well. What more could I have possibly asked for? And when the date of departure came, I had a heavy heart. I did not want to go back. We all had become sort of a family and I was the 2nd one from the group of interns to leave. So naturally the emotions were a little high. And there I ended up surprising myself again, for a person who hates melodrama in the Hindi films more than the garbage on the streets, it was baffling to actually feel a lump in my throat while departing and I longed for a longer stay. Even the children were a little silent on the day and one of them, Tan Chee Keong, with whom I had become close friend was, actually started crying. It was very emotional departure indeed.
Today, when I recollect those experiences, the tom-yam dish that resembled eyeballs, the walk through clouds in Genting, the rain-dance with my fellow intern and friend Oksana, the sight of Kuala Lumpur through Petronas Towers, the mind-blowing singing session with my fellows and above all the smiling faces of the 35 innocent children of the Agathians Shelter Home, I get goosebumps. I feel like and they all occurred yesterday only. All in all the whole 6 week period is so deeply ingrained in my mind that I don’t think I would ever feel the same way for anything else in the same way again. Thank you AIESEC, thank you Agathians and thank you Malaysia! You will remain in my heart forever.
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