Monday, January 31, 2011

Penan Pre-Schools

Such a simple wish... Educational toys and posters and spelling books...

Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:02 AM
Keruah Usit

“Many of the children honestly love to learn. They’re the ones who keep pushing me to teach them, I’m not the one trying to push them to learn,” said Amelia Balan, the teacher in the brand new pre-school in the small Penan settlement of Long Item.

“Some of them learnt their ‘A to Z’ and ’1 to 10′ within a week of starting pre-school. They like playing with the books with their friends. They’re comfortable in the new pre-school, especially the little boys, who enjoy teasing the girls,” she went on with a smile.

Amelia is only 19, a recent Form Five graduate. But she is confident, and affectionate, with the small children in her care. Her pre-school has been open barely a month, and she has 23 children attending classes Mondays to Fridays, aged between four and six.

“Attendance has been very good throughout January,” she says with some pride.

“The children are used to calling me Cikgu (teacher) now. I teach them discipline too, but that’s not difficult, a few of them are a bit stubborn, but mostly they’re good. When I did my training in town, it was really hard to get the children there to listen!” she laughs.

Language barrier

Cikgu and her young wards talk to one another in Penan and Malay, and she teaches them using books, posters, simple toys and games.

She hopes to overcome the handicaps faced by most new Penan children entering Primary One – a language barrier, and a lack of basic literacy. These handicaps usually mean they are left behind their classmates from Day One, and many give up.

The pre-schools also serve to get the children accustomed to being in classes.

This may later lessen the children’s crippling sense of homesickness, once they leave home to enroll in primary schools in Long Kevok, Long Luteng or Long Lama. The boarding schools are all hours away by bumpy four-wheel-drive rides, or days away on foot.

Mina Jivai, the mother of two children in a boarding secondary school in Long Lama, nearly four hours’ drive away, welcomes the new pre-school in Long Item.

Penan children are often blamed for leaving school, she explains, but the twin obstacles of transportation and the high cost of sending the children to school are the main reasons children stay away.

Amelia and Mina’s home village, Long Item, has 15 boys and girls enrolled in the pre-school, while Long Liwok has four, Long Kabeng has three and Long Kawi has one. The children from the other villages stay with relatives or family friends in Long Item.

Long Item is a neat village of 80 families, nestled along the curve of a shallow river. The river, studded with smooth boulders and lined by ancient rainforests, is where the children bathe, and where their mothers wash clothes and draw water for the kitchens.

Amelia, her sister and her girlfriends are obviously close to the children. They walk hand in hand, laughing together and leaning on one another, as they skip across the rocks, beside the river.

Building bridges

Two new pre-schools in Long Item and Long Pakan have won over children and parents alike in these settlements, as well as from surrounding villages. The pre-schools have been entirely funded by contributions from well-wishers all over Malaysia.

The KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Halls have spearheaded a fund-raising drive to keep the two pre-schools going for at least two years, with high hopes of making the effort sustainable.

“This is ‘building bridges’, in the truest sense, between different parts of the country, between different ethnic groups… people support (these pre-schools) because they want to do something about the neglect and injustice faced by the Penans,” one volunteer educationist told Malaysiakini.

Both Long Pakan and Long Item have established Village Education Committees to oversee the running of the pre-schools.

Handeru Selamat Di (right), 19, is Amelia’s cousin, and her counterpart in the new pre-school in Long Pakan. He has taken in 20 pre-schoolers, and is seeking to build up the library and posters for the children.

“I still need more reading and spelling books, and also some badminton racquets and a net,” Handeru says.

“The children could also use some educational toys, like simple jigsaw puzzles with letters of the alphabet on them.”

Isolated and neglected

Long Item was at the epicentre of a sex abuse scandal that burst across the pages of the national newspapers over the past 14 months.

According to reports from the government ministry of women’s development, as well as NGO coalition the Penan Support Group (PSG), loggers have taken advantage of their access to isolated and neglected Penan villages, to rape young schoolgirls hitching rides on timber company vehicles.

The PSG has said that state support empowers these logging companies and subjugates the Penans. Local Penan villagers say the loggers are taking away the Penans’ forests and their land – and sometimes even their daughters, by abducting young girls to timber camps and sexually abusing them.

State ministers have poured scorn on the Penans’ complaints to the press and the national women’s ministry. The government has taken no action to withdraw loggers from these lucrative timber concessions, and the police have failed to indict a single rapist.

Calls from civil society to the state government to address the skewed balance of power have been fruitless. The PSG has failed to persuade the authorities to provide free transport to and from boarding schools.

Instead, the logging companies haverefused Penan villagers rides on their logging vehicles. Local headmen say this move is a form of retaliation against the villagers for drawing the world’s attention to the reports of rape.

But a promising start is evident in Long Item and Long Pakan.

“We want to keep the pre-schools going,” Amelia said. “The younger children, even those only around four years old, can learn their alphabet fast… but they tend to forget their lessons when they aren’t at pre-school. We keep hoping we’ll be even more successful in the future.”

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This Is How Much You Mean To Me

When, as a child, you are abandoned by a parent - there's such an empty feeling inside your heart of hurt and betrayal. And inside you, your own self-worth and self-esteem of who you are takes hard knocks.

It is as if your parent had said, "This is what you mean to me... This is how much you're worth to me... Nothing."

And you carry on with life, with that empty bubble inside you... That hollowness that never gets filled.

Seeking desperately for love... But afraid of love... Not daring to let anyone in to hurt you again.

Until the day comes, when you stand at the Cross and see Jesus hanging on the Cross... His sacrifice, the price paid, for YOU!

That's when you feel the Father's arms around you, holding you safe and tight... And you'll hear His voice, whispering in your ear, "This is what you mean to Me... This is how much I think you're worth... Everything."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Have A Dream

I have a dream.

I dream that there will arise a generation of young people in the world who will choose to live lives of justice, righteousness and service.

I dream that this generation will rise up to say, "I denounce corruption. I believe in change." and will strive with all their hearts, minds and bodies to make that change become reality.

I dream that this generation will look at the messed-up families of their backgrounds and will say, "The family that I will create with my husband/ wife will be different. My children will not suffer what I have suffered because I will not pass down the same mistakes of my parents." And they will have the strength of will to do so.

I dream that this generation will not keep their heads tied to their office desks, working to eke out a living that is just for themselves, but they will ask themselves, "How can I make a difference in someone else's life? How can I ensure that what I do will impact the world so that others around me will receive the opportunities, the chances, the amenities that I take for granted so that poverty can be eradicated in my generation?"

People may say that I am a dreamer. But I believe it is possible.

And when I look around at the young people of today, I see so much that tells me this dream can come true - in THIS generation.

Asian University for Women

When Marina Mahathir came to RACTAR, she mentioned about this University. The Asian University for Women located in Bangladesh is for promising young women from disadvantaged communities or socio-economic backgrounds who are the first in their families to go to University.

It is so exciting... what a wonderful opportunity for young women from these communities. I loved reading about her trip there. (Read about it here ---> From Silkworms to Butterflies)

If only the youths from the Homes knew to grasp and fight for the opportunities that life gives ever so once in a while.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


By: Hillsong United
Hide me now
Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

When I can't quiet the storm any longer, it is then You hold me... and I can rest.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Second Chance

The applications for this year's CampVision participants from Malaysia are flowing in.

Last weekend, I thought a lot about the youths who come to CampVision from Singapore and Malaysia.

I know who are the ones who will be sent in from Malaysia - the cream of the crop. Malaysian orphanages will choose their brightest 'stars'... the best behaved, the ones with the most potential, the most likely to succeed.

On Saturday, we had an Amazing Race in CampVision Singapore. The youths who turned up were a wonderful mixture. There were youths who had tattoos, youths who had got into trouble, one boy punched the glass doors of a building when their team did not win...

Those are the youths in CampVision from Singapore.

They don't need to run a race to be accepted. They don't have to be the best. They don't need to eat all their green vegetables (okay, I'm just joking!). They don't have to curry up to their social workers.

They have to just be.

Isn't that what it should all be about? That just because YOU ARE, you can come in and join?

And because you do, you've been given a chance. You can choose to take it, or you can choose to drop it. It's up to you.

But in the CampVision experience, you're going to be given love. You're going to be given attention. You're going to be given tools to move on in your life.

You may not succeed this time... some of the youths don't. But you'll have another chance, next year. You'll be welcomed back.

It doesn't matter that you failed this time.

So what should I do for this year's selection? Tell the Malaysian Homes that "I want your worst kids?" :> And would I, by doing so, deprive kids who just need that one push to succeed, of an experience of a lifetime?

Or should I just wait and see, trusting that the right person will be chosen for camp, because that's just the way God works in people's lives?

I think I'll just trust Him.

Because I don't know the truth behind the masks. But He does.

And one powerful truth that God taught me years ago was, "Gillian, I love him/ her more than you do."

And because I know He does... I can let go.

Schools in East Malaysia

I am going to be splendidly naive... how can it be, that my country, in the 21st century, still has kids who have to travel at least 3 hours by four wheel drive to secondary school?!

How can it be, that we have kids failing their standard 6 exam and dropping out?!

We're not some backward, undeveloped country! We're Malaysia! We have KLIA and KLCC and Putrajaya... and we can't even afford to build a school up to at least Form 5 near to the longhouses so that kids don't have to travel so far (and get raped!) and board at the schools instead of living at home?!

I travelled hundreds of miles to a remote village in the mountains of India to serve at a little primary school ... and those children don't even have to travel THIS FAR to go to secondary school :(.

Friday January 8, 2010
Education Ministry to set up secondary school at settlement in Ulu Baram
Story and photo by STEPHEN THEN
MIRI: Long Bedian, a remote settlement in Ulu Baram with a population of 1,000, will soon have a lower secondary school in its vicinity.

The Education Ministry has approved the construction of a secondary school in Long Bedian to offer Form One to Form Three classes, said Deputy Minister Dr Mohd Puad Zarkasi.

Long Bedian, located seven hours by timber road from Miri, already has a primary school.

The ministry will build extra blocks for the school to be upgraded and offer the lower secondary classes.

Students who pass the PMR will proceed to higher secondary classes at bigger villages like Long Lama (100km away) and Marudi (250km away).

Dr Puad made the announcement during his visit to Long Bedian early this week.

He flew in with Telang Usan assemblyman Lihan Jok and State Education Department officials to perform a simple ceremony to begin construction of the lower secondary school.

“The ministry wants to ensure that as many students as possible in the remote areas be given opportunities to continue their education to as high a level as possible.

“We don’t want to see students dropping out of school after Year Six,’’ he said.

The move would be especially beneficial to the Penans, because the drop-out rate in this minority community was very high, he added.

Previous statistics showed that more than half of the Penan students left school after Year Six.

They would end up trying to make a living the way their parents did, like hunting, fishing and doing subsistence farming, he said.

Lihan said there were 15 Penan longhouses in the vicinity of Long Bedian and at least 300 children of school-going age in the villages.

The school would have boarding facilities to accommodate 300 students, he added.

Long Bedian is connected to Miri by a timber road that snakes through logging concession territories.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Children of Kenya

Have been thinking about Christine Phang's children in Kenya lately as I develop the program for Expedition Agape Malaysia. How I wish it were possible to bring this program to them. Who knows - maybe it will be possible! I can pass the outline of the program to Christine anyway, so that she can bring it to Kenya.

But the resources? Who will fund the program and who will run it?

I wonder if the youths in Singapore know how very, very, very blessed they are to have CampVision and Expedition Agape. When I share about EA to Malaysians, they all go "Wow! That's so great! It's a wonderful opportunity!" etc. etc. Some have already said they want to help out :>... it's just so inspirational, and they want to be part of it.

6 months of EA = 6 months of love. It's enough to change a life.

The Lord's Resistance Army Hunts Children in Sudan

Malaysia, WAKE UP!!

*sigh*... I give fair warning... this is going to be a 'rant' blog... so those who do not want to read rants, please read above or below, but not this post.

Lately the newspapers have been full of a children's Home in Penang who is 'under investigation' for allegations of sexual abuse.

I know the Home. I've volunteered in that Home. I know the other Home that may fall under investigation too. I've also volunteered in that other Home.

Yes, I knew that there were incidences of sexual abuse. YES, I KNEW!

Why didn't I report it? Report what? To whom?

These were incidences of sexual abuse that happened by volunteers and by older kids in the Home.

In the case of volunteers, they stop the volunteers from volunteering.

In the case of older kids, at best, they tell the kids it's wrong and stop it (my preferred method, btw). At worst, they expel the kids.

The kids move on to another Home (figure it out, people... they are AT a Home because they can't go home! Duh!). In the new Home, there are new predators amongst the older kids, and new victims amongst the younger kids.

And so the cycle goes on.

Pretending that it doesn't happen, is not the solution.

Pretending that it is an isolated case by an isolated kid, is not the solution.

For goodness sakes, Malaysia, provide counselling for these kids before the ticking time-bombs of hurt and rejection and abuse inside them explodes!! Don't expect the kids to heal themselves just because they are in a Home!

What do you think - they're going to absorb love by osmosis?! Love from whom? The House Mothers and Wardens are too busy, too tired and often too untrained, to provide love!

From volunteers? Yeah, those people who come in once in a while and who oft times don't come back at all?

From their families? The same people who dumped them in the Home because they don't want the responsibility of taking care of them in the first place?

*haihz* When will Malaysia WAKE UP and stop pretending this problem doesn't exist? :(

Article in the Star

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I contacted JumbleStation about a bed that I wanted to donate.

Really love the whole concept of JumbleStation - it's a shop that takes in second-hand goods to help single mothers and their children.

The founder, Mary Anne, was put into an orphanage herself when she was a little girl after her mom ran away from her father who was always gambling. She tried going home but she would be starving when she did.

After Form 5, she left the orphanage and started her own independent working life. Through many hardships, she travelled... and reached the point on her journey when she set up JumbleStation to help others. Because she knew what pain was like, she helped others to come out from pain.

I think that's the beautiful part that never fails to awe me... seeing and having the privilege to meet amazing people who have gone through so much, and instead of sitting and wallowing in their own misery, standing up to help others coming along behind in the same journey.

JumbleStation's blog address:-

Monday, January 17, 2011

Life in the Garbage Dumps

This is where my little girl from Manila lives... actually my two little girls, and one is not so little anymore :>... I've sponsored her to today, a mature young lady of college-age.

A Journey of Faith

Last Saturday, I had a wedding dinner to attend and Cybercare's first volunteer gathering for the first time in years on the same night.

Iewi and Sarine were so sweet - they offered to present on the programmes on my behalf. But since most of the current/ new programmes being offered were under me, I felt I had to be there for a while anyway and do the presentations.

Oh, it was funny seeing the looks on the potential volunteers' faces when I told them about the volunteer requirement under Expedition Agape! Their eyes popped out!

Setting up Expedition Agape is such a journey of faith. You start with absolutely nothing, and piece by piece, bit by bit, it builds up until suddenly, there you are on the Expedition with everything fallen into place, and the road ahead is clear to completion.

But at the beginning... my, it looks so hopeless! I HAVE friends who will commit to the kind of volunteer schedule that EA demands... and none of them are in Kuala Lumpur >.
There is just such a sense though that this journey is safe in the Master's hand... and I can trust Him to work it out.

And.... I'm seriously thinking about how to set-up Expedition Agape in Indonesia too... I think it'd be so great for the street kids there, don't you all think so? ;>

Telling them about CampVision's camp, Journey Continues...

Expedition Agape...

And showing the video on Expedition Agape 2010

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Divine Destiny

:> Just thinking... isn't it amazing, when you know that you know that you know, you are working according to a Great Plan made before you were born?

Isn't it awesome and humbling to know that God made you to make a good difference in this world?

I don't say that with pride and haughtiness, because I believe EVERYONE is made to make a good and great difference in this world.

But along the way, some people get hurt and sad and bitter and angry... and they lose their way. They choose to live a lower way, a selfish way, because they're so afraid of losing what they have, that they hold on to it extra tightly. They don't believe God will take care of them anymore, nor that He has a beautiful plan for their life.

What made it different for me... Hmmm...I guess, I've lost some things that made me realise how transient life is? I would say I don't value life, but that wouldn't be quite right, really, because I do... I love life.... but it doesn't matter to me anymore?

I think people matter more than anything else in this whole world! People are so beautiful, inside. The wonder of a person just awes me.

It is not difficult to serve a person... it is a privilege. I am so, so blessed... and somedays, I feel as if I'm flying on wings because I'm just so very happy :>.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


The youths really know how to melt our hearts! :> Yesterday I got this from one of the youths in EA called Umi...

"Gillian, I don't how t thank you any further. You're just right beside every youths that's demoralizing especially! You amazed me w your words and how you handle us. Thank you so much Gillian! ♥"

Awwiesssss.... ♥♥♥!!!

Recording it here so that whenever I have one of those days when I want to give up in despair because I don't think I make a difference, I can re-read her words and remember that, I may not see it - but yeap, just by caring, I do make a diff♥!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tak Pernah Sendiri

by UX Band

Verse 1 :
Saat kau jatuh dan terluka
Hidup hampa kau rasa
Jangan pernah takut dan menyerah
Kar’na Aku pernah merasakannya

Chorus :
Buluh yang patah terkulai
Takkan pernah dipatahkan
Sumbu yang pudar nyalanya
Takkan pernah dipadamkan
Sadarilah bahwa kau takkan pernah sendiri
Ada Yesus yang s’lalu peduli

Verse 2 :
Saat kau sendiri menanti
Harapan yang tak pasti
Janganlah kau bimbang menjalani
Kar’na semua pernah Aku lalui

Bridge :
Tuhan tak pernah tinggalkan
Dia s’lalu perhatikan


Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh WOW!!!!!!

I felt so happy today, I didn't know why... it was just the joy that volunteering brings, and knowing that God loves me, my friends and extended family love me... and just knowing that I'm living in this beautiful country called Malaysia and having a job to go to.... just little things made me feel so, so happy.

And this morning, I opened Facebook and...


One of the things I idly thought about when I was thinking about EA Malaysia was that I wanted to make it fun for the youths by having them kayak down the river in Sarawak... then they would have more chance to see other tribes in Sarawak rather than just being based in one place.

And Chew, one of the Cybercare volunteers, has come up with Kayaking For Humanity!!! She has initiated an Expedition doing kayaking down the rivers of Sarawak and community service down the river!!

She knows about EA Malaysia as she offered to submit my proposal to Ministry of Youth and Sports for me. But she had no idea about the kayaking idea and that our ideas were the same.

I am so so so so so so so so so beyond excited!!!!! Thank you God!!!!!!

(Joanne and Rebecca, I am SO booking you gals for Expedition Agape Malaysia!!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The God Who Sees

God, be my Vindicator today... Be the One who sees. Nobody else can see the sorrows, the times of grief, the struggles, but You. And You, just You are enough. Knowing that You know, is enough.

I can go through the trials if You go with me, but I can't go alone. I can live my utmost for Your highest if You are with me, but I can't do it alone.

You be my Vindicator, Lord. You are the God who sees! Surely You know. And I... I can carry on with You, knowing You care and You will carry me when I can't go on. Surely You are my faithful God, forever.

Thank You, Lord
For the trials that come my way
In that way I can grow each day
As I let You lead
And I thank You, Lord
For the patience those trials bring
In that process of growing
I can learn to care

But it goes against the way
I am to put my human nature down
And let the Spirit take control of all I do
'Cause when those trials come
My human nature shouts the thing to do
And God's soft prompting
Can be easily ignored

And I thank You, Lord
for the victory that growing brings
In surrender of everything
Life is so worth while
And I thank You, Lord
That when everything's put in place
In front I can see Your face
And it's there You belong

A friend asked me yesterday, "Who are your close friends?" The true answer, God, is that You are the closest Friend I ever had or will ever have - because You are the only One who hears the voice without words and sees the heart without the images.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Energy needed urgently!

Last night, I thought - the Team from Expedition Agape have made one overseas trip... I've probably made a dozen :>. Well, quite literally - after all, I do cross the sea! *lols*

I'm physically very tired... I really hope March and April are quieter months as from May onwards, the pace will be relentless again.

In May alone, the outing with the Timor Leste girls AND the Hello-Goodbye camp for the youths in the Journey Continues Malaysia program will take place.

June will be CampVision.

July, we start Expedition Agape Malaysia (hopefully! >.<) and Journey Continues Malaysia all over again.

And on and on and on until February 2011...

God, grant me Your strength and supernatural power!

:> On the one hand, I may feel physically very tired... on the other hand, I'm so excited at the new possibilities! I am really looking forward to bringing the programmes to the Malaysian youths... More grateful than I can say to CampVision and Expedition Agape and Cybercare for all the training, guidance and support that makes the progs possible!

Maiti Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) -- Geeta was 9 when she began wearing makeup, staying up until 2 a.m. and having sex with as many as 60 men a day.

"I used to be really sad and frustrated with what was happening in my life," she said.

The daughter of Nepalese peasant farmers, Geeta -- now 26 -- had been sold to a brothel in India by a member of her extended family. The family member had duped Geeta's visually impaired mother into believing her daughter would get work at a clothing company in Nepal.

"The brothel where I was ... there [were] many customers coming in every day. The owner used to verbally abuse us, and if we didn't comply, [she] would start beating us with wires, rods and hot spoons."

It was not until Geeta was 14 that a police officer rescued her and brought her to a safe house compound run by Anuradha Koirala. The 61-year-old woman and her group, Maiti Nepal, have been fighting for more than 16 years to rescue and rehabilitate thousands of Nepal's sex trafficking victims.

"Families are tricked all the time," said Koirala. "The trafficking of the girls is done by people who are basically known to the girls, who can lure them from the village by telling them they are getting a nice job. It's a lucrative business."

By raiding brothels, patrolling the India-Nepal border and providing safe shelter and support services, Koirala and Maiti Nepal have helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 12,000 Nepali women and girls since 1993.

According to the U.S. State Department, some 10,000 to 15,000 women and girls from Nepal are trafficked to India and then sexually exploited each year.

Koirala's own history in an abusive relationship led her to her crusade. For most of her young adulthood, she taught primary school English in Nepal. But when her relationship took a violent turn, her life's "purpose and responsibility completely changed," she said.

"Every day, there was battering. And then I had three miscarriages that I think [were] from the beating. It was very difficult because I didn't know in those days where to go and report [it], who to ... talk to."

After the relationship ended, Koirala used a portion of her $100 monthly salary to start a small retail shop to employ and support displaced victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence.

By the early 1990s, an increasing demand for help and persistent cases of violence against women compelled Koirala to do more. Maiti Nepal was her brainchild for giving voice, legal defense and rehabilitation to victims of sex trafficking.

Roughly translated, Maiti means "Mother's Home." The group has facilities throughout Nepal and India, but most of the rehabilitation work takes place at its main campus in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Koirala said girls from the brothels arrive empty-handed, sick, in many cases pregnant or with small children, and "psychologically broken."

"When the girl first comes to Maiti Nepal, we never, never ask them a question. We just let them [be] for as long as they need. We let them play, dance, walk, talk to a friend," Koirala said. "They are afraid at first, but eventually they will talk to us on their own."

The group also takes in rape and domestic violence survivors, as well as abandoned children.

"I cannot say no to anybody," Koirala said. "Everybody comes to Maiti Nepal."

Accommodating its population of close to 400 women and children requires a large staff of teachers, counselors and medical personnel -- and dozens of bunk beds. Many of the staff are sex trafficking survivors now committed to helping rehabilitate other girls. The work is funded by grants and donations from around the world.

Post-rescue recovery is comprehensive. Maiti Nepal provides medical treatment, psychological and legal counseling, formal court filings and criminal prosecution, all for free.

While some of the girls are able to return to their families, many of them -- particularly those with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases -- become socially stigmatized and are no longer welcome in their home communities. For these girls, Maiti Nepal becomes their new, and possibly last, home. A hospice on the compound's grounds houses terminally ill patients.

"The hardest part for me is to see a girl dying or coming back with different diseases at an [age] when she should be out frolicking," Koirala said. "That's what fuels me to work harder."

The group's ultimate goal is to help girls become economically independent and reintegrated into society.

"We try to give them whatever work they want to do, whatever training they want to do, because when you're economically empowered, people forget everything. People even forget [she is] HIV-positive or was trafficked," Koirala said.

Koirala and at least 50 trafficking survivors also participate in what she calls social preventive work outside the campus. Their community awareness camps educate families in rural villages and city slums about the dangers of sex trafficking, and a daily patrol at crossing points along the India-Nepal border successfully rescues an average of four Nepali girls a day.

"Our girls are border guards who have been trafficked themselves. They easily recognize a girl that is being trafficked or will be trafficked," Koirala said. "The girls need no motivation from me. They know the horrors of the brothel, and they are here to save their sisters."

Some girls who are trafficked choose to remain prostitutes for life because their home villages will not accept them. But Koirala says that among those rescued by Maiti Nepal, there isn't a single case when a girl has returned back to the streets.

Geeta's recovery is one of the group's success stories. Today, she works at Maiti Nepal as a peer educator and also helps with the group's awareness camps. She credits Koirala and Maiti Nepal for the strength to keep living and the confidence to join the fight against sex trafficking.

"Anuradha is a hero. ... She's courageous," Geeta said. "She gave me my faith back. ... If Maiti Nepal wasn't there for me, I would be dead by now."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Journey 7

Christmas Party

The Christmas party was magical!

Imagine creating a Christmas party up in the mountains with no Christmas tree, no Santa Claus, no carols and a bunch of kids who've never even heard of a celebration called 'Christmas'.

The Christmas committee had to work really hard to pull this off!

Bright and much earlier than usual, we began our trek down the mountain. Skipping and hopping as fast as we could, we made it to the school in just about an hour!

The Team quickly broke into groups - the boys lugged benches down to the playground, blew balloons and hung Christmas decorations high-up where the kids would not be able to pull them down.

The girls opened boxes and packages and sorted out new school bags, sweaters, gloves, exercise books, stationery and foodstuffs for all the kids.

Running to and fro, we raced against the clock, as the children would arrive at ten and we wanted everything ready before they arrived.

As soon as children arrived, they were put into different teams. The teams set in alloted places on the school benches, kids and youths and adults all jumbled up together. New faces came as the kids from a local private school also joined in the fun and goodies.

Since we were restless, my group started... "Group 3 bomb! Group 3 bomb! Group 3 bomb to Group 1 bomb!" It was a treat to see the Kolakham kids join in with gusto!

At 10a.m., our MC's for the day, Nina and Nuraini, welcomed everyone to the Christmas Party.

First, were the speeches. The Headmaster gave a speech to explain about Christmas to the kids. Then Serene had a chance to say thank you to the school for allowing us to come in and join them for the wonderful two weeks.

Then, games, of course! Our first game was passing the parcel Our young translators, students from the private school, helped to explain the game to the kids. As soon as the music started, the kids picked up the idea quickly and were soon grabbing and throwing and giggling like mad!

When the music stopped (always at a Kolakham kid's turn!), the kids had to go in front and perform a penalty for everyone. The children were shy, but they were sporting anyway, and got a prize for their bravery!

When the game ended, the boys had a turn to shine with a hip-hop OMG dance! Why is it called OMG dance? Probably because when you watch it, you'll definitely say 'oh-my-gawd!!'

Christmas tree decorating time! But there's no Christmas tree....? So we drew them instead! Three huge vanguard sheets of paper were pasted on the wall and the three groups were given a mish-mash of tinsel, wrapping paper, balloons, straws... 1-2-3... and DECORATE!!

Wow, the kids are creative!

The girls prepared a Malay dance, complete with selendang, for their item. Nuraini had drilled them over and over again in hours of patient practise... and it paid off! The dance was beautiful!

And the teachers and Headmaster of the school had their 'star' moment too! With a Nepali dance that the adult volunteers joined in!

Time was running fast, so we brought out appreciation boards that the adult volunteers had prepared to distribute to the headmaster, teachers, our guide, and all who had supported us up in the lodge.

And for every child... a card with their photo in it decorated on the outside with their name by one of the Team members. How the children's faces lit up!

So, what is Christmas without gifts? The children lined up, and we gave out the bags with all the presents inside. The children were so excited, running to the side of the playground as soon as they received their schoolbags filled to the brim with presents and dug through their bags.

The little ones pulled out the chocolate and biscuits, tore off the wrappings and started chewing right away... Older kids pulled out the gloves and socks and stared at them and tried them on. It was pure magic!

We gave them some time to go through the things, and then taught the children...

CampVision dance! "Everybody needs...a little something" warbled Vanessa Amorosi and the dust flew all over the playground as the children followed our shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, hop! shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, hop! through the familiar steps!

And one more time - "Waka waka! It's time for A-fri-ka!" ... this time, the KIDS leading, and our youths following their steps!

Lunch was extra-special, as the lodge we stayed at generously donated lunch for free. Supplemented with the food cooked by the teachers, it was a real treat for the children, even though their mouths were still sticky with chocolate and snacks!

Then... a surprise for us! Chairs were laid out and benches and we were invited to sit on them. Hmmm....??

The Headmaster gave a speech to say thank you to us and to say that he hoped we would come back to the school one day. Then he gave a word of instruction and...

The children opened their bags, dug into their pockets, and took out beautiful garlands of flowers that they had prepared for us. All the children came forward like floodwaters and went to the adults and the youths and hung the garlands over our necks.

The tears flowed from the eyes of almost all the Team members, as the simple loving gesture of the children of Kolakham village, and the realisation that we had touched their hearts too, and that it was now time to say goodbye, overwhelmed us.

Serene gave a farewell speech (through her tears! :>) and then it was time for everyone to give final goodbye hugs.

The youths and adults each sought children whom they had bonded so close with over the two weeks... giving hugs and receiving hugs and high-fives from the tinies (who had no idea what was going on!)...

But what surprised us was when the children, too, started to cry. The children clung to the youths and did not want to let go as they hugged them goodbye...

It took quite a long, long time, and even then, it was with wet faces, before youths and children could separate to give farewell waves goodbye as the children slowly left the school.

We took a photo with the new school extension - all ready after two weeks! - and then started on our trek home.

More children than ever escorted us as we began our trek up the mountain back to our lodge for our final night before leaving Kolakham Village.

"What's the secret?"

:> Last night, we had Cybercare committee meeting. I laid out the plans and progress that Sam and I had come up with for Journey Continues Malaysia and Expedition Agape Malaysia.

When I told Yuk Wai about the heavy commitment required from volunteers for Expedition Agape, he shook his head and said, "You'd better do a volunteer rotation. You'll never get volunteers to commit to that kind of schedule."

I told him, "It IS possible! EA 2010 volunteers were THAT committed - and they gave 100% every week even in their own free time."

He just shook his head in amazement, said "Wow!" and, "Can you ask them: Why were they so committed? Find out - what is the secret? Is it the 3 days camp?"

And I told him, "No... in fact, most of them haven't attended the 3 days camp before!"

"Then, what is it? Is it the Singaporean kiasu spirit?"

"No... because 2008 Expedition volunteers were not THAT committed!"

"Then what is it? Ask them, find out, and let us know - what was the secret? We also need to have volunteers like that!"

*lols*!! I think, I've already spent 6 months in CampVision trying to find out, What is their secret that the whole camp experience is 'magical' and our youths tell us, "This is the best camp we've ever attended!"... now I have more secrets to find out! :>

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Timor Leste refugees

Oh.... tremendously excited! The lady who started the Home for the Timor Leste refugees has agreed to let them have the joint outing with the RACTAR girls in May!

I met up with Samantha last night to discuss the rest of the year's JC activities... and of course, to discuss about EA Malaysia!

We made quite a few adjustments to the plan DOWNWARDS eg.'no need so long'... 'no need so many people'etc. etc.! ;>

I think Sam feels quite intimidated by the size of the project! But we both agreed, we wouldn't be any LESS scared by delaying it a year or two, so the only way to progress is to take the plunge!

Monday, January 3, 2011

JC program in Malaysia

I am tired today! I couldn't sleep because my mind was circling round and round thinking of the activities for the RACTAR girls for the rest of their Journey Continues.

Something which really excites me is the possibility that Marina Mahathir brought up - of having an outing of my RACTAR girls with the war orphans from Timor Leste who are here in Malacca.

I've written to the lady who takes care of the girls - I hope she agrees! Meanwhile, my girls have already started planning the program they will conduct with the Timor Leste girls. I'm sure it'll be a wonderful time for both groups, and I'm so happy for all of the girls to have this chance.

The RACTAR girls were pushing for a night's stay in Malacca, but I reminded them we are having a 2 day 1 night camp in June anyway. TWO one-night stints is just a bit too much for me! >.<

And of course, thinking and thinking of whether or not to do Expedition Agape in Malaysia this year or to wait! I'm so tempted in my pell-mell way to rush right into it!

I know I'll need to speak to the Education Minister. Then I want to link up with the youths conducting Teach For Malaysia and see if I can lobby for them to teach in the school if we do build schools in East Malaysia under EA Malaysia.

The whole year stretches ahead with so much to do... but God, let it be YOUR will that takes first place!

Where do You want me to go? One thing is for sure - it's a dizzying, wild, wonderful ride through life on Your wings!

Greatest Love of All

When I was young, and this song first came out, I couldn't grasp it quite. It was a beautiful song, but I never really understood it... what it meant...

But the song replayed in my mind one day as I was trekking in the mountains towards the end of the Journey... As I looked at the youths in EA with love and joy at their growth and new-found self-belief and confidence...

I finally understood how important it was to grow children and build them up from inside. From there, they can stand strong and become the beautiful tall strong trees God always meant them to be.

Greatest Love of All
by Whitney Houston

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride
To make it easier
Let the children's laughter
Remind us how we used to be

Everybody's searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfil that need
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I'll have lived as I believed
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity

Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
Learning to love yourself
Is the greatest love of all