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Island Life: The kids and me

*A story written by Zuri Zain, teaching intern at the Perhentian Community & Conservation Project*

My name is Zuri Zain. I was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I then moved to the UK for school and lived there for just over six years. After I graduated from University a few months ago, I moved back to Malaysia and came here to Perhentian Island to volunteer as a teacher in a primary school for 2 months.

I have had some experience working with kids in the past back in the UK and KL, and I have to say that they are so different compared to the kampung (village) kids in Perhentian Island. For starters, the kids in the city (Eg: London and KL) are more reserved and conservative compared to the kampung kids. For example, if you meet a little boy/girl in the city for the first time, normally they will be shy and quiet. If you hang out with them for a little bit, they will start casually talking to you and you might even get a real conversation out of them. However, if you do that with the kids here in the kampung, they will immediately get very excited and start running around. They are hyper and excited all the time and are not afraid to climb all over you like a tree, even if they’ve only known you for less than 5 minutes. Of course I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m simply saying that comparing these kids to city kids is like comparing apples and oranges!

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The kids and I hanging out and playing in the Ecoteer house.

Every day after school, they will come over to the Ecoteer house and say “Can I come in please” by the door. This because we don’t allow them to come into the house unless it is asked in English. The younger kids wouldn’t know how to say it properly or even understand what it means, so they will end up saying something like “Cam I con em pliss”. After which I will then say in Malay, “OK, take a toy and please sit outside.” After 15 minutes, some of them will come to me and say “Kak Zuri, nak kertas” (Zuri, I want paper), and then I will get up and give them one paper each and some crayons. 10 minutes later they will then ask “Kak Zuri, nak gunting” (Zuri, I want scissors), then I will say “No!” or “Tak boleh!”. They love making a mess with bits of cut up paper everywhere and they don’t quite understand the concept of picking up rubbish yet. No matter how hard I try to teach them.. So this is what happens on a daily basis here in the Ecoteer House.

The thing that I find most obvious about these village kids’s attitude is that they are extremely loving, but at the same time mischievous (a very ‘interesting’ combination!). Whenever my colleagues or myself will go down to the shops (day or night), we will see kids running around and playing; some of them even have roller blades (I know right? Super fancy). Almost every kid I see whenever I walk around the village, will either give me a big “Hello!”, a hug or a high five. Some of the kids will also run up to me in major excitement and jump on me desperate for me to carry and cuddle them. This is something that I will never ever get to experience with the city kids.

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(Left) – Me teaching the kids in class. (Right) – Me demonstrating how to make bubbles to the kids (I still get climbed on even when I’m teaching).

Moving on to the after school classes where I teach 7 to 12 year olds 3 times a week. As much as I would love to give them a more structured class and syllabus, this would be very difficult to do, as the kids are full of energy and a have short attention span. Before every lesson I will have to come up with at least three topics (for each class) that I think the kids won’t get bored with. So it’s usually a mixture of games and learning.

I envy these kids. They seem to be having such a great childhood. They can go swimming and snorkelling whenever they want. Most of them I’ve seen have loving families that give them loads of attention and care. They also get to grow up in an environment where the people are super nice and accommodating to each other (unlike in the city where even nodding to acknowledge a stranger is an affront to personal space). Over here, everybody knows everybody and they look out for each other.

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(Left)- Hani, Hana and Luna showing off their kittens over to the Ecoteer house. (Right)- Najwa’s drawing for me.

The kids here honestly are the best. Sure they may be naughty about 99.9% of the time, and to be honest, there are some days when they are being so irritating that I run off to the Ecoteer Turtle House and hide there for a while (Hey, I’m still human! Hehe). But still, they have lots of charisma and character, I can never ever get bored with them and every day is an exciting opportunity. Personally, I think that the best feeling ever whilst I’ve been here it’s when I see them from afar and I can hear them calling out my name in such excitement. They run up towards me eager to give me the biggest hug and cuddle. Then they smile and laugh with happiness. Sometimes, they will come over and surprise me with flowers that they took from other people’s garden (oops!). Recently, three kids came over showing off their new born kittens! Also, when they do drawings, sometimes they will show it to me and quite often it will be a picture of a person or a heart shape saying “I love kak Zuri”.

Living in this village with these kids has been one of the best experience that I ever had. Being here with them makes me feel like I am the luckiest person in the world and it breaks my heart knowing that I will no longer be with them once I leave this island. They truly have made a huge impact in my life and they are definitely what I am going to miss the most when I leave this project.