For the past three years, the SEE Project has enabled students from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to teach in schools in Fiji. A grant from QUT’s Short Term Outward Mobility Program (STOMP) in 2014 created a new opportunity. For the first time, QUT students could work side by side with students from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) in a Malaysian school to deliver classroom activities using ICT. On paper, it looked all good. However, to transform such an idea into reality is a different story. We were very grateful to team up with Dr. Siti Suriawati Isa from the Department of Recreation and Ecotourism in the Faculty of Forestry at UPM. She played a significant role in putting together the Malaysian component of our project. Also, we were on a shoestring budget – Dr. Siti was able to connect with other partners (including UPM and the State Government of Pahang) who were very generous in supporting students from both universities. Here Dr. Siti reflects on some of her initiatives and challenges.
I was very excited when I learned about the proposed outreach project to Malaysia. The prospect of UPM and QUT staff and students working together was exhilarating. This would be the first time my alma mater would have such program with UPM in Malaysia. As a QUT alumnus, I always wanted to work closely with QUT and connect them with my university. My field of expertise is tourism. It is a multidisciplinary field. The SEE Project adopted a cross-faculty approach in their projects in Fiji with great success. I was convinced that my students and I could add a trans-national dimension to the cross faulty approach. This would enrich the experiences of both the QUT and UPM participants in a unique way.
The planning of project started as soon as I got a confirmation from Graeme Baguley, QUT International Student Services Manager. Graeme was my former boss at QUT when I worked as a casual staff at the QUT Accommodation Office. We were a good team in those days, and I was looking forward to working with him again.
Choosing the venue for our project was a bit tricky as I had to make sure that all the requirements of the project were addressed. My strong connections with a few people enabled me to choose the right primary school for the project. While gaining approval from the school at Sekolah Kebangsaan Temai, Pekan, Pahang was easy, I also had to get approval from other parties since all schools in Malaysia are under the jurisdiction of the Malaysian Ministry of Education. I also decided to include the State Government of Pahang in this project since this would be the first time QUT staff and students were coming to their state. I wanted the QUT participants to experience the Malaysian culture and also have the opportunity to visit some interesting tourist attractions. I also wanted these tourism destinations to be different from what Australia offers. Though the arrangements and planning took a lot of my energy and time, I enjoyed doing it because deep down inside I felt that this project would benefit many people and will also provide me with a great experience.
Community development work has always been very close to my heart. This was probably another reason I was excited about this project. At SK Temai, 60% of the students are Malay and 40% of Orang Asli background. Finding a school with high Orang Asli enrollment was personally satisfying. The Orang Asli community around the school comes from the Jakun tribe who live at Kampung Permatang Siput, located approximately 15 km from the school. The Jakun tribe are considered to be the most advanced in the Malaysian peninsular. While they maintain their traditional culture and lifestyle in many ways, they have also been very progressive.This is also reflected in the students at the school. Over the past 20 years, the school has maintained an excellent record of graduates of Orang Asli background. I firmly believe that the Orang Asli children, particularly at SK Temai, have the potential to succeed if they get the right exposure and opportunity. With the mix of university students from Australia and Malaysia – this project had the potential to present some good role models to the children at SK Temai.
Dealing with school related issues was one challenge. Another significant hurdle was that the budget for the project was limited. I had to come up with feasible options to ensure that everything was doable at a minimal cost. I was glad that my faculty and university were very supportive and provided financial assistance to cover some of the expenses. A few weeks before the QUT participants arrived I managed to secure two dinners that were sponsored by the Office of the Chief Minister of Pahang, YAB – Dato’ Sri DiRaja Hj Andan Yaakob and the Chairman of Tourism and Culture Pahang – YB. Dato’ Sri Hj. Mohd. Sharkar Hj. Shamsudin. The local representative of Bebar in the Pekan parliament – YB. Mohammad Fakhruddin Mohd. Ariff helped identify between 10-15 families from the local community to be our ‘foster parents’ for one night. Everything was planned and looked good for our QUT guests who were to arrive on the second day of Eidul Adha celebration when most of the Malaysians would be on leave. Nevertheless, my students and I were so excited to become the hosts for the QUT participants that we went through our final checklist two days before their arrival day.
QUT participants arrived at KLIA on the 25 September via Singapore. In the morning, I was told by the Sultan Idris Shah Forest Education Centre (SISFEC) staff (where all the participants were supposed to stay for two nights) that they had issues with electricity supply in the buildings that were meant to accommodate the participants. However, they promised that the problem was temporary and would be rectified before the group arrived. The issue was not resolved because most of the staff were still on Eidul Adha leave. My team and I, including our students, had to come up with a quick backup plan. I was quite nervous to inform our guests from QUT about this problem. I knew that they would be tired from their long flight. While my team at SISFEC did their best to deal with this issue, I organized another group to welcome our guests at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport arrival hall. All of our QUT guests finally came out at about 11 pm, and we took them for supper at a “Mamak” Restaurant that was close to SISFEC. One of the reasons I took them for supper was to give time to my team at SISFEC to execute our backup plan for our guests’ accommodation. I could see that our guests had a great time. They seemed to have enjoyed the Malaysian cuisine. I still didn’t tell them about the problem at SISFEC. However, I did share with Graeme the challenge that we were to face in the next step. Both of us agreed to hold back the news until we reached SISFEC. Our solution was to put all the QUT participants in the hall. A temporary wall separated males and females.
In the morning of the next day, Graeme told me QUT participants were happy sleeping inside the hall because of the air conditioning. There were no mosquitoes either. So it was like first class camping. They requested to stay there until they checked out the next day which was perfectly fine with us. I smile each time I think about our stay at SISFEC. In a way it made all of us become closer together because we went through this unexpected experience together. Well done to all and I’m so proud of all participants who were so awesome in facing difficult times together and supported each other until the end. We are one great team indeed UPM and QUT.