Malaysia, I always thought of this country as an exotic place for a nice family or a romantic vacation. But the 'The Urban Mapping Project' introduced me to a different side of Malaysia, a side that I could relate to, the side that I really admire and appreciate about this country. The project was about mapping the food habits of the children in the PPR (A low cost housing area) of Kota Damansara and teaching them about healthy food habits and lifestyle through colors and art. During the project I worked with students from Indonesia, China, England and Egypt, the local committee members of AIESEC in Sunway and the representatives of Better Cities, UNDP Staff association and Friends of Kota Damansara.
In the past 6 weeks of this project, we had 6 individual engagements with the children in the PPR. Our main objective of these engagements was to make a positive impact in their lives. I believe that we succeeded to aware the children about healthy food habits and healthy lifestyle. But it was not an easy task. Every engagement took us hours of brainstorming, discussions and days of planning to present the complex topics like nutrition, consequences of unhealthy food, sugar, salt and lifestyle, etc in the simplest way for the children to remember and understand.
Before all of these engagements, there were plans and ideas that were accepted, rejected and modified. And that is when I learned to work collaboratively by accepting other people's views and opinions. It didn't matter if our opinions were not suitable or rejected, what mattered was that we shared them without the fear of rejection and skepticism. Our project constantly required us to open our minds and think creatively. In order to meet our goals, a classroom environment was the last thing we wanted. Therefore, we made sure that every new engagement was not a 'teaching day' for us but a 'learning day' for the children through coloring, games, charades, art and crafts, relay and a lot of examples. Language was a major barrier, but we together tackled it with patience and practice. Finally, we came up with the map of the PPR and mapped the favorite food stalls and shops around the area. In the process, we helped them to identify the healthy food alternatives available in the PPR that are affordable and comparatively healthier to consume.
By the end of the project, there were children who were consistent and enthusiastic until the very end. Racial and gender tensions among the children was a major concern, but things changed as the days progressed. One kid was holding the hand of another, no matter which background or gender they belonged to. The children's level of enthusiasm, corporation and especially their happy faces always encouraged me to work hard. The amount of determination and commitment of the team involved in the project always motivated me to work towards our end goal in the best possible way.
Throughout the project I learned as much as the children, but in a different way of course. For the first time in 20 years, I got to experience an international environment and the intercultural communication that my course books were talking about. I learned to adapt, compromise and accept. Before coming to Malaysia I knew it was an Islamic country, but little did I know about the living diversity and how people from three different racial backgrounds have been living together in peace.
My journey in Malaysia was full of learning, exploring, travelling and developing myself to be a better person. I am glad to be a THUMPER for all the things that I learned and all the beautiful people I got to meet, whom I now call my friends. I arrived in Malaysia as an exchange participant eager to learn new things from the people and the place, but I can proudly say that I am taking back so much more than what I had expected and choosing to be a part of this project has been one of the best decisions of my life.