Through The Urban Mapper Project, I believe I have made a genuine impact on a society in desperate need of attention; something I have failed to achieve on any of my other excursions. I deliberately searched for a project whereby I would be able to contribute to the growth and development of a community rather than one where I would simply improve a student’s English language. While the project didn’t quite meet my exact expectations with regard to urban planning and cultural mapping, I nonetheless believe it succeeded in providing me with a platform to change lives for the better. That I feel like my aspirations for my work in Malaysia were met is a testament to the amazing individuals I worked with, together with whom I believe we made an impact on those children’s lives.
What I did not anticipate however, was the extent of the influence that we as foreign students would possess over the children. It was only until the facilitators were sat around in a circle reflecting on a day’s workshop and it was expressed how much they look up to us when I realised the potential bearing we could have on their lives. We had the opportunity when working with the children to not only educate them about healthy eating and living, but to act as roles model, with the prospect of offering our guidance on issues beyond health and nutrition. One such issue we encountered was the segregation between races as well as genders. During our soft launch at the PPR it became apparent that there was a great deal of tension between the Malays and Indians, eventually cumulating in a scuffle between the two groups. While we never sought to unify all the children completely, by the final weekend of our workshops we were able to notice a significant shift in their attitudes towards working and playing together. Having researched Malaysia a little before setting off, one aspect that stuck me about the country was its unity. With Malays, Chinese, Indians and a host of minorities living together in close proximity it would be fair to describe Malaysia, at least the cities, as a cultural melting pot. The unity between these ethnicities is something that I greatly respected and appreciated about Malaysia and I am content that I was able to contribute in a minute way to preserving and promoting that.
Whilst the greatest impact from my time in Malaysia has been bestowed upon the children in the PPR, I too have developed as an individual more than I could have ever imagined. Working with a diverse group of students from all over the world has certainly been challenging. Fundamental to effective teamwork, communication has been the greatest test whilst working on the project. Whether it be during the planning process, deciding the best course of action to take, or during the workshops itself whilst collaborating with translators to convey our message to children who spoke little to no English, my communication skills have undoubtable progressed. In addition, cultural understanding was crucial for us to be able to set aside our differences to work towards a common goal. I have learned a great deal in that persons from other cultures possess different values and approach a task in a contrasting manner to my own. In order for us to work as a team we each had to accept that another’s method, while different, could be just as effective in aiding us to continue striving towards our collective objective. I now feel much more confident in working in a team with others; if I can effectively communicate and empathise with others from all different corners of the world, what should stop me cooperating with those I share the same culture and language as?
Undertaking this project in Malaysia has certainly been six of the best weeks of my life. I have learnt so much about myself as an individual, as well as what my strengths and weaknesses are and what I can bring to a team. I have met amazing people throughout my time here; people who have inspired me to grow and develop to be the best person I can be, and people who I’m sure will be life-long friends. The time I spent in Malaysia was incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. It truly was an unforgettable experience.