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Being the elder brother

Philipp, Malaysia, 2009/10, weltwärts

Being the elder brother

My friends and family were saying a year in Asia would broaden my horizon. I was just 19 years old and did not know much about Malaysia. The British left this country in 1957. Today there are about 28 million people living in Malaysia. Malaysia is an Islamic country and there is still the Sharia-court. But Malaysia has also one of the worlds greatest ethnic and cultural diversities! There are about 54% Malays, 25% Chinese and 15% Indians. All those cultures had an influence on each other and one can find a unique variety of languages, religions, food and drinks, people and societies! When you cross the border to Malaysia you accept things you wouldn’t accept anywhere else! Here one single moment has the power to change your life for ever!

My arrival in Kuala Lumpur

Philipps Ankunft in Kuala Lumpur zu seinem AFS-Freiwilligendienst

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on August 6th 2009. The first weeks I spend with members of AFS Malaysia. As part of my arrival camp, I visited some tourist sites in KL, went out for dinner and I met my host family. They were rich, catholic Indians. My host dad had a leading position in a big investment bank, my host mum had her own little fashion business and they had three children aged 9, 11 and 12. They also had a full time maid from the Philippines. Having a maid is nothing special in Malaysia, most of the high class and middle class families have one. But most of them are Indonesians, only rich families can have a maid from the Philippines. While an Indonesian maid is often uneducated and can’t speak english and earns about 600 RM (150 Euro) a month, maids from the Philippines can speak english and are often better educated, that is why they earn about 1200 RM (300 Euro). Maids are treated unfairly and there is a lot of abuse happening! Since maids have a only few civil rights and there are a lot of conflicts between maids and their employers, some people call it the conflict about “Modern slavery”!

After a week in my host family I started to work. I was at work from 8am to 7pm and spend the evenings with my host family. At weekends I spend time with my host family, went to church with them on Sundays and met friends for lunch or dinner sometimes and at some weekends my organization organized special events. My host family were friendly people and we got along quite well, I thought. But in October 2009, after I spend 3 month in my host family, AFS Malaysia told me that my host family didn’t want to host me anymore. Asians have an indirect and unemotional conflict style. They don’t like to talk about problems openly and they don’t like confrontations. Though my host family never told me that they were unhappy with me, they showed it to me in different ways, e.g. they went on weekend trips leaving me alone at home or they went out for dinner without inviting me to join them. That is why I wasn’t surprised to hear that AFS Malaysia was searching for a new host family for me. They told me to wait until they found one and stay in my old host family till then. But I didn’t like the hypocritical atmosphere in the house and so I decided to move into a friends place.

A new home

For three weeks I stayed with friends before I found an apartment. The landlord was living there as well. He was a divorced chinese man in his 50s. I decided that sharing an apartment was better suited to my life-style. It was a nice, warm and comfortable apartment with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a balcony. It was part of a big Apartment Blog and therewas a swimming pool and a gym. There was an American lady living in the third room with us for three month, she was working in the same organization with me. I had a great time living there and if I return to KL for holidays one day, I will be staying there again! Getting to know the Asian food was one my greatest discoveries! In Malaysia you can eat Malay-, Chinese-, Western-, Vietnamese-, Thai-, Korean-, Japanese- and Indian food. No matter what your taste is like you will be amazed by the variety of restaurants in Kuala Lumpur! My favourite food was the home-cooked Indian dishes at my work place, the Aunties there made the best chicken curry on earth.

Work

Philipp fotografierte während seines Projektes eine Demo in Malaysia

"...in serving the best interests of children, we serve the best interests of all humanity." - Carol Bellamy

In August 2009, I started working at the WAO Child Care Centre (CCC). WAO is helping women who got victims by domestic violence, we are providing shelter for them in the Women’s Centre of WAO and give them legal advice, psychological help, food and a safe place to live at. There is also the Administrative Centre of WAO where some lawyers, journalists and volunteers organize the whole NGO. Often the mothers staying in the Women’s Centre are not able to take care of their children. Those children will be staying in the Child Care Centre of WAO. Most of them witnessed or experienced abuse at home and are traumatised. They are often very violent and scared of men. The children are living there, they go to school or kindergarden and there are volunteers coming to the CCC sometimes to teach them. I knew I was going to be here for one year and since I was the first male intern in the history of WAO, I knew I wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

Philipp arbeitete während seines AFS-Freiwilligendienstes in einem Projekt mit Kindern

When I started, I didn’t know what they were expecting from me and what my daily tasks would be. There were 15 children living at the CCC at that time. They were aged between three and 13 years old and with the exception of two Malay girls and one chinese boy they were all Indian. My host family for the first three months was Indian as well so I had a lot of exposure to Malaysian Indian culture. At the CCC, I ate with the children and their caregivers and soon, I fell in love with the spicy food! While playing games with the children I learned Bahasa Malaysia and some Tamil. My new name was ―Philipp Anʼné‖ (pronounced an-NAY) and it didn’t take long before I started to feel like a real ―older brother to all the lovely children.

Kindergarden teacher, private tutor and elder brother

My role at the CCC was kindergarden teacher, private tutor and elder brother, all rolled into one. I helped with homework, gave general knowledge lessons, calmed down children who were crying or fighting, participated in outdoor activities with them and helped (CCC supervisor) Auntie Mary (Selina) in the office. I soon became a member of Auntie Mary’s team. But the CCC wasn’t my only project. After my time living with my host family was up, I had to search for an apartment. The CCC became my refuge, the safe place I could go back to every day. I also travelled a lot and after each overseas trip, I was happy to return to the children and the Aunties. Of course, there were difficulties but I always found solutions and got a lot of support. The only real problem I encountered was motivating the children. I had to accept the fact that I could only make a small difference in the children’s lives. The children came to the CCC and we committed ourselves to them, teaching them to read and write, and also trying make them happy.

Der Freiwillige Philipp mit Kindern in Malaysia

But after a couple of months the children left to go back with their mother or moved to another home. I knew that the children would fall behind in their schoolwork and wouldn’t be able to catch up unless they were provided good support. Thus, it was always very sad to watch the children leave the CCC and to know that I couldn’t help them any more. Then new children came and I had to start all over again. But during my time at WAO, I learned a lot. Spending one year with the women and children, I learned from them and I’m sure I will be a better father and husband one day. I also learned so much about the various cultures, religions, mentalities and got interesting new perspectives on life. But most of all I learned the meaning of three words:

Responsibility

For the first time in my life, I was really responsible for someone. Once, I was alone with 15 children and had to make sure they didn’t kill each other nor burn down the house while playing with plastic toys!

Patience

Anyone who works with children knows how important patience is and for me, a German boy living in Asia, I learned what patience truly means.

Commitment

All non-govern-mental organisations are based on this and so is WAO. It is run by women who make their work their lives. I am talking about women like Auntie Mary, who has committed her life completely to the CCC and has spent 18 years taking care of so many children and mothers. I had a great time working at WAO and I’m looking forward to return one day!

Travelling

Philipp auf einem Berg in Malaysia während eines Ausflugs im Rahmen seines AFS-Freiwilligendienstes

At weekends I often visited different places in Malaysia. The bus tickets were cheap and so I took off Friday or Monday and travelled through Malaysia. When I had holidays I took the chance to visit other countries in South-East Asia. I saw a lot of beautiful places, ate delicious food and met a lot of interesting people!

In retrospect

My friends and family were right, this year in Asia did broaden my horizon! I learned so much about other cultures, religions, societies, countries, about children, mothers and women rights! I got to know myself and learned to appreciate my life! I learned to see the world out of a new perspective!

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust