Students from The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) are developing their leadership and management skills by running a series of education and healthcare workshops for indigenous Malaysian children living in a nearby Orang Asli village.
The workshops, set up in collaboration with AIESEC, the world’s largest student-led organisation, aim to engage with school children in Kampung Orang Asli Broga which is just a short drive from UNMC in Semenyih. The students are running a series of activities to improve the children’s health, their English and maths, and encourage them to remain in mainstream schooling.
Orang Asli are indigenous people of Malaysia who make up less than one per cent of the population. Many Orang Asli live in remote forest areas where levels of poverty are high and a third of children of primary school age do not move on to secondary school. Of those who do, nearly half leave before completing their schooling.
Currently a group of engineering students are giving up four evenings a week to visit the village which is the home to around 55 families of the Temuan tribe, one of 18 officially recognised Orang Asli tribes in Malaysia. Typically 20 children take part in the sessions which take place four evenings a week for around two hours.
The education sessions are held in the community hall. Through song, dance, nursery rhymes, drawing and some basic maths and English, the students are helping children between the ages of four and eight, while at the same time developing some of the skills they will need if they are to remain in full-time education.
Mechanical Engineering student Monil Tejani said: “We initially discovered that there is a huge gap in terms of education between students in urban areas and rural villages. A lot of the rural children enter the workforce a little bit too early and they do not recognise the importance of education. We have met with the Malaysian government’s Ministry of Rural Development to see how we could create a positive impact and help solve the problems that we see in villages like Broga.”
Yeang Ching is the Project Director for the Forward Project that focuses on providing education for Broga. Yeang Ching, together with her team successfully organised a pharmacy workshop during the summer holiday last year. She said: “We enjoy teaching the children English songs so they can learn the English words from the songs and actions. Our ultimate goal is that the children we teach will eventually enjoy teaching their younger siblings and friends and pass on their aspirations to study so that our project can move on to other villages.”
Students in the School of Pharmacy from both the UK and Malaysia campuses have also worked with the Orang Asli community. The health education aspects of their project were developed by pharmacy undergraduates with support from registered pharmacists in Malaysia. During the workshop, attended by around 30 children, they provided simple advice on basic hygiene – such as hand washing. There was also a session on oral hygiene together with demonstrations and practice sessions for the children in how to brush their teeth. Adult villagers were given the opportunity of health screening which consisted of a check of blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), lung function and blood glucose as well as advice on how to stop smoking.
Mukand Singh, a graduate of the School of Pharmacy at UNMC now working as a Sales Manager with Pfizer, was one of the students involved in the pharmacy workshop. He said: “When I came here to take part in this voluntary outreach project it was really nice to see something different because I am a city person and had never ventured into more rural parts of Malaysia. It is so great to see the happiness on the kids’ faces when we teach them. One time we even taught them how to brush their teeth and gave them toothbrushes as health and hygiene is also part of our remit.”
Financial support for the health education and screening activities was provided through a generous donation from the Masters Foundation, a UK-registered charity set up by pharmacy alumnus Mr Minhal Master.
Months of ground work took place before the projects were able to start. They have been established with the support of the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development (JAKOA) in Malaysia – the department responsible for the well-being of the Orang Asli community as well as village leaders.
The students plan to continue their work with the village and are planning longer term, sustainable interactions with the community. They want to help bridge the gap between local and mainstream schooling, foster an interest in learning and create a conducive environment for learning with the ultimate aim of helping create a literate young generation.
Dr Andrew Morris, Head of the School of Pharmacy at the Malaysia Campus, said: “These outreach projects not only benefit the Orang Asli villagers, but they are also extremely valuable for the Nottingham Pharmacy students who gain unique insight into the healthcare issues faced by millions of people around the world.
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