The Jungle Teacher

18 May 2015 / 20:54 H.

    SITTING at his computer table in his teacher's quarters in SMK Katibas located in Song, Sarawak, teacher Jarod Yong replies to this email interview, all the while hoping that the limited and temperamental Wi-Fi at the school will hold up long enough for him to finish. Yong, 30, who hails from Kuching, has been teaching English at an isolated "jungle school" for the past seven years.
    Although it takes two separate boats from the town of Sibu to reach SMK Katibas, it has not stopped Yong from bringing in everything and everyone he possibly can to help his students. Be it scrounging up book donations or enticing motivational speakers to visit his students, anything he can possibly do, he does. Among the doors that opened to him due to his contributions to his field is the chance to pursue a Masters in Education in the United States come autumn after being awarded a Fulbright Graduate Study Grant. Although the thought of leaving his students is heart-wrenching, Yong feels that he will be able to make a far greater impact with the starting of his new endeavour.
    What drove you to pursue your calling to be a teacher?
    I stumbled upon my calling as a teacher. Believe it or not, my childhood ambition was to be a pilot; but I guess God had bigger plans for me.
    After SPM, I got a scholarship to pursue a teaching degree in New Zealand. I could have stayed there and made a pretty good living; but, there was something deep inside of me that wanted to give back to society. I believed from very early on that I had the ability to make a difference and I wanted to do that where I am needed the most, back in Malaysia.
    The children here are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, addiction, illiteracy and broken families, which deeply affects them. They are innocent and malleable. They trust you, the teacher, wholly and completely. Being able to wield such power humbles me and I have grown to love them. I hope to provide them with opportunities, and constantly attempt to build their characters and help them mentally break free of the confines of their circumstances.
    Teaching in the middle of the jungle, there are very limited resources and plenty of discomforts, like the lack of internet and phone reception, floods, blackouts, and water outages. I have learned to look outside of the school and think outside of the box when seeking resources and assistance. I have collected plenty of book donations from both concerned individuals and institutions. I have brought amazingly generous volunteers to my school who have paid their own way there to run shortterm programmes for my students.
    My efforts here in the jungle are the fruits of my vocation. It's tiring and it drains a lot from me emotionally, mentally and financially, but I have seen the difference it makes and it gives me a great sense of satisfaction.
    My dream as a teacher is for my students to work hard, grow up, and return to their homeland to make things better. I hope that the seeds I have planted in their hearts will turn them into champions of the community, to break all dependencies and be a self-sustaining people.
    I want them to be proud of where they've come from, to rise up and, in turn, uplift their community aswell as other communities in Sarawakand beyond.
    What advice would you give someone who is considering taking the same path?
    Our country needs teachers who are highly innovative and proactive. Our system may not reward you, in fact, you might get punished, so stand firm and remind yourself why you want to be a teacher in the first place. Decide whether you want to make a living or make a difference. You will not be condemned for choosing either. But, I can promise you that a slump always precedes a triumph. Be wise, strong, and willing to stand alone for what you believe in.
    In your opinion, what makes a teacher a great one?
    There is no gold standard to what makes a teacher a great one. Every teacher has a unique skill set and personality. The key is to find a way to meet the needs of their students in a way that only they can. Let all teachers be great teachers in their own right and in their own way. We need all kinds of teachers to reach out to all kinds of students.
    What is your most rewarding moment to date?
    I guess it is the same for most teachers: meeting a student years later and hearing them say that I made a difference in their lives. That never ceases to bring a smile to my face, and tears to my eyes.

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