In April 2017 Ayana ran its first learning journey in Malaysia. In this guest blog post, Kirsty Southam and Bridie Cox, a couple of our participants share their personal accounts of this life-changing experience.
by Kirsty Southam
Whilst our Malaysia Immersion Program was a humid, difficult and tiring blessing, it has changed my life forever.
After two years of textbook and theoretical learning in the classroom, I was left disenchanted and disengaged with development as an area of study and as the field I had spent the past few years of my life planning to work it. Malaysia was the exact refresher I needed to remind me why I took an interest in development practice in the first place.
Through on the ground, practical and participation-based learning we travelled our way through Peninsula Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. We experienced and witnessed a range of social and environmental issues facing the country. I have never felt as capable, strong and fulfilled as I did in my time in Malaysia. I was completely engaged and captivated by the learning opportunities presented to me. Ayana had a way of handing me the resources and openings to learn and experience new things, while still giving me the power and pushing me to actively participate and utilise these opportunities in the ways that were most beneficial to me personally.
Despite being a self-acknowledged control freak, it wasn’t long before I developed complete trust for our trip leaders, Amy and Xuan. All activities, meetings and obstacles during our trip had such clear intention behind. The content and structure of our trip challenged and supported me, taking me further out of my comfort zone that I ever thought I could experience and l loved every second of it.
At the end of each day, no matter how tried or sweaty I was I was always looking forward to group discussions and debriefs about the activities we had undergone that day, an invaluable part of the trip was listening to and debating with the opinions and experiences of my peers.
My favourite part of the trip was definitely the wildlife and environmental side. Much to my own surprise, I was completely taken by the jungle environment and the creatures that call it home. As well as getting to learn about and be a part of the conservation work going on to preserve Malaysia’s uniquely diverse and magical ecosystems. I fell in love with Orangutans, Sun Bears, and even a giant centipede in Sabah – a place that I am hopeful I will one day have the chance to return to. I came away from my trip with direction in which I wanted to take my study, and eventually, my career.
I have now been reminded and re-energised to learn and contribute towards environmental conservation and the protection of wildlife. I am so happy and feel so fulfilled by my trip to Malaysia. It makes my heart feel so full to think about my time there, the relationships I built, and opportunities I took advantage of. Every day I strive to preserve the attitude I developed in Malaysia to try my absolute best at everything I can and aim to be present and attentive in my everyday life.
by Bridie Cox
I found myself constantly experiencing new things, whether that be culturally, with the call to prayer floating on the air at sunset from the local mosques, food (durian has… a unique taste), or simply meeting so many interesting people. All of this change could be a little overwhelming at times, but luckily my small group of peers were incredibly supportive of each other, and our tour leaders were very patient with us and inspired us to push ourselves.
Our meetings with the development practitioners were invaluable learning experiences – the scale and variety of organisations we had the opportunity to meet with was fantastic, from the world renown (UNHCR), to well established within Malaysia (Forever Sabah/LEAP), to community based organisations (PACOS). What I loved about touring with Ayana Journeys was the debrief sessions at the end of each day of meetings, to discuss and share in a respectful and engaging way what we learnt from each organisation and our thoughts and opinions on them. It really helped to see other people’s points of view on topics that you might not normally feel comfortable discussing.
I particularly enjoyed our meetings with organisations – many of them grassroots community organisations – working to help champion the rights of indigenous peoples in Malaysia. Having the opportunity to compare and contrast the issues and attitudes facing Orang Asli and Asal with that of Indigenous Aborigines in Australia was incredibly educational – being able to participate in the two very different homestays and engage in dialogue with them directly about their problems and solutions was eye-opening, and I felt very privileged to have had those experiences.
My favourite activities we participated in were with the various environmentally focused groups we got to meet and work with. Doing our part to replant a small section of rainforest along the banks of the Kinabatangan in a rainstorm, with the cries of proboscis monkeys across the riverbank from us, felt like a dream. Swimming with sea turtles on my first ever snorkelling expedition in the Perhentians, and then participating in turtle patrol at night along the sandy white beaches to protect any eggs from poachers, underneath a blanket of stars, is something that I will never forget.
I learned so much on my trip about how development works in the field and obstacles that organisations face to do the work they need to do. I met with so many incredibly driven and passionate people, working tirelessly for their causes and keen to teach us about the projects closest to their hearts. And I have thousands of fantastic memories of the many people, places, and experiences I was lucky enough to meet and have while on immersion.