FEATURE: A mission to educate refugee children

PETALING JAYA (The Star/ANN) - Heidy Quah and Andrea Prisha share their experiences teaching English to refugee children. 

One of Heidy Quah’s fondest memories as a young girl was attempting to sing a Chinese song at an old folks home.

Then a shy and timid seven-year-old, Quah was asked to sing by her mother during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

“I am a complete banana (a Chinese who does not speak Mandarin) and tone deaf.

“But it helped me be more aware that there are people out there who are less privileged than I am,” said the 23-year-old accountancy and finance student when met yesterday.

As a 17-year-old waiting to continue her higher studies, Quah and her best friend Andrea Prisha volunteered to teach English at a refugee centre.

“It was supposed to be something temporary but after volunteering, they (children) changed us so much.

“They taught us to shift our perspective and focus on how blessed we are.

“I mean, among peers, we always tend to compare what we don’t have but with the kids, it’s about what you have,” she said.

However, months later, Quah and Prisha were told that the school was closing down due to lack of funding.

Hearing this, they decided to find ways to raise funds for the school by selling home-made cookies door-to-door and turned to social media to create more awareness.

Support started to pour in and they raised enough funds to keep the school afloat for six months.

“Then we thought, why stop there? So, we set up an organisation with a proper bank account for transparency,” said Quah.

In 2012, Quah and Prisha established Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR) to raise awareness about refugees in Malaysia and empower children through education.

The organisation now runs 10 schools in the country, teaching refugee children internationally-recognised home school syllabus with the help of a few permanent teachers and volunteers.

“We also teach them personal development and leadership classes because we want them to understand their worth,” she added.

Last month, Quah received the 2017 Queen’s Young Leader Award, which celebrates young leaders aged 18 to 29 from Commonwealth countries who are transforming lives and communities.

“It was such an honour to receive the award from the Queen,” said Quah, adding that winning the award also gave RFTR a bigger platform.

“People are more supportive and the support has been increasing,” said Quah, who holds on to the motto “The purpose of life is a life of purpose”.