By Lindsey Luo

Lindsey Luo and family volunteered at Pondok Iskul, Omadal for 3 days where they shared their knowledge and culture with Iskul students and the students shared theirs with them. Lindsey and family helped Iskul in many ways such as bringing educational items, Lego and assisting with our inventory system. Below is a short recap by Lindsey of the family’s experience at Iskul.

We went to Omadal on July 17th, 2022 and stayed there for 2 nights and 3 days. It was very interesting for me because I had never done something similar before. My family and I went on the trip so we could help a school called Iskul located there. Iskul is a non-profit school in Malaysia founded by Chuah Ee Chia to provide basic education to stateless children. Some of their ancestors were sea gypsies, and some were refugees from the Philippines. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, they missed Malaysia’s citizenship registration in 1969, so now they are stateless. Without documents, these children are stuck in Omadal and can’t enroll in any public schools.

We got to the island by a speedboat, and the first thing I noticed was the quality of the houses. All of them seemed very old, and they were built on top of the water. The school seemed like one of the better quality buildings, but it wasn’t like the buildings in mainland Malaysia. The school building was a lot smaller, and it was made out of planks of wood that had wallpaper on top. The second thing I noticed was how many people were in the water. A lot of the younger kids weren’t wearing clothes, and they were rowing boats, boogie boarding, playing volleyball, and running around. 

The weather at Omadal wasn’t too hot, but it was pretty warm. During the days we were there, there was no rain. My mom told me that when it rained, people would put buckets out so they could use the rainwater for showering and drinking because they didn’t have a clean water system. In fact, the water we used to wash ourselves was rainwater.

When we passed by the school’s window in the boat, some kids poked their heads out and waved at us. We waved back, and when we climbed up the ladder we saw the kids in the main room each drawing a dot-to-dot mouse. After the teacher gathered everyone into the main room, we introduced ourselves. The kids were asking us questions like our names, age, and where we came from. Soon after, the school was dismissed. A few kids stayed behind so the teachers could tend to some wounds that they had on their bodies. Later, the teachers explained that since Omadal had no clinics, the students and their families went to the teachers for medical help.

We stayed behind to help sweep and mop the floor. We also cleaned some pipes with holes in it that were used to grow plants. My cousin helped the teacher remove old plant sprouts from some sponges and put in new ones. Jefry, the main teacher, told us that the plants were used for science projects, but they were also used for food for the students. My mom and I helped with inventory tracking by putting stickers with special numbers and words on objects around the classroom. When my brother and I were finished helping, we went down the ladder and into the ocean, and looked at sea cucumbers, starfish, and sea urchins inside. The tide was low during that time so the water was only up to our calves. We also watched two boys playing a game of volleyball in the water. Their makeshift net was a string tied between two poles that Iskul was built on.

The place we stayed in was owned by a person who had identification, unlike most of the people on the island. He was allowed to leave the island since he had documents, while others had no choice but to stay. His house had water and some electricity, which the other people couldn’t afford. 

At night, my family was surprised by how dark it was outside. We were so used to seeing city lights. 

On the second day at Omadal, my brother and I showed two presentations that we made to the kids. The first one was called Around the World, and the second one was called Marine Environment Protection. The students in Iskul didn’t know any places besides Malaysia, so we taught them about continents, seasons, and animals that lived in different countries. The kids seemed very curious and excited to learn about new places. The students participated a lot and learned very quickly. The teacher would translate the words and have the students answer questions he asked.

A lot of goats lived near the house we stayed at, so one day, I ripped leaves off a tree and fed them to a goat and its baby. Soon, about 3 or 4 goats noticed and came to eat from my hands. Sometimes, they fought over the food and headbutted each other with their horns. There were also some kids running around and playing volleyball outside. Two of them lured dogs into a square of closed fence and hosted dogfights. It was entertaining to me, but I worried the dogs might try to bite the kids once they were let out. The kids asked for our names, but we couldn’t communicate well because they didn’t know a lot of English.

Before my trip to Omadal, I was skeptical about going because teaching was new to me and I was nervous about the lack of clean water and electricity there. But when it was time to leave, I sat in our boat and looked at all the kids waving at us. I thought, “I would really like to come back to Omadal someday!” This trip was a rewarding experience for me, and I felt grateful that we could offer to support Iskul.

There are many ways you can help Iskul. You can help spread the word by sharing Iskul’s blogs or videos on social media, because the more that the world knows about Iskul, the more people who can potentially help the school. You can also donate money to help fundraise or donate items for the teachers. Another option is volunteering at Iskul by teaching the students or cleaning up the classroom. With your help, Iskul can get a clean water supply, a good sewage system, healthcare, and education.