Through the Portal

by Neha Patel, Chair

This past week, I encountered a new portal.  On stepping through the portal, I met:

 . . . Seven teenagers preparing to take their first set of IGCSE exams, a step towards a brighter future, maybe;

. . . . A principal whose eyes are weary from the constant battle for resources and yet who dares to hope for the impossible and inspires her students to keep studying, despite an uncertain future;

. . .. A 70-year-old woman whose diminutive frame belies the strong spirit and enormous heart that fuels her fight for the stateless Rohingya refugees in Malaysia;

 . . . Dozens of children, boys in collared shirts and girls wearing a tudung, stealing glances at us with eager, curious eyes and shy smiles. 

I travelled through this portal when I crossed the border at Tuas and visited Cahaya Surya Bakti’s center in Johor Bahru. Cahaya Surya Bakti (CSB) is an NGO which runs five education centers plus an outreach program across Malaysia – tackling the impossible problem of educating the nearly 50,000 stateless Rohingya refugee children living within its borders. 

This year, PACE will be partnering with CSB to support its heroic efforts. Consistent with PACE’s mission to provide hope through education, UWCSEA’s mission and the UN Sustainability Goals of eradicating poverty – our hope is to support all CSB students who choose to pursue secondary education through scholarships and educational assistance programs. In the longer term, with the support of the UWCSEA community, our ultimate goal over the next few years will be to create a pathway for some of these students into the UWC Movement. In the interim, we will be offering many hands-on ways to get involved from bi-monthly volunteer opportunities, family service trips, teacher training workshops, student mentoring programs and more. 

In the coming months, I will be sharing with you the stories of the students, the teachers and the community behind CSB. Like any great story – there are villains and there are heroes. There are acts of bravery, acts of desperation, acts of kindness and acts of hope. At the heart of this story is the fundamental truth that education is the most powerful tool we have to alleviate poverty and suffering. For the Rohingya children, who have no passport, no ability to travel beyond the borders of their refuge country and no rights within their home country – education is the only portal to a future where they have a fighting chance. 

On the drive back from CSB last week – our car of PACE Board members was quietly contemplative. In one short visit, we witnessed heaps of courage, determination, deep respect for education and hope. We were grateful for the easy crossing at the border back to Singapore. Our unrestricted freedom to travel back and forth through this portal was not lost on us.