By Ivenathika Naranthiran
On a warm day in August, just as my internship with Circuit was ending, my boss dropped a surprise: a task to attend Oxy's 'We Care for Children' CSR project at SK Sungai Judah, a primary school for the Orang Asli students. And guess where? Pulau Carey. Liz, my quick-footed colleague, and I were both slated to go. Before we set out, Esther, another co-worker, recommended we fuel up at the Fox Hole restaurant. Hunger gnawed at our stomachs as we stepped in, but the meal, though decent, didn't quite match its price tag.
Liz's reputation as a Formula One driver wasn't exaggerated. She got us to our hotel in just an hour. Had it been me driving, it would have easily been a ninety-minute trip. Arriving at the hotel, the fatigue from the day settled in. My ongoing battle with insomnia made sleep elusive, especially when the room's air conditioning gave up on us. After some tinkering, the room cooled down, only for me to discover another challenge. Liz, nestled in her dreams, was grinding her teeth. With sheer determination, I managed to catch a few hours of sleep before the alarm blared at 4:30 a.m.
The journey to SK Sungai Judah was picturesque, with palm oil trees lining our path. The absence of typical urban sights—malls and clinics—was noticeable. Upon our arrival, the Orang Asli children welcomed us warmly with traditional headpieces and a heartwarming performance.
But the school, large enough for students from grades 1 to 6, seemed scarcely populated. I later learned from a teacher's address that this was one of their highest attendance days. It was made clear that many had transportation issues, although these were on the peninsula of Malaysia. Further, the children, she shared, gravitate more towards the arts than academics; therefore, it was easy for them to lose interest in academics. It made me ponder about the rigidity of our education system and how a more tailored approach, like many foreign countries have, might better serve these students.
As we left, the sight of children walking great distances to their homes stayed with me. One child, her eyes wide with curiosity, asked where I was from. My response, "KL," left her in awe, making her equate my origins to the affluence of Singapore. That innocent exchange was a humbling reminder. It taught me gratitude, making me recognise how often I'd taken my privileges for granted. What seemed far to me was a daily reality for these kids, whether going to school or a simple act like shopping.
At the end of the day, while Liz and I were in a silent drive, I thought, “This must be the farthest event of all yet a journey to gratitude."