Mentor at YSEALIEduKL Regional Workshop

Last month, I had the privilege of participating my first YSEALI Regional Workshop, entitled "Empowering Southeast Asian Educators." Referred to as "YSEALIEduKL", the workshop was attended by more than 100 educators from all 11 nations in South East Asia. It was such an honor to represent Malaysia & Sarawak.

As a Malaysian alumni of a US Dept of State program, I was assigned the role of mentor to a team of 5 educators from 4 different ASEAN countries: Ary & Rizal from Indonesia, Billy from Laos, Elly from Vietnam, & Alfonz from the Philippines. During this workshop, we will design a Project-Based Learning unit applicable in all our contexts & pitch for funding at the end of the workshop. As a mentor, my role was to support them in achieving this goal.

= What is YSEALI? How Can I Join Too? =

The YSEALI Regional Workshop I participated in
YSEALI (pronounced "Wai-See-Lee") = Young South East Asian Leadership Initiative

"Launched in 2013, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) is the U.S. Department of State’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. Through a variety of programs and engagements, YSEALI seeks to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region, strengthen ties between the United States and Southeast Asia, and nurture an ASEAN community of leaders who work across borders to solve common issues."

YSEALI has Professional Fellow exchanges, Academic Fellow exchanges, Regional Workshops held in SEA, Grant Competitions for your initiatives, Online Courses featuring US professors, & useful videos from YSEALI Mentors. Sign up for updates on the latest programs here (look for the short & straightforward form on the right side of the page).

I encourage everyone to apply. You'll never know until you try. I certainly never expected to receive a Fulbright scholarship. I was just a small time school teacher in the middle of the rainforest. We often undervalue our work to our own detriment. An opportunity like this will catapult your effectiveness in your mission to make your nation a better place.

Note that you will be competing with motivated individuals from all over SEA. The YSEALIEduKL team went through 5000+ applications, of which only 1500+ were complete, before selecting the final 100 delegates. Remember: Read the instructions & tailor your application to meet them. Don't be like the 3500+ who submitted incomplete or irrelevant applications.

100 delegates from all 11 nations in South East Asia

= Shared Dabai Song With The World =

Steeping in hot water are the best Dabai in Malaysia: Dabai from Song, Sarawak
During YSEALIEduKL, I exposed the world to Song, Sarawak, through sharing the best of Sarawak's Dabai with delegates from SEA & beyond. Not to mention the many West Malaysians who had their very first dabai, despite some having worked or lived in Sarawak.

Best of all, Ambassador Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, the US ambassador to Malaysia, was adventurous enough to pick one up & pop it into her mouth, even though many of her US staff (understandably) politely declined. Guess what, she loved it! I challenged her to visit Song, Sarawak, one day.

Sarawak has so many wonderful hidden gems & the dabai is definitely a signature of our state. Why aren't our universities publishing papers about it? Why aren't we declaring it a heritage & marketing it to the world? We need to take pride in what we have, elevate our culture & our local produce, & show the world that bumi Kenyalang is like no other.

My late grandfather was a big fan & I inherited his love for dabai. The dabai is a fatty, creamy & pleasantly aromatic fruit, which tastes like avocados. I happened to be in Song before YSEALIEduKL so I knew that I had to bring some with me to share. The dabai from Song have thicker & sweeter flesh, which makes it the go-to of dabai connoisseurs.

Proud to be Sarawakian.

= Lunch With The US Ambassador =

Sitting across the table from US Ambassador Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir
What an honor to be named & introduced by the US Ambassador to Malaysia, Ambassador Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, during her speech at YSEALIEduKL &, later on, to have a seat near her during lunch.

There was completely no protocol. I actually waited for the embassy staff to sit down first or determine the seating, but no. Participants were invited to sit around her & even to move in closer as the staff either took the seats at the edges or stood at the sides.

Despite her position in society, we were able to interact with her like one would with a friend or peer. We shared personal stories & talked about social issues. She was very personable & frank. She even ate a dabai that I brought from Song, Sarawak. Clearly, she enjoyed our company as we kept chatting for hours & she had a glint in her eyes the entire time.

How refreshing. How I wish Malaysia had more leaders like this. Far too often, "program bersama rakyat" turns into "program angkat pemimpin". The only minister I've formally interacted with sans protocol is YB Kelvin Yii: MP of Kuching. I've also interacted cordially online with Dr Ong Kian Ming: MP of Bangi, & had casual conversations on long boat express rides with Datuk Alexander Nanta Linggi: MP of Kapit. The large majority of ministers I've come across were not friendly with commoners like myself.

= Me.reka Makerspace Visit =

Me.reka Makerspace at Publika, KL
As part of the workshop, we visited Me.reka Makerspace in KL. This was my first time at a makerspace. We learned about their history & the projects they're working on. They have a laser cutter, 3D printers, wood & metal tools, composting, plastic shredding, expertise, et cetera. This got me thinking of Sarawak. Wondering how our schools could collaborate with makerspaces like these. Which subjects will hands-on experiences enhance & bring new relevance to? PBL? IBL?

In Sarawak, we've got local talent like Nigel Sim of Chumbaka Makerspace in Kuching. They are running plenty of programs for the children in Kuching. What about the rest of Sarawak? How can we collaborate to help make next year's implementation of DLP at Sarawakian primary schools better? More impactful? More successful in learning outcomes?

= Petrosains Visit =

the magic of science!
I also visited Petrosains in KLCC for the first time with YSEALIEduKL & I actually had a lot of fun! It's a great place to learn about science through hands-on activities & games, rather than conventional passive exhibits.

Representing Sarawak, I competed with Mr muscle from Penang, Alex Lim of MyReaders. Sarawak surprisingly beat Penang 2-1. Boom! 3-layer belly beat tepu muscles. MyReaders is a social enterprise that aims to solve illiteracy amongst students, so far they've managed to help 4.5k+ children learn to read & developed a comprehensive & inclusive literacy toolkit. They also collaborate with schools, as well as conduct free reading classes in KL. If you're living in the Klang Valley, do volunteer to help a child read.

Will definitely come back to Petrosains with my children. I ready wish we had something equivalent in Sarawak, so that the children in Sarawak can experience the magic of science & fall in love with solving its mysteries.

= Petronas Twin Towers Skybridge Visit =

Was afraid of jumping too high, lest the bridge broke & I take a long plunge...
I also got to go up to the Skybridge of the Petronas Twin Towers for the first time with my YSEALIEduKL team. The highest Skybridge in the world in between the tallest twin towers in the world. Truly a marvel of engineering.

All I could think about when I was on top of the world was how lonely it was up there looking down on everybody. I wished that my wife & son were there with me. I felt so incomplete without them sharing that moment with me.

= The Pitch =

Playing with the rockets we made during one of the workshop sessions
At the end of the workshop, my YSEALIEduKL team pitched their PBL unit on Story Telling & preserving Oral Traditions for funding from a YSEALI panel.

Although, we did not win the grant, I believe my teammates experienced tremendous personal & professional growth. It's not easy to pitch within a limited time frame in front of an international audience while being judged & having had little time to prepare.

I wish Ary, Rizal, Billy, Alfonz, & Elly all the best & I hope to see them succeed & make a difference in the education system of their countries. I also hope to collaborate with them in the future.

= Post-YSEALI Collaboration: PostcardX =

Thanks to YSEALIEduKL, I now have access to more than 100 educators from all 11 countries in SEA
After the workshop, I found myself wondering, "what next?" We had a Whatsapp group formed for the workshop consisting of more than 100 educators from all 11 countries in SEA. I wanted to leverage this network for opportunities of collaboration in order to make learning English more relevant & engaging to my students at SMK Tabuan Jaya.

Also, wouldn't it be neat to be able to tell your principal, "Sir, you didn't let me go in vain. See? Got international activity for our students to join in order to develop their language skills & global awareness. Win-win. Let me go again in future, ya?"

I proposed a postcard exchange project between SEA countries: PostcardX. 17 educators from outside of Malaysia signed up. Excited to get this one rolling! Will write more about this project in another blog post.

Thank you, YSEALI, for recognizing my expertise as a "mentor" for your workshop. I hope I have lived up to your expectations. I apologise for my mistakes & offenses. I'm thankful for having contributed to educational transformation in South East Asia & I hope that I made Malaysia &, especially, Sarawak proud.

All photos at:

My mentor profile for YSEALIEduKL

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