My first task given by the Head of Programme was to teach the Part 1 Diploma students. She reminded me that I was about to teach a group of students who have no background in law at all, and they are still fresh from high school. I had to treat them like a piece of white canvass, and I was the one who had to paint pictures on that canvass.
The Head of Programme also told me not to expect much from them and it was going to be different from teaching real law students. These are the students who do not even know the difference between a plaintiff and a defendant, and would also not care much to learn about it;
especially when the only reason they were learning law was because it is compulsory for them to pass in order to receive their Diploma.
I went to the first class with a high level of anxiety that I could listen to my own heart beating. I started the class by introducing myself and asked them to do the same. After that, I proceeded to explain the topics that we were going to learn for that semester. All of them had taken down what I had written on the whiteboard and their eyes were glued to me with interest. “Wow, this is not as hard as it might seem”, I thought to myself. At least I could get their attention in class. Everything else would fall back on that.
Unfortunately, they started to reveal their true selves’ weeks later. I found out that language was a major barrier for them when understanding the lessons that I taught. Sometimes, I spent more time than I had planned to on just one topic. This was because I had to translate
every single word in the notes to them. There were times when I thought maybe I
was also an English Lecturer as well.
I had known for a fact that the results of these students before they had entered the university were not very outstanding. That was the reason why they were doing the course. Their grades for English was far from excellent. I knew I had to have more patience when dealing with
them. Apart from the language, they were very obedient students, always eager
to learn new things and would give me 110% of their attention in class.
I received an SMS one day from a student named Zin. He said that he was on his way to see me to ask me about something. He came to my office bringing his notes, a pen and a yellow highlighter.
“Miss, I am going to ask you something but please do not be angry”, he pleaded.
I looked at him blankly because I did not know what to expect. Then he asked me
the question that had him confused all this while, “Miss, what does law
actually mean? Does it have another word in Malay?”
I was stunned for a few seconds. I was not sure whether to laugh or be angry. I studied his face. I knew that he came from a rural area in East Malaysia, but he was also very proud of his roots. He was always telling me about his small village that he lived in. Whenever I asked
for volunteers to answer the tutorial questions in class, Zin’s hand would be the first one to shoot up. I told myself to give him a chance. It was clear from his face that he was not joking when he asked me to translate the word ‘law’ to Malay.
So I told him, “Zin, you are now in the university. There will be no spoon-feeding from the lecturers. As much as I want to help you translate everything, you must also help yourself first. Get yourself a dictionary. A simple one would do, and try to make your own notes”.
I showed him my own copy of the dictionary. It was my sister’s. She got it as a
gift from her school for getting the highest marks in Math.
One week later, I received another SMS from Zin to book a slot for consultation. Zin came to my room with a big smile, quite different from how he looked the first time he came to my office. He was excited over something and could not wait to tell me about it. “Miss, these are
the notes that I had prepared. Can you check it for me?”, Zin shoved the pile
of papers on my desk.
The papers contained the notes that I had given the students in class, but were all translated to the Malay language. Zin had taken my advice and bought himself a dictionary. Since his English was quite bad, he had translated every word in my notes so that he will understand
the lessons. By looking at the notes, I knew that it could not be a week’s
effort. So I asked him, “How long did you take to prepare all this? You came to
see me last week. You could not have finished all this within a week!”
Zin’s face brightened up. He said in a happy tone, “Yes, Miss. I took one week to prepare all that. Day and night. I only slept two hours per day until I had finished translating all your notes. I
really want to score this paper, Miss. So I did this before I can understand any of them. If you say that what I had translated is correct, then I will start reading them again, and this time I will try to understand them”.
I was taken aback. I had never seen someone so determined to get what he wants and was ready to put all barriers aside. Zin knew all along that his major problem was the language. He addressed this problem and did not let it be a hindrance for learning law; even though that
would mean getting only two hours of sleep at night. While his friends were out there gossiping, loitering around and wasting their time over something else, Zin chose to fix his quandary.
Zin was over the moon when I told him that he had done a good job translating the notes and may proceed to understand and memorise them. He came to my office frequently after that to ask me to check what he had translated throughout the semester. Sometimes, I would find him
seated on the floor in front of my office while waiting for me to come back from my class. He was so determined to excel in this subject.
His effort had paid off well. He got an A
for the paper. I was also very happy and smiled all the way while marking his
answer scripts. Zin had shown me what perseverance can do to humans. One young
boy, who did not even know the meaning of the word law at first, now has an
academic transcript that would show differently. Hard work had really paid off
Perseverance is a gift that you should give to yourself if you are in doubt. Whenever you feel like you are failing, just tell yourself to give it one more try. You would be surprised at what
persistency can do to your future. When you tell yourself over and over again ‘I will certainly not be taking no for an answer’, subconsciously you are also telling your mind to keep on going and not quit. Hold on to that. Always remember, we get to harvest what we had planted.
I was in front of the lobby at a hospital. My youngest brother was admitted because of diarrhoea so I rushed to the hospital after class. While waiting for the visiting hour to start, my phone vibrated, signalling that there was a new message in my inbox. This was how the
message read, “Miss, I just want to tell you that I have decided to quit my studies. I can no longer bear all the problems that I am having now. Money is an issue for me – Ed”.
This was the message from my student Ed. I know Ed because I taught his class for that semester and he was supposed to be in his Third Year of Diploma study. I was so shocked upon reading the message that I did not realise the guard had been calling the visitors to enter the
ward. The visiting hours had begun.
I replied to the message abruptly, asking him to come and see me in my office first thing tomorrow morning. After that, I quickly walked towards my brother’s ward while my mind was still thinking about Ed. At that moment, I felt that it would be a great loss for him if he chose to
quit his studies since he only has one more year to go before he graduates. I
stopped thinking about him when I saw my brother smiling at seeing me, and was
eyeing the plastic bag of fried chicken that I had brought.
Ed came to my office the next morning as promised. I asked him what was the problem that he was having, and whether there was anything I could do to help. Ed looked at me with teary eyes, “Miss, I really do not have any more money to pursue my studies. I still did not pay
the fees even though we are now in the seventh week of the semester.”
At that moment, the very first thing that came to my mind was where were his parents or maybe siblings. So I asked him about them. He replied,
“My father married two. After the second marriage, he never came home. My mother was left to fend for herself. All my siblings are already married so they have their own responsibilities now. I am the youngest and as a son, I feel that I should be taking care of my mother and not the
other way around.”
Ed told me that he no longer had any money left to continue his studies and when I asked him whether he had applied for the alms, he said yes. He explained to me that he could not use the money he received from the alms to pay for his fees as he needed it to cover his basic
requirements. In other words, he was using the money he received from the alms
to buy food.
When I further asked him about his condition, I had to admit that he was actually in a pretty bad situation. He told me about his experience completing his practical training the previous
semester. Ed related the story to me, “Before I go to work, I will eat whatever is prepared by my mother. I know that I will not get a glimpse of food again until the end of the evening”.
Ed continued, “At the office, when everybody is going out for lunch, I will pretend that I want to go perform my prayers first. Instead, I went to the toilet to sip the water from the tap. I
did not have any money to buy food. The only time I ate lunch was when my
supervisor offered to pay for it, so I would follow him.
I tried to hide my tears listening to his story so I pretended to organise my files while asking whether he had completed his practical training report. Ed told me that he completed his report while doing his practical. Since he seldom went out for lunch, that was when he gets
to use the computer, provided for the staff, to complete his report. It had to be done that way because there was also no money to pay if he decided to type his report at the cyber café.
I told Ed that I would try to help him by telling his story to the university. Perhaps they can try to assist in paying his fees. That would at least let him concentrate on his studies for that
semester. Other than that, there was nothing I could do apart from telling him to be patient and pray that everything would eventually turn out well. I also told him to quit as a last resort, only if there was really no other way to settle the financial problem.
A month after that I flew to Melbourne to continue my studies. Later, I heard from my colleague that he had completed his Diploma and was working with a company. I smiled when I heard the news. At least Ed has a Diploma now for him to fall back on in case anything ever
happened. He contacted me a few times when I was in Melbourne through Yahoo
Messenger. After that, my laptop was attacked by a virus and I lost all the contacts I had in Messenger, including Ed.
We always take things for granted when they are right there in front of us. How many of us actually had to sip water from the tap and yet thought that our problems supersede any other problems in the world? It is clearly a selfish act just to justify our whining. Whatever life
throws at us, Ed is proof that no matter how low you go in life, you must hold on tightly to whatever you have. Keep on praying that life will turn out just fine for you, and also for everybody else.
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