Supporting the vaccination of refugees in Malaysia
Chika Kumashiro-Wilms tells how a simple question asked at school led to a major logistical effort to assist with the vaccination of some refugee communities in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
According to UNHCR records, there are over 46,600 registered refugees under the age of 18 in Malaysia and since March 2020 when Malaysia first began its strict pandemic lockdown, we had been particularly aware of those in need, including the refugee communities.
Sometimes change starts by asking a simple question. “How can we get our refugee community partners vaccinated against COVID?” My colleague, co-coordinating the High School Service and Sustainability Programme, sent this question in an email to the Administration of The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) in Malaysia. As the country has been making rapid progress with the vaccination of adults and teenagers, my colleague conveyed the concern from our community partnership club advisors who heard that their partner refugee learning centres needed help securing vaccination appointments for their students. With the support of relevant authorities, we found the answer!
In late September 2021, ISKL was selected as the first international school Vaccination Centre in Kuala Lumpur and designated to serve private and international schools in the area. Our gym was transformed into a clinic with the capacity to administer around 1,000 vaccinations a day.
The wheels were put in motion to find a way to support our community partners. Over the next few days, more than 60 emails were exchanged and the school’s operational and administrative departments took swift actions to secure vaccination appointments for them. In the process, we heard that their friends and other associated groups were also in need of help due to some technical processes. In the end, over 600 eligible students aged 12 to 17 years old from over 15 different NGOs and refugee learning centres in Kuala Lumpur got their appointments to receive their Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine.
The students hailed from a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicities. In addition to mitigating the risk of COVID infection, being vaccinated also meant that many students were able to resume in-person classes after a very long period of online learning and in some cases, no learning at all.
Mr. Mang Pi, Head Teacher of the Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR) Learning Centre which supports around 250 students, expressed their appreciation, “ACR Learning Center immensely appreciates giving the chance to ACR students to get vaccinated which we had been eagerly waiting for. There was a cordial welcome and a wholehearted service while at the ISKL, and so was the smooth transportation. Now they can finally be back to physical classes.”
It takes a village
With students coming from all over Kuala Lumpur, some groups asked for help with transportation. ISKL’s bus service provider, Pandu Jaya, worked with our community partnership club advisors, school administrators, and volunteers to shuttle those groups with a dire financial need.
Learning from the successful vaccination centre experiences in town and from our event hosting history, students were greeted by the friendly faces of parent and staff volunteers from ISKL upon arrival, as well as by those from surrounding schools who came daily to help with registration and screening before the vaccines were administered.
The size and scale of the operational aspects of running the Centre were truly staggering. In addition to the involvement of the many departments at ISKL, including our transportation operator, teams from Malaysia’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, District Health Office, NGT Solutions and ProtectHealth Corporation were also instrumental in making the Centre a reality. It was a working example of community partnership in action and speaks to ISKL’s mission of working in partnership with communities around us.
In addition to supporting our refugee community partners, during the five weeks that ISKL’s Vaccination Centre was in operation, more than 11,000 first and second-dose vaccines were administered and a large number of private and international schools in the Klang Valley were able to send students to be vaccinated. In line with our philosophy of inclusion, our Centre was also equipped to administer vaccines to students in our district who require special care. This was such an important service to provide, and it did take a village — of our stakeholders and partner communities — to make it happen. Our school was truly honored to play a role in helping to fight COVID and supporting the wider community.
Long-term community partnerships
The pandemic has, of course, been hugely challenging for refugee communities globally. While our Vaccination Centre has now been transformed back into a gym, ISKL’s long-term partnerships with refugee communities continue. For example, in addition to community partnership clubs for students, the ISKL Refugee Teacher Training Program was started back in 2017 by some ISKL teachers who dedicated their weekends and other out-of-school hours to provide regular professional development sessions to educators at different learning centres.
Our student community partnership clubs have been continuing with their activities throughout the pandemic lockdown and online learning months. They have been collecting and donating books, toys, PPEs, and specifically requested food items and vitamins. Some clubs conducted online fundraising for monetary donations. One club raised enough money to cover a year’s broadband internet subscription for their partner refugee learning centre. Other clubs have created online activities to enjoy and learn from, in making simple spoken word poetry, arts and crafts, and recipes with whatever is available at home to stay connected.
Some IB Diploma students have also chosen to use their International Baccalaureate Diploma Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) projects to offer their support. For example, three students baked more than 800 homemade cookies last year and raised RM 6,000 on behalf of a refugee learning centre. After teaching art online to refugee students, a Grade 12 student initiated ‘Totes of Kindness’ charity project, with the profits made from making and selling eco-friendly tote bags used to purchase art supplies for refugee students. Other projects included fundraisers and goods collection, which are still ongoing today.
A common vision for good
As they say, where there is a will, there is a way. Seeing the will in a common vision for the good of one another is key to selfless acts of collaboration that will certainly spread further acts of kindness.
Chika Kumashiro-Wilms is the CAS Coordinator/High School Service and Sustainability Coordinator at The International School of Kuala Lumpur.
All images for this article kindly provided by ISKL