Soroptimist International is a global volunteer movement that supports women and girls in the community. The Johor chapter, Soroptimist International Club of Johor Bahru (SIJB), was chartered as the 11th International Club in Malaysia in 2000.
The movement believes that education is a basic human right to everyone, including refugees. With education, refugee children and youth can learn to protect themselves from child labour, sexual exploitation, and child marriages. With this thought process in mind, SIJB started an education centre for the Rohingya refugee community in Kota Tinggi in 2007. They began with only a handful of children, with the numbers growing every year.
Following the success of the school in Kota Tinggi, there were requests for SIJB to start a school in Kulai for the growing number of refugees there. Margaret Liew, former president of SIJB, shared that she immediately said “yes” to this request even though they did not have a place, money, nor teachers to start a school.
Nonetheless, the team of 13 members and 28 volunteers came together and, in 2010, Margaret signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to start the school in Kulai, meeting the needs of the growing community. Parents reached out to contribute by building furniture, while donations poured in terms of monetary aid, chairs, books, and all sorts of assistance. Within three months, the school opened its doors to teach its first batch of 40 students.
Currently, the two schools have 6 full-time teachers each. In total, SIJB helps about 350 family members. Margaret also shared gratifying moments of learning how some families have resettled to the United States thanks to their education and English communication skills. Students who have graduated have also volunteered to teach their successors at the school. Refugee students are also exposed to cultural exchange programmes with international schools, are able to go on school trips, and learn from NGOs that teach vocational skills. These skills, such as cooking, craft making, and tailoring, provide opportunities for the children’s future.
Other than their education project, SIJB also works with the Orang Asli and refugee community for healthcare and medical camps. Awareness of environmental sustainability is another project they carry out to educate the families on the importance of keeping the Earth clean.