On hiatus, as you’ve probably noticed

Edit: Life shifts again! I’ve now moved from Brisbane to San Francisco Bay Area, USA (and may move again once my MFA is up in may 2014, depending on visas). I’m still surprised at how many people find this blog over the years. Follow me at http://creatrixtiara.com :)

As you’ve probably realised, this blog hasn’t been updated in a while. It’s mainly because I’m on a hiatus from anything to do with alternative education & youth activism. I’m currently building a base in Brisbane and I’m concentrating on performance and creative production, which I’m passionate about and gives me great joy.

It’s been hard to maintain the energy needed to sustain EducateDeviate when I haven’t really been in Malaysia since mid 2006. Also, various events over 2008 have temporarily turned me off social enterprise and world-changing – I needed a break.

I was working on renovating EducateDeviate, turning it into a self-sustaining resource website (mainly because I keep getting comments from people thinking I’m some sort of Education DemiGod with all sorts of information at my fingertips). But life got crazy, and the project never took off.

I’m still interested in hearing about your projects, interesting alternative programs, your views on education. I just feel that the blog has run its course as it is, and for it to be really effective it’ll need to change in form – a change I’m not willing to expend energy on right now.

Feel free to get in touch. You can keep up with me at http://tiarashafiq.com (if I do post there!).

Thanks everyone!

Stupidest idea for suicide prevention ever.

The Malaysian police is planning to criminalise suicide by arresting those who attempt suicide. According to their twisted logic, jail is enough of a deterrent and besides, they can be counselled in jail anyway.

STUPIDEST. IDEA. EVER.

Mental health, depression, and suicide are issues that touch me deeply. I have lived with depression and anxiety for about half my life now, and I have attempted suicide before. Thankfully I have found resources and people that were able to reach out to me with compassion and kindness, and now I’m living a full happy life while managing my mental health.

I could hardly get anyone to respect me, or others with mental health issues, in school. We were all brushed off with “oh it’s just in your head” and “don’t do your exams here, you’ll just bring the pass rate down” (for what it’s worth, our school had a 100% pass rate on the SPM, even with at least 2 confirmed mental health cases taking the exam). The emails that I receive nowadays through EducateDeviate show that nothing much has changed. I still get people asking me for help, despairing that their dilemmas over university choices and their families not accepting their dreams are enough to push them over the edge.

Here are some things about depression:

  • Depression can be caused by a number of things: malfunctioning neurons and hormones, stressful situations, genetics – or some other links that are currently being researched. It’s both biological and environmental.
  • There are currently a lot of therapies, both conventional and alternative, that help with depression – medication, psychology, naturopathy, massage, acupuncture, colour therapy, sports, other things. Different things help for different people.
  • People who attempt or commit suicide usually feel like they’ve run out of options, or that they’re crying out for help. When you’re suicidal or depressed it’s extremely hard to think about other people’s reactions because you’re stuck in the brainwave of “no one cares about me anyway, I’m useless”. Jail is not a deterrent.

Here’s what helped me through my many years of ups and downs with depression:

  • Helplines like The Befrienders, who I absolutely recommend. Give them a call or email if you’re depressed and need an ear. sam@befrienders.org.my, 03 7956 8144/5.
  • The company of supportive and caring friends and family, who didn’t hold my depression against me and treated me with patience and compassion.
  • Being involved in fun, fulfilling projects that fitted my interests (a lot of my depression had to do with feeling “trapped” in situations I wasn’t fond of but felt obligated to do).
  • Medication and psychological therapy – it’s great to talk to experts about practical ways to manage the depression.
  • Breathing, meditation, flexible sports like yoga, dance, or circus – it takes your mind off the depression for the moment as you concentrate on your moves.
  • Self-care like massage, good books, a filling meal – this is something we absolutely suck in as a country, and which I’m still working on. Our culture doesn’t encourage taking care of ourselves – and yet it’s absolutely necessary for survival.

I read this article on suicide in South Korea and it saddened and worried me. So many of the factors mentioned in the article – the pressure to succeed, saving face, honour in death – are also evident in Malaysia. Yet our mental health services are almost non-existent, particularly for young people who may not have enough independence to seek out their own psychiatrist or counsellor. School counsellors may not be of much help too, if they follow the line of “suicide is a sin!” – yeah, as if that’ll help anybody.

How else can we create awareness and compassion for mental health in Malaysia? How do we help those trapped in the web of suicide and depression?

Some other pertinent links:

The suicidal need support, not punishment (Letter from T. Maniam, National rep of the International Association for Suicide Prevention)
Suicide a cry for help (letter from The Befrienders)
Hostile reception pushes Bostwanian students to the brink of suicide (hooray racism!)
Suicide rate high among ethnic Indians in Malaysia
Excerpt from “Suicide Prevention” about suicide rates in ethnic Indian communities in Malaysia

What’s After SPM? – OMG AWESOME BOOK PROJECT

This project blows my mind. I was actually going to start a very similar project, but I’m glad some other young people are taking the initiative.

What’s After SPM? is a collection of real-life stories about the myriad of options open to people after SPM. From the typical foundation/pre-U/A-levels/STPM to more unusual choices like opening a restaurant. It just goes to show that you could do whatever you want after the exams (or nothing, if that’s your boat).

From Tara and the rest of the production crew:

For most of us, the end of secondary school education (or the lack of it) marked a turning point in our lives where we moved from studying together under an umbrella education system (SPM) to embarking upon vastly different pathways.

The transition process for the more fortunate among us would no doubt have been aided by the various resources made available to us: school counselors, advice from worried parents and knowledgeable seniors, counsel from helpful relatives, visits to campus open day sessions, mountainous stacks of college brochures, education sections in local newspapers, education resource websites etc.

The same, however, cannot be said of hundreds of thousands of kids all over Malaysia who, unlike us, have no regular access to the internet, are not blessed with well-informed family and friends, and who complete secondary school with little or almost no awareness of the opportunities that abound for them, as well as kids who are simply ignorant of the opportunities that surround them or just do not possess the faith and self-confidence to pursue their passions.

Therefore, we have decided to spearhead this project in hopes of reaching those kids and sending them this message: “Look, kids, now that you have completed secondary school, there are a million opportunities out there for you, a million pathways that you can undertake, a million places to visit, and you should explore those choices as much as you can. You can do anything you set your mind to. All it takes is keyakinan, a little bit of strategi, a little bit of tuah, and lots and lots of semangat dan usaha.”

We are now looking for a plethoric collection of stories of young Malaysians who have pursued different pathways after SPM. The stories will be published in a book to be distributed to as students and secondary schools as possible. And we would like to invite you to participate in this project by submitting your story, or persuading your friends to submit their stories.

It does not matter whether you are a scholar with stellar results and a 3-inch thick resume, a typical student who went to a local university after finishing Form 6, or a youth who has to work in the pasar malam at night to foot your technical college fees in the day. It does not matter whether you have chosen the oft-beaten path or the road less travelled. We believe that there every education background offers its own boons and banes. And we believe that there are merits in telling any story.

For more information on submission guidelines and how to help, check out their blog. Like NOW.

Live Your Passion: The Annexe Arts Career Fair 2009

OMG. I’ve been waiting MY WHOLE LIFE for such a festival or fair – and then the one time I decide to move overseas (possibly for good) it HAPPENS. Boo for me, but YAY for the rest of you, because it means that the Malaysian public’s starting to take alternative careers seriously and that there are people willing to provide resources.

The Live Your Passion fair is for people who are curious about the performing arts – dance, theatre, music, and visual art (even though that’s not exactly performancey) – and want to know more about it from a career and creative perspective. Leave behind the Hollywood stereotypes – here, you hear from the real deal.

Among the speakers are Sean Ghazi (singer, actor, Fame Awards winner), Jit Murad (actor and playwright of contemporary Malaysian English theatre), Yasmin Ahmad (she of the Orked trilogy and all the Petronas ads), and a whole host of creative people. There will also be people from public and private universities, such as Universiti Malaysia (UM) and Sunway College, presenting their arts courses on offer.

Live Your Passion will be held at The Annexe Gallery at Jalan Hang Kasturi, KL from 28th February to 1st March, 11am – 6pm. For more information, follow this Facebook event. And then tell me about it!

Youth Leadership Academy – Taking Applications

Just got this from the YLA team:

The Youth Leadership Academy is dedicated to nurturing and building capabilities of future young leaders. As a participant, you will have the opportunity to improve your leadership skills, and be inspired by Malaysia’s most successful corporate leaders and young professionals.

We are looking for a diverse group of 20-30 of the most talented and driven Malaysian undergraduate students in their first or second year of studies at a university in Malaysia. Candidates must demonstrate strong leadership potential, personal drive, and a passion and energy for making a difference in our community and country. The deadline for the application is 15 March.

For more information about the programme, and how you can sign up, visit our website at http://www.mckinsey.com.my/YLA or e-mail us your questions at YLA_Malaysia@mckinsey.com .

Now What?

I started EducateDeviate three years ago because I was inspired by my recent Up with People trip and remembered that many of my friends and peers wanted to do the same but didn’t know how. It started with a musing about how the year will be – and has grown into a fledgling resource on self-education, youth programs, interesting people, gripes about education, all sorts of things.

In the three years I’ve moved to a different country, became a conference junkie, dived fully into volunteering, explored subcultures I’d barely heard of before. I received plenty of emails from other young people around the world who found a kindred voice in me, and I sought out other youths who served as my inspiration.

Education in Malaysia hasn’t necessarily changed much – the biggest change would be the Government’s plan to not announce the name of the top scorers and limit the number of SPM papers one can take, to halt the trend of “get as many As as possible”. Even with a drastically changed government, there doesn’t seem to be too many dramatic upheavals education-wise. The Malaysian public are becoming more autonomous, though, with new ventures and projects popping up by the minute.

In a couple of months I officially graduate, and I return to Malaysia possibly indefinitely. Since I’ve been in Brisbane I’ve been immersed in Australian culture and current events; to be frank, I probably know a lot more about Brisbane than I do about Johor Bahru. I’ve hardly been able to keep up with what’s going on in Malaysia, replying on the assistance of my friends. I got to hear different viewpoints about local education, see how young people have deep respect here – but at the same time I’m not totally sure I could contribute to their causes.

EducateDeviate has served its purpose quite well, though there is room for improvement. However, there’s only so much talking I can do. For EducateDeviate to stay relevant – and for me to be more useful – we need to move into action.

What should EducateDeviate do?

I’m at a crosswords. My interests are melding and changing. There’s a faint possibility of being less hands-on with EducateDeviate to pursue other goals. (I’m reluctant to do this, as the last time I let go of a project and handed it over to someone else ended in disaster and lost friendships.) We could transform EducateDeviate from being just a blog to being a working organisation for youth and social change in education. Or we could do something else.

What should we do?

Tell me: now what?

The Secret to Career Success

From XKCD:

And the ten minutes striking up a conversation with that strange kid in homeroom sometimes matters more than every other part of high school combined.

And the ten minutes striking up a conversation with that strange kid in homeroom sometimes matters more than every other part of high school combined.

It’s not too far off from the truth.

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