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!

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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 Skincare Rejuvenation’s review 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

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.

Racist brainwashing by Biro Tatanegara – GRR

Biro Tatanegara (rough translation: Civics Bureau) is a Government-run agency that organises mandatory “citizenship” workshops for students that have received Government scholarships for tertiary education. Under the guise of “education” and “building a multicultural Malaysian culture”, these workshops are hubs of anti-Chinese/Indian/etc racism and anti-Semitism, shaming non-Malays while claiming Malaysia to be a Malay-only nation.

Education in Malaysia has been compiling stories from students and observers of these workshops. Here’s an excerpt of their experiences:

Jew-blaming:

…Malaysiakini reported that first-year students of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) were told at a seminar organised by BTN that foreign elements which want to see chaos in Malaysia were funding certain student groups. The speakers drew a link between these local student groups, ASA and the National Endowment for Democracy, a non-profit organisation which they said was sponsored by American and Jewish elements.

Indians, blogs, and Christians are evil:

He even said, “Kalau ular dengan India depan mata, ketuk India dulu.” (If a snake and an Indian are in front of you, hit the Indian first.) … He said so many atrocious things that I will list them down in point form.

-Explained how the Malays aren’t racist but others are racist towards us.
-Bangsa Malaysia (The Malaysian race) does not exist, neither does Malaysian Chinese and Indians, only in the strict Malay, Chinese and Indians. (Interestingly, behind a booklet provided to us, one of the objectives of the programme is to produce a -“Bangsa Malaysia”. Obviously, he was ignorant).
-Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language) does not exist, it is Bahasa Melayu (Malay language).
-Nothing wrong with waving the Keris (A traditional ceremonial Malay dagger which some politicians have waved in anti-non-Malay sentiment).
-Bumiputra (Malays and indigenous people) hanya 55% di Malaysia, give birth more people!
-The University and Colleges Act was partly made to ensure a Malay Vice-Chancellor in Universities which should be the way.
-Blogs are “berdosa” or sinful.
-Christians will not like Muslims.

Even the Malays reacted badly:

The instructors blatantly told them that they should not question the rights and privileges of the Malays as the non-Malays should be thankful that they were given citizenship status and a place to stay on their soil. My daughter together with the other non-Malay students was shocked and went back to their dormitories depressed. And to the Malay students, the instructors told them to be aware of this fact and not to mix too freely with the non-Malays.

A Malay friend of my daughter came back crying to the dormitory saying that she could not take the racist position taken by the government authority. My daughter then began questioning the bumiputra policy and was disgusted with such blatant indoctrination. This incident has also made the students harbour anger and resentment. Their fear for the authorities and losing their scholarships made them keep their cool.

When Education in Malaysia blogger and MP Tony Pua queried Biro Tatanegara about these allegations, this was their reply, as roughly translated into English by me (it’s originally in Malay):

Biro Tatanegara is an agency that runs courses based on citizenship and patriotic spirit within the whole of Malaysian society. Participants of these courses come from various cultures and age groups.

BTN also uses information or statistics that are obtained from other government agencies such as the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Statistics Department, the Implementation and Adjustment(?) Unit (ICU), the Ministry of Finance, and other Ministries in presenting facts to the participants, and it is departmental policy to not allow BTN speakers to touch on anything that can disturb the feelings of any race, and if this has happened the Department will drop them from being a BTN speaker.

In relation to your query, BTN realises that it’s on the blogs on the Internet, and based on our investigations, [your] claims (the bit about the snake and the Indian) are false. It is possible that some speakers had explained a few Indian proverbs relating to Indian societal matters that were misunderstood by the listener. Investigations have been undertaken and we have found no recordings that could be used as proof to verify the allegation.

As for your second query, BTN has never received any complaints about the matters that you have mentioned, and as far as we know there has not been any airing of videos like the ones you described (anti-Semitic clips) in our courses as organised by the Department.

According to past scholars that have attended such workshops, all recording devices (including mobile phones) are confiscated upon entry and all materials are carefully counted upon return. Many have said that they are too fearful to speak out as they are threatened with the loss of their scholarship – which, considering that many recipients are from low-income backgrounds and there aren’t many other funding options available, would be a major blow.

This sickens me to the core. I’ve heard plenty of racism in school but was lucky enough to not get a Government scholarship and therefore be indoctrinated into BTN’s faulty logic. Some of those that have been to these workshops have sadly reported on their peers passing on racist messages through social networking sites and being completely influenced by these workshops. If anyone’s threatening national security, it would be these goons!

I would like to see a private scholarship fund started for these students, so that they still have funding options for higher study without being gagged and afraid to speak up. There should be a way to get recordings of these workshops, even if it means James Bond-style spy gear. This menace – which is 100% funded by taxpayer money! – needs to disappear.

(Side note to Mum: I’m sorry for scaring you again. [I participated in a rally against the Clean Feed filter in Brisbane and spoke up about censorship in Malaysia – she saw my words and video and got scared.] I take full responsibility for anything that comes out of this. But unless things are done quickly, more and more young people will be brainwashed and we’ll just have an intolerant nation.)

Malaysian royalty is surprisingly awesome.

This excerpt comes from Wikipedia but references a Bernama article, which doesn’t seem to be working at the moment:

On July 2008, Regent of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah said that getting a string of As is meaningless if students fail to understand, appreciate and practice good values, and describing that excellent results as mere pakaian luaran (external appearance), there would be uneven development of human capital if students failed to inculcate good morals. “This will lead to society and the country to suffer”. He also said that people with good moral values always hold firm to life principles especially in defending truth and justice. Students should be taught not to lie or rely on leaked examination papers just to obtain higher grades. He noted that while positions and posts could give one power, one would be judged by the people. “There are many people who obtained positions and posts but there are not many who die with a good name.”

I wish school administration officers had his common sense!

How Blogging Has Impacted My Life (contest entry)

The people at Brazen Careerist, a Gen Y-oriented career and jobs website, are giving away a free ticket (worth US$425) to SXSW Interactive, one of the world’s biggest digital media conferences. To get a shot at the ticket, they’re asking people to write a post on how blogging has impacted their life. I’m a conference geek, and I’ve heard a lot of great things about SXSW, so I thought I’d give it a shot – something different, for EducateDeviate.

I’ve been online ever since 1995, when it first came to Johor (Malaysia). I immediately latched on to it as an avenue for expressing myself and meeting people. There used to be a children’s website (possibly named KidSpot) that I was very active on – I’d write stories, find penpals, and even get books to review by post. I loved the Internet and hardly went offline (save for one year when my parents wanted me to study).

The Internet, and all the variations of blogging – starting from personal sites on Geocities to online diaries at Diaryland and Livejournal – have impacted my life in a lot of ways. I’ve gained and lost friendships (and sometimes my sanity went with them!), gained entry to events that I wouldn’t even had heard of otherwise, be able to counsel and support other people with similar or connected life stories, and help others help themselves.

Here is a story that illustrates how the Internet (and, in a bit, blogging) has made a major impact, one of those impacts being the formation of EducateDeviate:

Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be an exchange student. My overprotective parents hardly let me out of their sight, and when the opportunity finally came up (at 16) by AFS Malaysia they only allowed me to apply to the Japan program because it was free. Of course, being free (it was sponsored by the Japanese Government), it was highly selective. I wasn’t too keen on Japan, but it was the closest I’ll ever be to being an exchange student, so I applied.

And was rejected.

To console myself, I decided to send a music request to By Demand, a then-new interactive music request show on Channel [V] International. The channel thought my request was pretty cool, so they had me as a caller on the show. I liked the experienced, and loved the show, so I made [my demand], a fansite for By Demand and their hosts, Adrian da Silva and Asha Gill.

This unexpectedly made me a celebrity amongst the [V] crew at the time. I was a regular caller/contributor and the crew, especially Asha, became very good friends. [V] moving and losing contact with Asha the next year became really tough personally (I was dealing with panic disorder and depression, and it was a major exam year) and I kept online journals documenting my thoughts and struggles.

In my first gap year in 2003, I used the Internet to search for opportunities and build an interesting life for myself. Asha and I got back in touch, and she got me to set up her official website. I also joined The Star-BRATS, and travelled to the US mainly for an American Idol concert (I was a major fan of Clay Aiken at the time) and received some notoreity amongst the Clay Aiken fandom – including a stint on national news! – for having travelled so far.

I entered my first university in 2004 and used the Internet to keep up with what was going on in KL, thereby starting my work in activism. My desire to be an exchange student still lingered, and I spent about a year looking up options. It was a comment on a post in Livejournal that led me to Up with People, and eventually the best experience of my life.

My Up with People trip showed me the power and joy of experiential learning, and – having talked to some of my school juniors about their experiences – knew that there was a demand for information but not enough resources. While in Dhaka (for my cousin’s wedding) I decided to start off the New Year with my thoughts on education and the year ahead. And so EducateDeviate was born.

Through EducateDeviate I’ve documented social trends in education, explained alternative education (and some of its forms), showcased opportunities unheard of by Malaysians or founded by Malaysians, and featured inspiring young people. A letter that turned into an article (and a blog post) became one of the most popular posts here. I’ve helped people close to despair and supported other young people helping their peers. There were attempts at a blog carnival and at an e-book, and a decent go at a blogathon fundraiser. There is also the push for more young people speaking at conferences – the list is still one of EducateDeviate’s most popular posts and will soon be a project with the International Young Professionals Association. And ther were always plenty of resources – what I wish I had some years ago. Because of all the young people that come together to support this site, EducateDeviate managed to gain an award – thank you everyone, it’s an awesome honour and it helps spread the word further.

I managed to get a little bit of notoriety during the UN Youth Assembly last year for my liveblogs, and spun that into some media experience with the GK3 Young Social Entrepreneurs Forum, which has led me to a whole bunch of interesting people and projects – as well as the utterly fantastic BrainStore company, which even gave me a paying research gig! There’s been other things like those too – mainly by building off one opportunity and seeing where that takes me. I’ve learnt a lot from some very inspiring bloggers, and was heartened to see that someday I could make my mark on local government with a blog as my starting point.

Sometimes I wish I was more like Gala Darling or the people at NOTCOT – the sheer popularity and influence of my blog leading to fantastic opportunities everywhere, all expenses paid! I did just get recently asked to speak at an AIESEC Malaysia conference (I can’t make it because I’m still here in Brisbane but good luck guys!) and I did get a free DVD to review, so I’m probably coming close. (All-expenses-paid trips to something like SXSW are still desired though, hint hint!) It takes luck, work, and keeping your eyes alert.

I’m already over a thousand words with this article, yet I could go on and on about how my blogging and involvement in social media (not just with EducateDeviate, but for other things) have let to an interesting and fascinating network, lots of experiences I wouldn’t have even imagined otherwise, and the propensity to give things a go even if it doesn’t look all that possible – you never know where it will take you!

I may slow down with EducateDeviate someday, or refocus – I would love to bring its work offline and do more real-world projects. However, blogging and the Internet will still be a core component of what I do and who I am.

I’ll end this with a cute little anecdote: blogging got me love. There’s a foreign exchange community on Livejournal and one of the posters used to create a comic strip about her experiences. We got to talking and she told me about International House, a university college in Brisbane. She convinced me to come stay there while I’m in Brisbane, and that was where I met my boyfriend. Two and a half years on, we’ve had our dramas and comedy, but we’re still going great. Who knows where this may lead!