I would like to say that I am very grateful and thankful to the organization and all the staff of MSRI for being so hospitable to us three Canadians over the past 6 months. As foreigners, coming to a new country to begin a new and unknown work placement is never easy, and is fraught with the uncertainty one would expect. Fortunately for us, MSRI has a long history of receiving foreign guests, and it really showed in the way they received us.
One of the things that continues to amaze me, just as much as it did from day one, is the level diversity found at MSRI. People from different ethnic, religious, linguistic, and national backgrounds have really come together to make this place work, and work well. Refugees feature prominently in the inner workings of the organization, in addition to being supported by MSRI’s various programs. The contributions of refugees have come to be essential to MSRI’s operations, and without them, this place wouldn’t be the same. MSRI has facilitated this exchange brilliantly, empowering refugees to help themselves, such as through teaching opportunities in the MSRI School, volunteering, or the excellent artisanal handicraft production that goes on in the Elham Project.
My own time at MSRI has gone by quickly, but I am nonetheless grateful for the many opportunities they provided me over the past six months. A highlight of mine has been connecting with some of the refugee children in the MSRI School. I was privileged enough to work as an English and Science teacher for a few months while MSRI sought to fill the vacancies with new teachers from the refugee community. Having worked with children for many years back home, working with kids again was comforting and helped me establish a sense of normalcy in my temporary home.
Another highlight was working with the executive director on the book manuscript for ‘Alijah Gordon’s Published and Unpublished Works’. This was natural labour for me. Combing through and editing hundreds of pages of Gordon’s writings was not an easy task, but being able to present a publishable manuscript at the end of my time here was fulfilling. While there is still a bit of work to do towards finishing the book, such as cover design and securing the right introduction, I look forward to seeing it published in the new year.
NGOs like MSRI occupy a unique position in a country’s civil society, often providing services or advocacy work that fall outside of what the state already provides. As non-profit organizations, NGOs must be prudent with their finances, and diligent in their transparency and accountability practices if they wish to compete for funding opportunities. MSRI is no different, but if anything, MSRI continues to out do itself by providing so many essential services to the communities they serve. One thing I have learned is that managing and directing an NGO is no easy task. Having observed those in charge here at MSRI, the stress that inevitably comes from not knowing if certain funding will be approved, or if certain services will be extended into the next year is a heavy burden. NGOs like MSRI rely on outside sources of funding, often from corporate sponsors or generous individuals. Without any direct financial support from the state for MSRI or refugees in Malaysia, MSRI is on its own, but continues to chart its course confidently nonetheless. For this, I would like to thank all the MSRI directors, project managers, and other staff for their continued selflessness, effective altruism, and generosity.