Today basically marks the four-month period that I have been navigating through my new life in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have no idea where to begin this blog as I am overwhelmed with emotions of wholeness, disheartenment, and dread. I miss my dog, my people, the beach and fresh air – however, I can already feel myself dreading the reality of leaving South East Asia, it feels like home to me – and has for the past eight years. I have such a personal connection and emotional attachment to this side of the world, this opportunity has taken me beyond experiences that one might find when they are a tourist, which I have to say I value immensely, although these daily experiences don’t just evoke light and airy feels, they are often sad and bleak.
I would say that I navigate through my day to day life in KL with ease and I often don’t put too much thought into my daily tasks – the food, the weather, the people, the culture all come easily to me.
However, this is quite the contrary when I consider my day to day work at MSRI, I find myself in a whirlwind of sad, empowering and discouraging emotions. At the end of June 2019, there were reports of 175,760 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia. Approximately 152,220 refugee and asylum-seekers in Malaysia originate from Myanmar and are comprised of Rohingya, Chins, Myanmar Muslims, Rakhines and Arakanese. The remaining 23,530 are mainly from Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. Those who originate from these countries are eligible for the support that we offer at MSRI. However, our supports, like UNHCR’s are provided to clients based on vulnerability, and this I find very damaging for both clients and service providers. It is very difficult to distinguish who is “deserving” and who is “undeserving” of the small resources that we have at MSRI. A persons physical or mental health is considered to be a severe vulnerability. And I believe it is important to shed light on the barriers that are preventing our clients from accessing health services in Malaysia.
Our clients struggle with the language barrier, the excessive health costs for foreigners and the constant fear of being penalized in public spaces. The various forms of exploitation and mistreatment that our clients face in Malaysia severely impacts their mental and physical well-being. Over the past few months I have been doing weekly client interviews and house visits, these duties have provided me with invaluable opportunities to engage and connect with clients and interpreters to find solutions.
Through this process, I have tried to be cognizant of the ways that I can work ethically and promote self-reliance. And so, I believe that it is of utmost importance to focus on our client’s resilience through these difficult times. Our clients find ways to adapt and support their families while facing severe systemic barriers. Some days I feel completely devastated and depleted by witnessing the stories of my clients in our sessions, as well as the house visits that I attend within their communities. However, I try and remind myself of the journey that these remarkable people are on and remember that this is just one chapter in their lives. There are many studies around vicarious resilience (VR) and within these studies, they explain that service users and service providers are both provided with the opportunity to gain awareness and appreciation of a persons capacity to grow and maintain hope for change.
One initiative that I have been working on and that I would love to share with you is the young women’s empowerment group that I have had the opportunity to facilitate. We are a small group, however, I feel completely empowered by these young women. We meet twice a week and chat collectively about empowerment, education as a right and resilience and personal growth within them. This opportunity has impacted my learning and showed me the importance of collaboration and empathetic practice.
I feel so challenged, discouraged, grateful and empowered by my current opportunity with MSRI. However, I welcome each and every one of these feelings and I hope I can continue to work through unfamiliar situations and advocate for our clients.
If you would like to learn more about refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia find the figures here, https://www.unhcr.org/en-my/figures-at-a-glance-in-malaysia.html