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How A Young Teacher's Determination And The Power Of The Internet Brought Sports Day Back

Speaking to SAYS, Cikgu Syamil reminded us that determination, passion and a touch of creativity can create wonders and change lives.

Cover image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

While we are battling traffic jams and rising toll rates, a young man willingly takes a 4.5-HOUR drive and boat ride through the rough plains of Bintulu every weekday, to do what he loves the most - teach

Cikgu Syamil on his way to SK Airport on a boat

Image via Cikgu Syamil

Muhammad Syamil bin Yahya, a 27-year-old from Simpang Pulai, Perak was transferred to a school in East Malaysia, SK Airport, located in the town of Belaga in Sarawak, at the tender age of 24, three years ago.

Most of us, at that young age, would have just completed our tertiary education and would be excitedly looking forward to building a successful career with high hopes of a comfortable lifestyle in the near future.

But, Syamil's dreams were different. He wanted to help, in his own small way, to educate young minds, that would hopefully one day be the movers and shakers of the nation, or even the world.

Fondly known as Cikgu Syamil, this enthusiastic young man started his career with SK Belaga as a 'Guru Data & Maklumat' (Data and Information teacher)

SK Airport, Belaga

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Being the Guru Data & Maklumat, Cikgu Syamil's tasks include information inputting, maintenance for all things related to technology, assisting with management tasks and also being in charge for curriculum and co-curricular activities.

As it is common for small schools to have teachers who teach many subjects and juggle a great deal of responsibilities, Syamil is also the Sports teacher of SK Airport and the homeroom teacher for the Year 6 pupils.

His school, SK Airport, only has 104 students, as of today, so it falls under the category of 'Sekolah Kurang Murid' (SKM)

SK Airport, located along the the longest river in Malaysia, Rajang River, was built back in 1966 and falls under the category of 'Sekolah Kurang Murid' [SKM] (Low Enrollment Schools), as classified by The Malaysian Education Ministry for all schools with less than 150 students.

Sadly, the number of students in a school, determines the amount of budget that the school is allocated. There are only 13 teachers.

Teachers and staff of SK Airport, 2015

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

With that said, Syamil stressed that any misconceptions about having a lighter load of work with lesser students remains a myth. "Teachers here have to do the same amount of work as teachers in any other school, including the ones with more students," said Cikgu Syamil.

With only 13 teachers at SK Airport, the teachers share a multitude of responsibilities, with many teaching more than one subject whilst handling management duties.

Most students studying at this rural school are of native descents, mainly Sekapan, Kenyah and others.

SK Airport's Choral Speaking team was the 2nd runner up at district level, this year

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Amazingly, lack of funds and assistance from the government have not stopped Cikgu Syamil and teachers at SK Airport from making sure their students get the best of both worlds

Administration building of SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

The lives of these hardworking educators go beyond everything you can imagine.

Not only do they need to teach, come up with lesson plans but they also have to find ways to teach creatively which would include forking out money from their own pockets to aid the students' learning processes.

Rewarding the students when they perform well in either studies or sports is crucial as it keeps them motivated, given the fact that education and school life for them is very different from what urbanites go through.

Is the government helping?

The government, according to Cikgu Syamil, is helping the school out by building classrooms that come with new tables and chairs, and recently, four brand new cabins were built for the teachers

SK Airport is a boarding school and the education ministry, in their efforts to help the students, ensure that boarding and meals throughout the year is funded by the government.

"I understand that the location of the school plays a major role on why there is only so much the government can assist us with," lamented Syamil.

Computer lab, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Students' hostel, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Library, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

New classroom funded by the government for SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Library of SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

An image of one of the new classrooms at SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

SK Airport's Sports Day dilemma:

Sports Day is the BIGGEST event of the year not only for the students but their parents and the local community. It also requires a lot of work and money.

Sports Day 2012, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Unfortunately, organising Sports Day isn't the easiest task to accomplish for the teachers as it requires a lot of work and money.

Instead of creating a fuss about what they don't have, the teachers have turned the setback into something completely amazing. While speaking to SAYS, Cikgu Syamil explained how creativity is truly the solution to many difficulties we face.

Realising the lack of sports equipment, the teachers decided to DIY them

Students of SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Gotong-royong at SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Think using used wood to create the tools needed for sit-and-reach tests, chairs for the students to check their pulse rate and tables for table tennis.

The next time you throw out a mattress, know that the teachers at SK Airport stack a few of those old mattresses, wrap them in plastic canvas and sew them together to create what they use for the students to fall onto during high jump activities.

The best part about these teachers is their sheer determination that comes with a great deal of positivity. According to Cikgu Syamil, they enjoy these little 'arts and craft' activities as it lets them explore their creativity and pushes them to keep working towards becoming better teachers.

Sports Day 2012, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Reminiscing his first year at SK Airport, Cikgu Syamil described how the whole village came together to help with all the preparations. Sports Day was like a festival.

Everyone, including the janitors, guards and villagers from the rumah panjang (longhouse) put a halt to their daily routines and pitched in to make sure that the sports event turned out well!

Sadly, since Syamil joined, the Sports Day in 2012 was the first and last time the school managed to organise the event

Sports Day 2012, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Sports Day 2012, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Sports Day 2012, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Sports Day 2012, SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

The only gift that the school could afford to give to the winners during the sports day was little bars of soap wrapped in 'kertas minyak' (tracing paper).

The students emulate their teachers' ability to look at the positive side of things. Cikgu Syamil mentioned how delighted and excited the students were, just to be able to be a part of the Sports Day.

When Cikgu Syamil found Give.my:

The phrase, 'when one door closes, another opens' is so apt in this situation. Just when Cikgu Syamil was desperately trying to find a platform to shed light on the school's situation, he discovered Give.my.

Kal and team

Image via Felix Chong/SAYS

Give.my is an online crowfunding site that raises money to help teachers from all around Malaysia, that are in need of funds to support plans and activities for their students.

Founded by two forward thinking individuals, Kal Joffers and Felix Chong, this site is currently hosting 12 projects by local teachers and schools. One of it being, Cikgu Syamil's 'Relight the Sports Day'.

Kal Joffers, founder of Give.my

Image via Felix Chong/SAYS

Kal, the founder of Give.my, is also the co-founder and CEO of Tandemic, an organisation that helps businesses and non-profit organisations, build communities and social movement, thus creating awareness and expanding causes and businesses. He also writes for The Edge, the Stanford Social Innovation Review and has a monthly show with Business radio, BFM on a monthly basis. Check out his site here to know more about all the causes that he supports.

Felix Chong, co-founder of Give.my

Image via Felix Chong/SAYS

Meanwhile, co-founder Felix Chong is no stranger to the world of non-profit organisations, as he is the founder of SekolahKu, also another site that highlights Malaysian teachers' pet projects for their students and allows people to sponsor the projects.

The Sports Day fund-raising campaign:

Thanks to Give.my, Cikgu Syamil managed to put up a fundraiser on their site, detailing the need for funds to organise the Sports Day event at SK Airport this year.

Cikgu's Syamil's fundraiser for 2015 Sports Day at Give.my

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

A screenshot of the amount the fundraiser has raised so far on Give.my

Image via Give.my

Syamil specified in the site, that for a change, he wishes to provide the students with medals instead of soap bars as gifts this year and also buy 'tug-of-war' ropes for the event.

Besides monetary donations, SK Airport would also accept donations in the form of used tug-of-war ropes.

The fundraiser is targeted to raise RM1,300 to purchase medals, tug-of-war ropes, sports attire for some of the students and overall expenses for the event

Proving to be the beacon of light in this situation, the fundraiser on Give.my has exceeded the amount that Cikgu Syamil wanted to raise, with RM1,350 collected, so far!

Image via Give.my

“This amazing experience has helped me to grow into a better person and educator,” said Cikgu Syamil

For Cikgu Syamil, his experiences at SK Airport have been inspiring and uplifting as the students are always seen to be enthusiastic about education and everything that comes with it.

The proud teacher, explained how the students at SK Airport are multi-talented and bright, citing examples of three Year 6 students, Mertha, Cornella and Sapira that not only aced their UPSR trial examination but also thrive in the school's netball team and are set to compete in the Sukan Pedalaman (rural sports event) in Bintulu.

Syamil thinks the location of the school is perfect with the sprawling trees and rivers that allow the students to remain physically fit and active, naming the nature as the students' "jungle gym".

With sky high hopes for his students, Cikgu Syamil thinks being able to hold the Sports Day this year would be the amazing as the children deserve to have a fulfilling school experience and understand the true meaning of education

Local community always ready to help the teachers and students of SK Airport

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Students on the way to district sports day event by boat

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

District Sports Day 2014

Image via Cikgu Syamil/SAYS

Share this story and even better, help make Cikgu Syamil's sports day fund raising campaign a bigger success by donating now!

Meanwhile, another teacher in Petaling Jaya has transformed a failing school into one that is on the way to producing some of the top scorers of the nation:

A young girl proved that determination, passion and persistence are the key to success:

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