Rohingya in Penang

It’s an impossible situation where ever they go.  In their home country, Myanmar, where they’ve lived for hundreds of years, they’re told “Go Home!”  They’re stateless, not allowed to work, and blamed for society’s ills.  So they escape, only to find they’re still stateless.  Some are sold into slavery, or worse, held for ransom. Lucky ones find work in the informal economy, where safety is lax and pay is low.  Still, they are resented for being immigrants.  Still they hear, “Go Home!”

Many of the Rohingya refugees who’ve settled on Penang Island send their children to the Sekolah Damai Minden, or ‘School of Peace’.  Approximately 50 children are enrolled.  REPUSM*, sponsors the school, and funds it with sporadic private donations plus tuition fees of RM50/student/month paid by Rohingya parents.  In 2014, the school operated on a budget of $18k USD, nearly half of which came from refugee families themselves.

One third of the budget covers rent, and the rest pays woefully under-market-rate teacher salaries.  They’re paid so little, that for all intents and purposes, they could be considered volunteers like me.  However, unlike me, they’re trained and accredited teaching professionals. They know what they’re doing.  They should be paid adequately.

It would be an understatement to say the school is underfunded.   If anything, this school is a place-holder, a stop gap measure until real funds can be found. Even so, it’s remarkable how effective the teachers are. The kids are surprisingly good at math, and impressively adept at speaking Bahasa Malay, which is not their native tongue.   One teacher instructs 40 students while I, a two-day a week part-time volunteer, take my ten students upstairs to instruct them in English.  I have no teaching credentials, and the kids drive me monkey-bananas some days.  And yet the administrator of the school asked if I could volunteer as full time teacher.  Yeah – they’re desperate.

As far as I can tell, having worked at the school for about a month now, the curriculum falls short of providing a path to an adequate high school diploma, much less a path to university.  And that’s really sad, because the kids here at the School of Peace are smart, eager and full of energy.  Given the proper direction and instruction, they have the potential to lead healthy happy highly-educated lives where any nation would consider themselves lucky and blessed to have them as citizens.

After my shift the other day, I met up with my friend at his shop.  He asked why I was in the neighborhood, so I explained about my volunteer work with the School of Peace.  He shook his head.  “As far as I’m concerned, all of these immigrants should just go back home.”

I was surprised.  In my experience, he’s always been an affable and caring guy.  I asked him to explain.

“Well, I employed a few immigrants a while back.  Here’s the thing, you give them an inch and they take a mile.”

Alarm bells went off in my head.  I’ve always thought that was a bullshit phrase.  It’s full of negativity and suspicion.  So I asked for a specific example.

He thought a moment.  “Well, I employed a few of these guys a while back.  They said they wanted more money and I declined.  Then I discovered they were stealing from me.”

He is quick to judge an entire group of people on the actions of two men.  And this is the problem.  Unfortunately we all do this to some degree; we instantly ascribe the bad behavior of a few to an entire group.  In his case, he believes all immigrants are bad.  In the case of extremist Myanmar Buddhists, all Rohingya are bad.  If only we humans weren’t so quick to judge an entire people based upon the actions of a few, we perhaps wouldn’t create such impossible situations for people who’ve committed no crime outside of being members of some group.

Today I hear there’s a boat nearby with Rohingya refugees.  If they land in Malaysia, where will they go?   With a local population who believes immigrants should just ‘go home’, I’ve no idea.   All I know to do is to keep working at the The School of Peace.  I’m working on setting up a tax deductible charitable organization so that my fellow Americans, should they be so inclined, can make tax-deductible donations.  Maybe we can raise enough funds and provide at least one place on this earth where the kids of these refugees feel welcome and cared for.  We can start there.

In the meantime, please consider giving a gift of cash to the school, or see what’s going on on the Sekolah Damai REPUSM FB page.

*REPUSM =  Department for Research for Education and Peace at University Sans Malaysia

School of Peace – Improvements

Today I met with people from REPUSM.  They’ve been tracking the money for the School of Peace and are handling the application to establish an NGO with the express purpose of funding the School of Peace.

They’ll send me all details related to the NGO: name, sponsors, mission declaration, etc. Pretty much the contents of the application she submitted to the Malaysian government.

Miscellaneous facts:

-50 kids are enrolled at the school
-Their families live throughout the nearby neighborhood.  They found accommodations on their own.  Some live four families to a house.  They are expected to pay RM50 per enrolled student per month.
-Most arrived 2-3 years ago, but some as many as 6 years ago.
-There’s no formal curriculum or goals being followed
-Exams are being held next week, but they are not standardized Malaysian exams, but rather assessments developed by the 2 paid teachers – because “the kids are not at the level they need to be for the regular exams.”
– Currently the account has about RM30 ($8) in it.
-Approximately 30 volunteers have come and gone over the past few years.
– They’ve operated the school on RM5400 per month or RM65k over the past year. That’s ~$1500 per month or ~$18k USD.  Using only private donations from friends and family I can see why the budget is so tight.  It’s amazing what they’re accomplishing with so little funding.  But I imagine so much more could be achieved with more funding.  
-Full time teachers are paid RM1000 per month (that’s about $280 USD), but are given a few hundred extra on months when there is money in the account. So, RM1k- RM1300.

Doing a little research, I see that in Malaysia, teachers make between RM800 for very low paid entry level teachers to RM4000 per month for senior teachers with experience. Penang skews to the high end of the pay ranges.

Teacher Level Low Mid High / Penang
Senior RM2200 3000 4000
Mid RM1500 2100 2800
Entry RM800 1337 1800

IMO, teachers should be paid at least RM2100 per month.  Definitely more than RM1000.  That’s for sure.

So what improvements?  Well, I’m thinking 2 qualified full time teachers, Perhaps one part time teacher + volunteers.  Offer extended hours for children who wish to get on track for university.  Come up with a standard curriculum.  Offer after school activities such as football and badminton.  Compete with other schools academically and athletically.  Provide supplies, books, white boards, etc. Bring in education advisers.  Make the school 100% free for refugee children.

This monthly budget would get us started:


2000  rent
2000  supplies, furniture, repairs,
2000  teacher #1
2000  teacher #2
1000  part time teacher #3
1000  activity fund & uniforms & transportation
RM10,000  == $2,777USD per month

That’s an annual budget of RM120,000 == $33,333.

This is where I’d like to start.  Once we get another full time qualified teacher, and extend the schoolday, we can develop the curriculum and bring in more volunteers for spot lessons like woodworking or unicycling or football or extra English.



Articles of Association – Educate Rohingya Refugees

Articles of Association of Educate Rohingya Refugees. The undersigned, a majority of whom are citizens of the United States, desiring to form a Non-Profit Corporation under the Non-Profit Corporation Law of Washington State, do hereby certify:
First: The name of the Corporation shall be “Educate Rohingya Refugees”
Second: The place in this state where the principal office of the Corporation is to be located is the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County.
Third: Said corporation is organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational, and scientific purposes, including, for such purposes, the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.
Fourth: The names and addresses of the persons who are the initial trustees of the corporation are as follows:
Name: Laura Reese Address  — _Bellingham WA 98225_
Name: Dirk Reese Address — _Bellingham WA 98225
Fifth: No part of the net earnings of the corporation shall inure to the benefit of, or be distributable to its members, trustees, officers, or other private persons, except that the corporation shall be authorized and empowered to pay reasonable compensation for services rendered and to make payments and distributions in furtherance of the purposes set forth in Article Third hereof. No substantial part of the activities of the corporation shall be the carrying on of propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and the corporation shall not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, the corporation shall not carry on any other activities not permitted to be carried on (a) by a corporation exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, or (b) by a corporation, contributions to which are deductible under section 170(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code.

(depending on WA state requirements this sentence might replace the previous one): “Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, this corporation shall not, except to an insubstantial degree, engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of the purposes of this corporation.”

Sixth: Upon the dissolution of the corporation, assets shall be distributed for one or more exempt purposes within the meaning of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code, or shall be distributed to the federal government, or to a state or local government, for a public purpose. Any such assets not so disposed of shall be disposed of by a Court of Competent Jurisdiction of the county in which the principal office of the corporation is then located, exclusively for such purposes or to such organization or organizations, as said Court shall determine, which are organized and operated exclusively for such purposes.
In witness whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names this 25 day of May, 2015.

Charitable Org Checklist – Helping Rohingya Refugees in Malaysia

Set Up Charitable Org

  1. Name: Prosperity To Refugees  Or Refugees Rise Up (IDK)
  2. Create Articles of Association
  3. Submit 501c3 application / 1023 application (
    1. Need a Federal EIN
    2. Need articles of association document
    3. Need power of attorney

Do I need to register with Washington State (my parents agreed I can use their address as operational HQ).

Equivalency Determination for Grantee NGOs

  1. Requires attorney IRS Revenue Procedure 92-94
  2. Goal is for grantee NGOs to be deemed legit for receiving ‘qualifying distributions’ per sect 4942 of IRS tax code.
  3. Need a ruling or determination letter classifying each foreign NGO as a public charity as defined by 509a(1-3) or private operating foundation under 4942j3.
  4. Generat Affadavit from each target NGO
    1. Professor Kamarulzaman (Zam) complying with
    2. James at PenangAgainstHumanTrafficking

Set Up Easy Payment Path for Donations from US

Paypal – register as business.
Open US bank account
Open Malaysia bank account
Wordpress – woocommerce (Ashleigh recommendation)

School of Peace Week 3

Maybe I’m slap happy because my work week (teaching Mon – Tues) is behind me – yeah! And this week was all ups and downs.   Mostly downs.

Oh – teaching this week!  Where do I begin?  Yesterday was so discouraging. Lemme just get this on the table: I’m teaching ten kids.  TEN!  And they wouldn’t shut the F up!  They drove me nuts yesterday.  How do teachers with 20+ kids in a class do it?  I got home and realized that maybe I’m not cut out for teaching.  Perhaps I would do better being an administrator of the school.  It seems like the current admin is leaving soon anyway.   I could hire COMPETENT and TRAINED teachers (to replace me).  I could organize after school activities, raise money, enlist volunteers to teach specific subjects just a few hours a week, we could  lengthen the school day , come up with a college track curriculum that students can follow if they choose, on and on.  Yesterday, I would have told you that all of those tasks seemed far easier than getting the concept of factorials into ten kids’ brains when they wouldn’t freaking shut the hell up!

Today it was up and down.  At one point I just gave up. In capitulation, I chucked the dry erase pen over my head and it landed a few feet behind me.  Very calmly I said,  “You all want to talk. I get that.  But here’s the thing, I’m not going to yell.  So, you go ahead and talk.  I’ll be in the other room.”  I left.  I hopped on my phone and Facebooked out for a few minutes.

The door opened, four girls came in. “If you want to learn English, have a seat,”  I said.  They sat, and we discussed siblings, brothers, sisters.  I found out that one of the boys in the class is brother to Sabi, the shy younger girl.  One girl has four siblings.  Slowly the boys joined us.  They wanted to learn English too.  They weren’t exactly SILENT, but, they were better – for a while.  When they grew too rowdy again, I said, in a matter-of-fact tone, “I’m going to the other room now.  You stay here if you want to play.  Come with me if you want to learn English.”  The girls followed.  We continued the lesson and then the boys eventually followed. Soon it got rowdy. This got them tick marks on the board and per our agreement – they had to write sentences in their books – and I made them do it at break.  I’m evil.  But they wrote it all out.

After their lunch but still during break, the the girls drew on the board, “I love teacher Miss Laura” and they drew pictures of me.  What sweethearts.

Then we all played a game.  There’s nothing like game play to show me EXACTLY where they are in their knowledge. Sometimes I write trick questions and they all get it wrong.  But they’re glued to the action the whole time.  Then I give away the trick and they all smack themselves on the heads, ‘AWWWW!’  Muah ah ah.

Team Mr. Penang beat team SuperSmart  and team Dom/Doom.

I’m pooped.

Behind the scenes I’m making contacts with NGO people and Amesenator (woot!) on the US side.  I’m meeting with another teacher tomorrow to get status on the NGO and more operational stuff at the school.