Category Archives: School of Peace

Everyone Loves Learning about the Solar System

NOTE: These, and more recent happenings can be found on the charity website: You can donate $ to fund teacher salaries there as well. Even $25 helps a bunch.


Today, the Rohingya refugee kids paid attention like never before. They couldn’t get enough about the sizes and distances between planets. Rukiyyah took pride in calculating the diameters of each planet, given their radii.


They marveled at the fact that Jupiter is over ten times bigger,in diameter, than Earth, and the sun is ten times bigger than Jupiter.

They oohed and ahhed as I walked all the way to the back white board to show how far out Uranus, Pluto and Neptune were.

But the thing that blew their minds was learning about galaxies and the universe. I asked them guess how many stars (suns) were in the Milky Way galaxy. Incredibly, Arfat guessed 400 billion. The right answer is that we don’t know, but scientists estimate there are between 100 billion and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. Arfat was pretty pleased with himself.

At the end of the discussion, Nur was so excited, he asked me to take a bunch of pictures.

I think today was the most fun I’ve had since I began teaching English here last May.


This story and more at



After class yesterday, I drove to Summayah’s apartment to renew the broadband access on the laptop I loaned to her. The laptop is for doing Khan Academy lessons while she’s away from school. She’s 11 years old, and has stayed at home for the past 8 months to look after her baby brother while her mom goes to work.

She says she won’t be back to school anytime soon because she has to look after her brother. :(. Double bummer: I couldn’t get the internet connection to work, so I took the laptop home with me. I’m working on it now. Once I get it up and running I’ll take it back over.

Now I’m wondering, how do I get this girl, with so much potential, back in school? Think think think. I’ve got some ideas, but am not sure if they’re workable.

Well, for now, I’ll get the laptop back to Summayah so she can do her daily Khan Academy. I think I’ll sit down with her and show her the other subjects from Renaissance art to astronomy. She’ll need to work more than 20 minutes a day on math to keep up her learning.

World War Lesson

After kicking off class with our usual round of compliments and a Berenstain Bears book, I gave the Rohyingya kids a history lesson.  We had no map of the world so I drew an atrocious map of Europe, Russia, the world.

The kids are 11-15 years old.  I started by asking what they knew about WWII.  Blank stares.  “What countries made up the allied powers?” No idea. “Who was the leader of Germany?”  No idea.  “Who did Germany team up with?”  No idea. “The holocaust?”  no idea. “Jewish people?” They’d never heard of Jewish people.


So in the course of an hour, I covered the effects of WW 1 on Germany, the conditions that led to Hitler’s rise, appeasement policy by Neville Chamberlain, hegemony of Japan, Japan occupation of China all the way on down to Singapore (including Malaysia and Myanmar), the death toll, bombing of Pearl Harbor, concentration camps, murder of 6 million Jews, murder of Gypsies, homosexuals, how the Allied powers worked together to fight Germany from all sides, Hitler’s eventual suicide and the nuclear bombs dropped by the USA on Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the bombers Enola Gay and Box’s Car.

These kids are from Myanmar, so I attempted to make the story less USA-centric, and added details such as this: Of all Russian males born in 1923, only 15% survived World War 2. Yes, that’s a fact (thanks Reddit TILs). The war caused 73,000,000 deaths. Also, Penang Island, where we live currently, was occupied by the Japanese during the war.  I told them that if they could find a Malaysian who is 80 years old or older, that person would be able to tell them about the occupation.

I explained that the war made refugees of millions of people. I told them about the Jewish refugees after WWII and the creation of Israel. They’d never heard of it. And today, a war in Syria was making even more refugees. A few of the kids sat up at that thought. They aren’t alone. There are lots of refugees in the world.

Bless his heart, Nur, a fifteen year old student, wrote down much of what I wrote on the board. He was intensely interested in learning about this major war he’d never heard of. I have a feeling he may flag down an old Malaysian and ask about their experiences.

Nur got a funny look on his face.  He then asked, “how many countries are there in the world?”  Their guesses ranged from 100 to 10 million.  Ha ha.  Luckily this was one I knew: ~205.  They seemed wowed by that.

I hope it wasn’t TMI.  As their teacher, I just feel they should know a few facts about World War II.

In a month I teach them sex education.  I’m wondering if they know as little about how babies are made as they knew about WWII.  We’ll see.

One of my students has gone missing from class..

Sumayyah’s mom recently gave birth, so Sumayyah has stayed home to help out.  But that means she’s missing school :(. Today, Karina led me to Sumayyah’s apartment and I left with her a laptop with Wifi dongle so she can do Khan Academy from home. She seemed happy about it. She got busy with a lesson straight away.


The video lessons associated with each exercise are useful – not only for math, but English too.  This one (pictured) explained what a trapezoid was. She nailed the question after finishing the video.

On Friday I’ll collect the laptop and see how she fared. Crossing fingers it works out.


The application for charitable org / 501(c)(3) status was ready to submit! Then our pro-bono lawyer spotted problematic language in the purpose statement filed with Washington state.

Now, my mom is filing an amendment along with a fee to fix it.  What does this mean?  Even more delays on the road to 501c3 charitable org status.  Argh.

I’m feeling impatient, but I know it will get done. In the end, fixing the state documents will increase our chances of getting 501c3 status, and that’s the important thing.

And 501c3 status is critical if we want to raise funds. It makes donations tax deductible for US donors. Without this designation, I don’t see much hope for raising funds. I’m already at a disadvantage; I’m not much of a fund raiser. I kind of hate fund raising, to be honest. I loathed fund raising events when the kids were in school, and hated being hit up for donations right and left. Having been on the getting-hit-up side, jumping over to the hitting-people-up side is kind of the last thing I want to do.

What would be my pitch? “Please give me money to educate Rohingya refugees, but sorry, you can’t take a tax deduction.”

I tried drumming up funds online without 501c3 status… and made about $100. Bless the hearts of people who gave. But more, orders of magnitude more, is needed.

So what’s the big deal about the tax deduction? For the answer, we needn’t look further than my brain. When we were in the 33% tax bracket, we paid $33 in federal tax on every additional $100 earned. In that scenario, giving $100 to a non-501c3 charity felt like writing a check for $133 but the charity only received $100. That was a 25% overhead. It didn’t feel right, and it usually nudged me toward not tipping.

Also, what kind of legit organization doesn’t have 501c3 status?  If the outfit couldn’t be bothered to do some basic paperwork, how could I trust them to use my money competently?

So we’re doing the paperwork.  Slowly but surely.

FYI – here are the Goals for RREF , if you are wondering why we need more than $100 in donations.

Goals for RREF

Why am I forming Rohingya Refugee Education Fund (RREF)?  Because I either had to do something, or cancel my subscription to the Economist.  I found myself reading about the awful treatment of Rohingyas in Burma, and the perpetual statelessness of the Rohingya diaspora.  I had to choose: do something, or put down the magazine.

I live in Penang, Malaysia. There’s a substantial refugee population here. A call to UNHCR led me to teaching English at this Rohingya school. It didn’t take long to realize they needed more teachers, supplies, resources.  I decided to start a charity to fund the school.

Here are the goals:

Fund-raising goals for 2016:  $30,000
– $24,000 to hire two fully trained teachers plus increase the salary of Zu, the current teacher who is being paid an obscenely tiny salary despite bringing remarkable teaching skills to the school.
– $3,000 to augment rent paid by REPUSM*
– $3,000 for supplies, utilities, provide wifi, augment rent*, pay for RREF operations

Endowment Goals: 
– Raise $750,000  to generate $30,000 per year for Rohingya Refugee education
– Invest the whole nut in Vanguard account – owning diversified index-tracking ETF funds

Stretch Goals:
$60k per year budget to hire more teachers, fund after school activities, fund scholarships
$1,500,000 in the endowment fund.

*(Research and Education for Peace Univ. Sains Malaysia)

Can Khan keep us connected?

My colleague, Karina, and I set up a Khan Academy classroom. I’m hoping to lead my Rohingya refugee class through early math lessons this summer while I’m away. I’m thinking that Khanacademy has every chance of being more effective as a teacher than I am. Karina gives two kids access to accounts tomorrow. We’ll see if we’re able to help them learn.  Fingers crossed.

Making RREF a Charitable Org

Yeah!  A lawyer has volunteered to help apply for 501c3 (charitable organization) status.

Here are the next steps for RREF:

1. Review 501c3 application with lawyer and then submit it following  Pay $800 application fee

2. Work with lawyer to do an ‘equivalency determination’ of the local NGO, Peace Learning Center.  PLC will be primary administrator of the school. My intention is to direct the majority of RREF funds directly to the local NGO to pay teacher salaries, rent, utilities and supplies. The org will also directly purchase services and supplies. Fortunately the NGO was granted official status by the Malaysian government just last week. I’ve requested the paperwork from that formation plus English translated copies for your review. ( ) I read somewhere on that as of 2012 this ‘equivalency determination’ must be carried out by a lawyer.

Near term to-do list:

Once the 501c3 application has been submitted:
1. set up website for collecting donations (I’ve lined up a designer – she’s ready to start when I give the word)
2. open bank account in WA at Chase Bank. RREF VP will handle this (my mommy)
3. get a Chase credit card for supply purchases ( makes tracking easier )
4. Recruit local advisory board for the school

Once the 501c3 is approved
1. Fund raise (goFundMe, MrMoneyMustache, Facebook, activate handful of ‘connector’ friends who are far more skilled at soliciting help than I).
2. Continue to work with advisory board to develop a proper curriculum and plan for academics

School Operating costs ( per month) 
– rent $1000
– 1 teacher’s salary $600-$1000
– supplies / other : variable

Fund-raising goals
– $3,000 to buy much needed supplies including 10 cheap computers for my 10 kids – set up khan academy and duolingo for out-of class learning, reimburse charitable org formation fees.
– $18,000 to hire two more teachers and increase current teacher’s salary, fund 2015
– $40,000 for 2016 operations
Stretch Goal:
– $1M endowment fund to finance teacher salaries perpetually
Beyond $1M: hire more teachers, tutors, fund scholarships, bolster endowment principle.

Rohingya Refugee Education Fund Is a Thing!

It’s official – the Rohingya Refugee Education Fund (RREF) is an actual US organization, complete with federal EIN number and WA state UIB number.  But it can’t accept donations quite yet…

Next steps:

  • ‘equivalency determination’ for local School of Peace NGO
  • gain 501c3 status with IRS
  • Open a US based bank account under the RREF org

Thanks mom for being the Vice President of US operations!  You’ll be opening the bank account :).

This needs to happen soon. I love the kids in my class. I do. I mean, look at the cards three girls presented me with this morning:


See?  They’re pretty darned lovable.   The truth is, the sooner we can hire more REAL teachers, the better.  I’m just not cut out for this. After trying oodles of techniques, the boys just keep talking!  They won’t shut the heck up!  Perhaps they’re lost – maybe I’m not keeping my words basic enough.  Could be.  But half the time, I think they simply aren’t aware that their mouths are running.  It’s really bizarre. Are they bored? Maybe.

I try to make the material interesting. Today’s lesson was on salmon and rivers.  It was engaging for most of them, but they still struggled to zip their mouths.  Then I totally lost them with math word problems.

  • “I can walk 1 km per hour.  How far have I walked after 1 hour?”
    -> Responses: 6!  10! Finally: 1km. Nods.  Okay, they get it.
  • “I walk 10km per hour.  How far have I walked after 1/2 hour?”  Responses: 100! 1!  TOTALLY BAFFLED.  Really?

Surely they would understand these math word problems in their native tongue.  Some of them are whip smart with arithmetic.  I’m probably pushing topics that are too advanced given their English proficiency.

So tomorrow, I’m backing off.  I’ll come at them with an attempt at edu-tainment.  We’ll discuss seats, posts, wheels, spokes, pedals.  Then I’ll let them hop on a couple of unicycles and see how they like that.  Will they remember class rule #3: ‘English only’?  Probably not.

Sigh.  Yeah – I need to get this charitable org formation done and start raising money to hire a real teacher to take my place.  Then perhaps I could volunteer for after-school activities. We could start with unicycling.