Empowering students to tell their stories


“It’s not so much what you do, it’s about being there for people and listening to them.”

A reflection by Jonathan Dason.

When Campus Leader and black-and-white photographer Justin Lim mooted the idea for a Merdeka and Malaysia Day project, I was really excited. He’d be the photographer, I’d be the writer.

Student taking photo_blogThe plan was simple; empower students to tell their stories through photography. We wanted to show people the potential in every child, not just what they can be in the future, but who they are today – their ideas, their interests, their courage to learn.

During the two-day workshop, I realised that it was not just about what I was able to give the students, it was about the valuable lessons I learned through interacting with them and the school community.

Justin and I had just finished day one of the workshop when a student came up to us and asked if Justin played Dota. He’d seen the icon on Justin’s computer. Perhaps it was his way of starting a conversation with us.

He told us about himself and the issues he faced both at school and at home. The conversation lasted for an hour. Later, his teacher told us his story and we realised that we had shared a rare moment and connection with him. We didn’t expect him to open up to us, yet for some reason he did. Maybe he wanted to get some things off his chest.

Looking back, I think this experience taught me that sometimes it’s not so much what you do, it’s about being there for people and listening to them. And by simply doing so, we allow our students’ voices to be heard.

Jon_merdeka project

Though I can think of many reasons to treasure my time as an intern at Teach For Malaysia, it was conversations like the one I had with that student that will stay with me for many more years to come.