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Ajunta Muniandy: Educating And Loving Refugee Children at El Shaddai Centre

 Wiki Impact celebrates Teacher’s Day 2023 by honouring teachers who go above and beyond to ensure that all children, regardless of their socio-economic status, citizenship, abilities, or background, have access to education. Their names may not immediately ring a bell, but these unsung heroes have positively impacted countless lives and futures.

Forced to flee their homes and uprooted from their home soil, refugee children are often thrown into a life that demands they grow up much faster than their ages. Malaysia is currently home to over 25% of registered refugees and asylum seekers who are children[1]

Some refugee children are forced to take on adult responsibilities such as helping their families put food on the table, and robbing them of their childhood.  

In Malaysia, several learning centres have been established to help address this issue and provide refugee children with a chance to reclaim their childhood and pursue their dreams. One of the most notable centres is the El Shaddai Centre where Ajunta Muniandy, 60, head teacher fulfils her calling and passion. 

For refugee children, school is not  just a place of learning, but a place where they make new friends, build relationships and a safe space to be themselves – as children. 

Ajunta recognised the power of relationships when it comes to learning. As a young student, she found it easier to learn when her teachers were approachable. 

When I was in primary school, I had an unfavourable impression of teachers. They are very fierce and stern. In secondary school, I came across two teachers who were very friendly and it changed my perception of teachers.

The teachers that taught Ajunta in secondary school made a mark on her life, as well as her academic results.

The two teachers were not only friendly, they were caring and guided me in my studies. I really began to improve academically.

The belief her teachers had in her gave her the motivation to continue learning, regardless of age, status or season in life. Ajunta attended various courses and held multiple diplomas and certificates. At 54, Ajunta received her Master’s in Education. 

At the end of  2020, Ajunta was introduced to El Shaddai Centre, an organisation that serves marginalised communities, including refugees and stateless individuals. In Jan 2021,she was hired as head teacher.

Under Ajunta’s leadership, the centre has grown from 6 to 12 classes, from 100 to 200 students as the need for education among the marginalised continues to grow. 

As an educator for a highly diverse demographic group, Ajunta faces numerous challenges, ranging from a limited grasp of the English language to community members’ mindsets that discourage education. 

The spectrum is wide.  Majority of people in the community encourage children to get an education and on the other hand, there are those that argue that secondary education is not necessary. Either they want them to get married or go to work. 

Despite these challenges, the El Shaddai Centre not only equips refugee children with academic skills but also serves as a beacon of hope for many.

My hope is that students will embrace education as one of the most effective ways to escape poverty and hardship, opening doors to a better life with new opportunities.

Through her work at El Shaddai, Ajunta has witnessed the difficulties faced by refugees that are often overlooked by those with better privileges. 

I am grateful and thankful to God for the blessings I have taken for granted, including citizenship and its benefits. Witnessing the struggles of my students and their families has given me the motivation to do more and do whatever I can to make a difference. 

In addition to academic learning, students at El Shaddai face other complexities that require support. To meet the holistic needs of the students, the centre runs a Student Wellness Programme, vocational training, and home visits.

Ajunta beams with pride when she shares that 13 out of the 20 primary school students at El Shaddai have successfully progressed to higher education, despite the pandemic-induced challenges of limited internet access and the cost of mobile data. 

It makes me very happy to see 13 students moving on from secondary school to pursue their IGCSE. The teachers and the students  have put in significant effort. 

Despite the unkindness that the refugee community has faced from the outside world, the children at El Shaddai receive an abundance of love and care. For Ajunta, it is this love and compassion that she hopes her students will remember her by.

Images are from Ajunta’s personal archive.

Explore our sources:

  1. UNICEF. (2022). Left Far Behind: The Impact of COVID-19 on Access to Education and Healthcare for Refugee and Asylum-Seeking Children in Peninsular Malaysia. Link

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