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Mariam Philippose: A Courageous Career Switch From Designer To Educator at Dignity 

 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.

“Life is full of surprises,” shared Mariam Philippose, fondly known as Teacher Maria by her students at Dignity for Children Foundation. This non-governmental organisation is dedicated to providing holistic care and education to marginalised children, including refugees.

One of the unexpected surprises life brought to Mariam was her career switch two years ago. As a graduate in multimedia design, she worked as a designer in a company in Johor Bahru. However, she soon realised that she yearned for something more fulfilling.

While working as a designer, I found that I lacked fulfilment. Once one design was completed, I had to move on to the next design, and the cycle continued.

Reflecting on her past experiences, Mariam recalled the time she volunteered as a teacher at a nearby centre while studying. Even after many years, the sense of satisfaction she derived from teaching remained strong.

I still remember the joy I felt when the student who consistently received Cs achieved an A. That happiness stayed with me over the years. Upon deeper reflection, I knew I wanted to do something lasting, something that would have a long-term impact.

Motivated by her passion for teaching, Mariam entered the teaching scene in Johor Bahru. During her job search, she discovered Dignity and was captivated by the organisation’s meaningful work. Taking a chance, she applied and was hired as a homeroom and English teacher for the organisation’s secondary classes in 2022.

Her first year as a teacher at Dignity presented various ups and downs as she navigated a diverse classroom with students from different backgrounds. 

One of the greatest challenges is the language barrier. In the classroom, we implement English as the main medium of communication. With many children who speak multiple languages, making English the primary mode of communication puts them in a bind – but it helps them become more fluent in English.

Among the broader issues faced by the refugee community is the high likelihood of secondary school students dropping out to work and support their families’ economic situation. At Dignity, teachers like Mariam strive to meet the needs of these students through home visits and lessons focused on social-emotional learning and life skills.

Supported by the entire Dignity team, the journey to ensure that refugee children receive an education becomes smoother. Mariam cherishes the small, unexpected moments where their collective efforts bear fruit.

One of my students almost quit school a year ago, but this year, she achieved an A+ in Mathematics

Through her experiences, Mariam has gained a deeper understanding of her students’ lived experiences and daily struggles. This fuels her mission as a teacher who ensures that her students are truly “seen.”

My experiences have made me a teacher who genuinely cares for each child. I want them to feel seen. Sometimes, the quieter ones can be overlooked, and I strive to make every student feel acknowledged and appreciated.

Currently pursuing her teaching certificate, Mariam is committed to becoming an even better educator for her students. She believes that her face or name being forgotten is inconsequential. Instead, she wishes for her words to serve as guiding lights in her students’ most challenging moments.

I hope my words of encouragement and counsel remain in their hearts. I hope they find solace and strength in those words during difficult times, allowing them to overcome life’s toughest moments.

Images are from Maria’s personal archive.

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