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Community in Malaysia

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By Sabrina, YES Abroad 2014-2015, Malaysia

Sometimes an exchange experience presents unfortunate and unexpected circumstances that remind us that we are not simply tourists visiting a country, but rather we are members of our host country’s community. December presented one such circumstance when the east coast of Malaysia encountered significant floods that displaced communities far from us, but still created a communal call to help those in need. Thankfully, I was able to join many Malaysians, including Malaysian YES program alumni, to come together and work for our neighbors in need.

When we volunteered to help package goods at the Air Force base for the day, I expected to see only a few sporadic donations. I predicted that we might organize a few boxes of unwanted clothes or maybe some canned goods. However, once we arrived and joined the effort, what I witnessed was truly amazing and far from my expectations.

There were tents lined up to the length of a football field. Under each tent, there were bags of clothes piled ten feet high. There was enough to fill two “Goodwill” shops -- and that was just the clothes! Then there were rows of tents where many people worked like honeybees, folding and packing clothes quickly and neatly, like a retail store on a busy day. I was surprised that the clothes that people donated were not just basic t-shirts and pants: there were school uniforms, dresses, work attire, tudungs (hijabs), baju kurungs (traditional Malay costume for women), baju melayu (traditional Malay costume for men), prayer rugs, blankets, baby clothes, toys, etc. Many clothes were even brand new! People also donated mineral water, candles, soap, medical supplies, diapers, food, toiletries, towels, and much more.

This experience highlighted one of my favorite things about Malaysia and Malaysians: they are truly a community. It is common to talk to someone and mention another family that lives two states away, only to find out that they are friends and know them well, too. At Malaysian weddings, it is not just the immediate family members who are invited; it is the extended family, friends, neighbors, friends-of-friends and even sometimes people who saw the wedding sign under the stoplight in town.

Even with a large population, everybody knows everyone. Everyone knows someone who was effected by the flood and everyone feels that it’s their duty to help. This overwhelming sense of community is what being a Malaysian is all about, and I am so grateful to be a part of it.