Team of lecturers bring Malaysian and Rohingya kids together through the arts

Team of lecturers bring Malaysian and Rohingya kids together through the arts

University Sains Malaysia collaborates with Penang Art District to gift the arts and build values in Rohingya and local children.

By Lynette Low

Every child is born blind to differences, worthy of respect and entitled to an education. A brainchild of Dr. Pravina Manoharan from the Music Department of University Sains Malaysia (USM), Jungle Book The Musical aims to give Rohingya children the opportunity to learn and experience the arts in sync with their Malaysian peers.

Adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” and with original songs composed by the USM team, the project comprises of two Holiday Art Workshops which precede the final production. Kipling’s story was chosen as both local and Rohingya children know it well, and it’s good news to kids when they get to jump and swing around with permission!

T-shirt silkscreen printing class
How it started

Dr. Pravina, the project director, was driven to design this project from the simple desire of doing an art-based project with children. She had the insight to choose the Rohingya kids living right behind USM, rather than work with local kids who have access to arts education. Rohingya refugee children in Malaysia lack the legal status for access to public education, resulting in the need for informal learning centres.

“Rohingya children do not have the same privileges as Malaysian children. In their school (Peace Learning Centre), they learn the Malay language, English, and Maths but they do not learn Arts or Music.”

“I want to give them the opportunity to experience the arts – to paint, sing, dance and act like every other Malaysian child.”

Dr. Pravina, Chairperson of the Music Department at USM School of Arts, facilitating the music class during the holiday art workshop
Bringing it all together

A fun-filled Holiday Art Workshop was held for five days from March 25 – 29 at School of the Arts, USM. Coached by highly skilled and dedicated lecturers from USM’s School of the Arts, 33 Rohingya and Malaysian kids aged 8-12 years old participated in Jungle Book The Musical’s script-reading, drama, art, craft, music, and dance sessions. On the workshop’s fifth day, the kids enthusiastically performed what they learned in a showcase exclusively for parents.

Dr. Pravina explains that the workshop teaches kids the performing arts and intensively trains the Rohingya kids who will perform in the final production. “Practicing to perform for a small audience gives them good exposure. This way, September’s final performance for an audience of approximately 500 people will not intimidate them. Also, we are training them to have muscle memory, to dance without having to think.”

What’s beautiful about the workshop is how well the Rohingya and local kids integrated with each other. A swish of the brush, little light leaps on soft ABC mats, singing in unison and swinging on artificial vines did magic from the workshop’s very first day.

The teachers observed that in the morning, the kids stuck to their own cliques but soon adapted to each other through the activities.

“By lunch, the Rohingya kids were saving seats and braiding the hair of their newfound Malaysian friends!”

One of the workshop’s goals was to encourage kids to embrace another race or community. Clearly, discrimination is only an adult’s concern. “Kids get close to each other very fast, they do not see colour. ‘Come let’s play’ is what they think of,” emphasises Lay Chin, an assistant dance teacher.

Nur Hilyati Ramli, Drama & Theater lecturer at USM School of Arts and Penang-based theatre practitioner in acting, directing and dance.
Dr. Mohd Kamal Sabran, New Media Design & Technology lecturer at USM School of Arts and artist-researcher in interdisciplinary art practices which includes sound art, experimental music, theatre and electronic installations.

The workshop is not just a five-day affair as the kids walked away from the workshop with an armful of skills and values. Puan Hilyati, a lecturer from USM’s Drama and Theatre department who is the workshop’s dance trainer asserts that the kids “learn how to communicate with each other in order to complete a task…and to endure, focus and listen.” While Dr. Pravina expresses that kids “learn how to respect people regardless of who they are…to foster love and friendship.”

The testimonies of the teachers are reflected by the children. Anisa, 11, says that she has learned how to dance, sing, draw, and act like an elephant. While Ong Yu Her, 11, shares that he learns how to be helpful by sharing his script with those who forget to bring it.

How you can support

The project, initially designed to introduce arts and music to the Rohingya children, has grown to incorporate a fundraising element. The tickets for the final performance on 5, 6 and 7 September 2019 will help raise funds for the Rohingya school in terms of buying school books and paying the teachers.

In the meantime, do look out for the second Holiday Art Workshop in July 2019 for your child to experience the performing arts in a fun, safe and loving environment. Come on board for a good cause as RM50 from your child’s RM200 registration will sponsor one Rohingya child to experience the arts.

Contact Dr. Pravina (016 377 3308) or Puan Hilyati (017 3191674) for more information.

Facebook: junglebookthemusical

Images by Rae Hong