Two teachers, both dedicated volunteers of Antarabudaya Malaysia, were recipients of the AFS Asia Pacific Initiative (AAI) “Outstanding Volunteer Awards” held in conjunction with International Volunteer Day recently.

Rohaya Md Yusoff of Kedah Chapter and Ong Bee Bee of Klang Chapter were announced the winners from Malaysia of the annual awards in a virtual ceremony streamed live to all AAI partner countries comprising Turkey, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, HongKong, Philippines, Japan and China.

Rohaya received the award due to her selfless and dedicated work when Covid-19 hit the world and forced a lockdown in Malaysia. All students across the network had to be repatriated. AFS Malaysia then was in a quandary on how to transport students hosted in Kedah to KL. State borders were closed, and the U.S. Embassy was getting increasingly concerned. Rohaya stepped up to the plate by personally chaperoning the students from Kedah to KLIA where they could board their international flights. She kept in touch with the students throughout their journey back to the U.S. until they were safely home with their families. The students hosted in her chapter had up until then, wonderful experiences there and all were grateful for her caring character and personal attention to their well-being. This was evidenced in the students’ speeches at the virtual farewell ceremony.

Rohaya started volunteering for AFS in 2000. Due to her active work, she was soon appointed the Northern Chapter Leader in 2003, overseeing Kedah (including Langkawi), Penang and Perlis. With the help of local volunteers, she managed to place students in all 3 states. When the volunteering landscape was defined by states for better transparency and border segregation in 2014, she was promptly elected Kedah Chapter President. Her home has always been a “halfway house” for many troubled students or those needing counseling before moving on to their new host family. More popularly known as “Aunty Rohaya”, she is well-loved by her students. She has kept in touch with most of them and they would return to visit her and vice versa. She has been an inspiration to other chapter leaders through her achievements. Not surprisingly, she was voted “Volunteer Inspirasi Senior” at a Volunteer Congress in 2015.

Vice-President of Klang Chapter Ong Bee Bee did not let the global pandemic stop her interest in intercultural and cross-cultural understanding. Although the pandemic forced the world to re-look at how we operate, digital products and the internet provided a golden opportunity for Bee Bee. She lost no time in taking advantage of the many online facilities to create people-to-people friendships through various classroom exchanges with countries in Asia, Europe right up to the Americas, mostly on her own initiative and through contacts she had made with the network of AFS partner countries. This year she championed the use of online learning and meetings, attended almost all of the online programs that AFS delivered and even helped promote AFS-organized online events to her fellow teachers around the country. Her school was the first to form a Junior Intercultural Club and she subsequently convinced another primary school to follow suit and launch a similar club in November. She has boundless energy, is always in search of opportunities to execute intercultural activities and is creative in her online sessions. Ong Bee Bee is often described as dependable, sincere and possessing a true volunteering spirit by her peers.

She first came into the AFS Family in 2015 when she hosted a student from France for a year. There was no looking back for her since then. She continued to volunteer as a Liaison Person for a host family in 2016 and took on many other voluntary roles. She went on to become a chapter committee member and now is the Klang Chapter Vice President since 2018. As a music teacher, she has also initiated a lot of cultural activities with her Music Club members in school.