Saturday, June 26, 2010

Interning at All Women's Action Society

Before the start of our seminar, I arrived in KL a month early to begin an internship with an NGO called All Women's Action Society, or AWAM. AWAM is an independent feminist organization committed to improving the lives of women in Malaysia. Established in 1985, AWAM covers a wide variety of issues affecting Malaysian women to include issues involving ethnicity and religion and violence against women. AWAM also works very closely with other women's organizations throughout Malaysia.

From my very first day at AWAM I instantly began to absorb and learn so much about the challenges women face in their day to day lives. Although AWAM is a relatively small organization, they are made up of an extremely diverse group of women who are extremely passionate when it comes to tackling these issues head on. Not only did my internship teach me a lot about the women's movement, I was also able to learn about the diverse cultures that make up Malaysia just through my day to day interactions. The best part about AWAM is how it feels like a family. Everyone helps each other out and is truly interested in each other's opinions and ideas, regardless of how different they may be from their own. Being the only American at AWAM, lunch time is always a fun experience as everyone is always asking me what I have and have not eaten during my time in Malaysia so far. Everyone usually gets me to try their own meals if it is something unique or they bring in a variety of Malaysian fruits and deserts to sample so, I can't complain!

My main project at AWAM is on rape in Malaysia and specifically, why it is under-reported. A few years back, AWAM published an official rape report, detailing rape statistics specific to Malaysia. Although the larger goal is to eventually completely update the entire report, I am contributing a smaller project that specifically looks at why women do not report rape. I have consulted a variety of Malaysian news sources for articles on rape cases, general literature on the subject, and I am now looking through AWAM's case files from their counseling center. As part of the project, I also developed an anonymous survey that will be published on AWAM's website for women to contribute to in order to gain a better understanding of the current nature of rape in Malaysia.

After the conclusion of our seminar, I will return to interning at AWAM, where I will finish up my project. In all, interning at AWAM has been an amazing experience!

Orang Asli-- The true Bumi Putra!

Taman Negara National Park marked a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time jungle trekking, my first time canopy-walking, and definitely my first time swimming in a mini-waterfall in the middle of the jungle. Meeting with the Orang Asli was another unforgettable first. The Orang Asli are the aboriginal people of Malaysia and have inabited this land for hundreds of years. They live semi-nomadic lifestyles based on subsistence slash-and-burn agriculture. They urrently face significant land pressures as well as pressures by the Malaysian government to Islamize and assimilate into the Malay population. Most of these groups prefer to hold on to their culture. Our group arrived in boats at the Batek settlement. About twelve families in total lived in the settlement. Their homes were simple, made out of dried leaves and canvas. By most people's standards, they live in poverty. They earn some money from tourists like us who come by, intrigued by their lifestyle. But in my opinion, they seem happy. First they demonstrated to us how they start fire using the friction from vine and wood. They then gave us a demonstration on how they made darts that they use to kill animals for food. They also let us take a shot at using the blow darts. I personally was most intrigued by the children that ran around the settlement. Some were dressed in old clothes, others were half-dressed, one was not at all dressed, running around unabashed, stark naked in front of all the tourists. It was almost like a scene from a national geographic magazine. I kept trying to take pictures of the children. One of them, who was playing with his friends, realized this and turn around and stuck his tongue out at me just as I was taking the picture. I could not stop laughing. We then began to play a game. Every time I tried to take a picture of the kids, they ran and hid behind a tree. This game went on for quite a while, and I was not getting bored of it. One of the boys wore bright blue pants and had a smile from ear to ear that would make anyone's heart melt. He pretended to be shy, but secretly, I think he liked getting his picture taken. I finally went up to the children and I showed them their pictures. I am not sure if they had ever seen a picture of themselves, but they giggled and agreed to have their picture taken with me. Finally, I snapped a great one of them. I will never forget this experience.