Skip to main content

Global Flipchart



July 2016
| Issue #4

Event review: Diversity & inclusion camp in Malaysia

By Pat Nunis

2016 was our fourth run for the Diversity & Inclusion Camp. With 160 students, it was the biggest group we have had so far - and surprising in many ways. It was the first time we had a team of 8 facilitators from Hong Kong IAF join us as table facilitators and this brought with it deep insights all round and also, a depth of learning for the facilitator team itself.

  • The dates: 31 March - 3 April 2016
  • The place: Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai, Johor, Malaysia
  • The participants: 160 students from 1st & 2nd year public and private universities, Malaysians and International students -representing 20 different countries, from every continent
  • Facilitation: 2 lead facilitators and a team of 30 table facilitators

The core objectives of the camp are to introduce students to an experience of diversity and provide them with reflection and communication tools with which to handle situations that are new and different and nurture working relationships with individuals from various ethnicities and religions. In Malaysia, students from public universities are predominantly Muslim and students from the international and private institutions are from various cultures and religions. The Camp is one of the few spaces where these different groups of students may meet, relate, get to know each other and work together on a project. For some - it would be their first experience of meeting and working with the OTHER. The catalyst to prompt dialogue was the documentary The Imam & the Pastor, a production for the Initiatives of Change. The 30 min documentary relates the life and work of Pastor James Wuye and Imam Mohd Ashafa who came together to work for peace in Nigeria.

Whilst different cultures were definitely one of the elements to contend with, diversity in this camp extended to gender differences, visual disability, language differences, dressing and food preferences, some of which were explicitly addressed in the course of the Camp and others were implicit in the experience.

The event has always led to deep and significant aha moments from the participants, and this 4th camp was no different. In a particular exercise, (STAND UP IF...), in the safety of the space created, deep sharing was enabled with individuals opening up about their experience of racial bias and prejudice, as well as, how even within a family, differences in skin tone could lead to unwelcome comparisons between siblings. Different understanding of religious mores also surfaced as for e.g. the use of the Malay/Arabic word Allah to mean God .. which in Peninsular Malaysia is reserved for Muslims. (Non Muslims whose mother tongue may be Malay are not permitted by law to use the word "Allah" in their worship and writing.) Whilst the issue was brought up - the differing perspectives were heard without fear or favour. It was important that different views were heard but not challenged. The intent was to invite the participants to begin their individual self examen. The Camp would not be and is not a space for activism.

As this was a one-time event and we would not probably meet this group again, it was necessary to sometimes not go down a road that would open up hurt or irresolvable emotions. We needed to be respectful of the fact that for students who came from conservative traditions, this might be their first catalyst of thought that the world could be different and yet safe. It sometimes felt like we danced on a tight rope of what we would like to do and what we might safely do, given the reality of our limited time and contact with the group.

The 3-day event was designed around an extended focused conversation model adapted to suit the needs of the group. The journey theme was core to the design, i.e. the Camp as a journey of discovery. We worked with 20 tables of 8 including 1 or 2 table facilitators. To ensure that the tables were in synch and kept to our process schedule, table facilitators were required to encourage participation yet stay conscious of time allocations for each segment. The IAF Hong Kong team served as table facilitators and they found the experience enriching as well as an eye-opener in terms of working in a Muslim majority group. Anticipating some language limitations, a Hong Kong IAF facilitator came up with a brilliant idea of using emojis from facebook to assist participants in identifying and naming their emotions - this innovation will help us in future events. Another feature was the sharing of experiences from past participants and facilitators who spoke about their own journey of diversity and inclusion. This again was a moment of deep learning for all present.

The 160 students now join our DIYC alumni from the first 3 events and we have a new Facebook page where individuals may still connect and share their stories.