Would you look at that?? I haven’t updated this blog in almost 2 years! I was reminded of it as I paid another year of my domain just to keep this site alive, but for what purpose? Memory sake I guess.
Karthik has spent the last many months encouraging me to journal, whether publicly or privately, since my new role in the government. “All your experiences and challenges, such a waste if you lose the memory of how it felt then and your internal struggles with how you dealt with how you felt”.
True. I’m also more inspired now after reading Educated, realising that taking the time to journal serves as a mean for me to respect my memories and experiences. I’m not going to bother with backtracking to my last post, but rather just start from May/June 2018. The time when Malaysia had a newfound hope, or at least the perception of it.
Truly, for the first time in history, many felt a lot less hopeless and helpless after witnessing our ability to change a government we never knew could be changed.
How it all started
After the elections, I reached out to Ong Kian Ming (who’s now the Deputy Minister of MITI) as he was the only person I knew who was in politics. I invited him to come speak at a TFM event, and in passing, mentioned to him that I’d love to support the new government in any way possible (we already knew each other before then as he followed my TFM journey from the beginning). Next thing I knew, he passed my contact to Wan Saiful, who was then working with the newly appointed Education Minister. He called me, we met up and chatted about what I thought of the education portion of the PH Manifesto (I told him I wasn’t impressed, that some of it are promising false hope and may not be heading the right direction, to which he responded with “well..I wrote the manifesto”).
A few days later, he said he spoke to the Minister and they wanted me in the team (!!!! Had to slap myself when I saw that).
I quit my job so fast it wasn’t funny (literally that same day, to the dismay of the other people on my project then). I was freelancing and didn’t have a long-term contract, but it still impacted the rest negatively. To be honest, I didn’t even know when, how much or IF I’d even get paid….I guess I was just too idealistic.
I mean, how often do you feel like your entire life experiences and passion have finally led you somewhere? My last 10 years at least, have been about bringing change to Malaysia and specifically in education. And now I’m going to be at the apex of where all the changes I ever dreamt of and talked about can be made. How could I turn it down?
Wouldn’t it be hypocritical, defeatist and selfish of me if I didn’t take this on just because of money?
So I said yes, not knowing I was about to enter a world so completely foreign and so much more challenging than I’d expected.
Being in a government in transition
Malaysians for the next few months brandished the world Malaysia Baru as we remained optimistic of the changes we are about to have as a nation. But I don’t know how many truly understood the pain and struggles to get the ideal country we want. Many expected their only responsibility to make it happen was to vote on that 9 May. To some extent, I naively believed that too.
I walked into my new office armed with my notebook and head filled with ideas and plans for what I want to bring in to the education system. As you know, I’ve spent the last many years in TFM teaching in classrooms, complaining, talking about what we want changed, challenging and improving upon ideas. I’ve also just spent the year researching, reading and writing about this for my Masters. I’ve seen at least 50+ schools and 200+ classrooms all across Malaysia. I’ve laid awake at night thinking about this. So you bet I was prepared.
To be honest, a lot of my work requires me to use my knowledge, experiences and ideas so it’s not like those haven’t been helpful. But that first 6 months…gosh. Just thinking about what happened sends shivers down my spine.
The endless driving, the endless meetings, the endless tears, the endless checking my depleting bank account…
The crux of the problem was while I was ready to be in an education policymaking position, I was far from ready to be in a political office. What more in a government that was going through a transition for the first time EVER, in which 90% of the people you work with did not want you to be there to begin with. Gosh, there is so much to learn about being in politics and frankly I was far too naive and too idealistic to understand it all.
I was familiar with firefighting in my previous jobs, but this is taking firefighting to a whole new level. I also did not get paid for that 6 months, and no indication of whether we would remain there (since our Minister was largely not well-perceived so everyday there are new rumours of cabinet reshuffling and everyday we had to live with that uncertainty). But I gritted my teeth and stayed on because I knew he was the right person to be in that role.
My first month
When I met him for the first time, it was in a large meeting with all the top guns in the Ministry and I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do there so I was just writing everything down frantically. At the end of it, he walked towards me, shook my hand and said “Welcome to the team”.
I was too shocked that a Minister even said that to me, so I stared at him and smiled. I forgot that I was there to work for HIM and that if I don’t shake myself out of my Imposter Syndrome feeling, I will never do justice to myself.
I remember my first task, and it was to research into this massive corruption case that is happening in the Ministry. It’s been all over the news so I can divulge it now; it was my first exposure to just how much there is to do here. After spending a few days poring through all the documents related to the case with my colleague, we briefed the Minister about everything we knew. It was my first time briefing him so I needed to impress. Not only did we prepare a fancy infographic of the case, we wrote multiple versions of summaries just in case. We had bullet points according to the timeline, we had charts, we had the files labelled and categorised. We didn’t sleep those few nights..but it was worth it when we finally got the case to SPRM.
This case got me going for a really long time because it reminds me of why we are here.
We are here because too much rot has occurred in the previous government. We are here because we wanted change.
369 schools in rural Sarawak were affected because of the corrupt project above, more than 50,000 students denied of stable electricity in schools because of self-serving people in power.
Just thinking about it got my blood boiling again. So I guess I will stop here as this post is turning out longer than I’d expected. What to do, first post in two years! Haha
Feels good to be writing again. Stay tuned for more, I have SO much more to say, since I’ve been here for almost a year and this post is only about the beginning!