I have learned many lessons from my students. As I sit here trying to get some words out on to the screen, I remember one lesson I learned from Ashiwini - should I be right or should I be kind?
She was in Form 5 and the school was preparing for the Joint Installation of the Interact Clubs of SM Tenby and SMK Dr Megat Khas in Ipoh. The venue: our school. There was the usual last minute hustle and bustle to get all things right before the guests arrived at 4 p.m.
I did not teach any class in SM Tenby in 2009. I saw her and told her to tuck in her shirt. She did not want to do it and I insisted that she went to the washroom to do it. She was sad but she did it. Only when she left did it strike me that that uniform is not suitable for those who are not very slim. Throughout the evening, I had a bad feeling within me, as my conscience smote me for my unkind deed. At the end of the day, I did not meet her.
A few days later, I met her along the corridor. I spoke to her and I am glad I had it in me to apologise to a student for a mistake I had made. I told her that I was sorry for telling her to do it. She then spoke to me of her cancer, the treatment, how she had bloated up, the embarrassment of having to tuck in. After that she was always very friendly and would speak to me whenever our paths crossed.
Then one day, my dearest Art Teacher Michelle Lim decided to put me on Facebook. Ashiwini requested to be accepted. She had left school and had gone to KL to further her education. I am sure she remembers the kindness of Mr Louis Rozario, her Principal when she was in Form 5. She used to send me greetings and I used to respond.
In 2011 I heard that she had suffered a relapse. I wrote to her a number of times but got no response. I tracked down her contact number and called her. She was in Ipoh and on the spur of the moment I decided to visit her at her home. That evening I had dinner with Mr and Mrs Ham. Mr Ham told me to park my car at home and very kindly offered to drive me to her place. I did not have an address, only a general direction.
We went up and down every street and asked people on the street. Finally she answered her phone and gave me the address. She was at the hospital. Her parents dropped her home and they went on to pick up her medicines. Mr and Mrs Ham, my maid and I spent about an hour with her. She had lost her hair due to chemo. Mrs Ham was most understanding and loving. She spoke to her at length, speaking most positively.
In the second week after she started chemo, she would have sores that started from outside her mouth and went all the way down her throat, making speech impossible. She was waiting for a bone marrow transplant. When we left that night, she said that she was going into hospital the following day, she would call and when she was well, she would communicate via Facebook.
Little did i know that I would never see her alive again. Today, 23rd January 2012, the first day of the new Chinese Lunar Calendar, she passed away at 4.45 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur. May her soul rest in peace. Our thoughts are with her and her grieving family.
I recall vividly the day when I spoke to her about her uniform. It was not important that I was right about the way to wear the uniform. It was important that I should have been kind instead towards a pupil, that I did not bruise a child's heart, a child's feelings. Since that day, I have constantly told my teachers: Be kind to the students. When they are sad, listen to them. You don't have to argue that you are right, that the child deserved it. If it is within your capacity to change a situation and make the child happy, do it.
To all adults who read this, when a child is sad, address his distress, you are so much older than he is.
Ashiwini was an only child to her parents.