Getting Involved with Charity: An Expat's Tale

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For many expats, the move to a country like Malaysia is a real eye-opener, and the first time many have been in such close proximity to people whose lives are more of a struggle than many of us can imagine.

For Cecilia Rodas Jorda, the glimpse of hardship that met her on arrival only reaffirmed a philanthropic desire that had burned within her for many years, and her new life in Malaysia gave her the time, at last, to pursue it more fully.

“I worked full-time in Spain,” explains Cecilia, “and I had three children, a dog, the house, the countryside… there wasn’t much free time.” Despite all this, Cecilia still found opportunities to do her bit for those in less comfortable circumstances, and one of her projects involved creating an exhibition for the Catalonian government to raise awareness for the plight of women.

Cecilia gave up her teaching job and her Spain-based projects to make the move East. With no job and only one child in tow, Cecilia found life opened up to her again, and it didn’t take her long to seek out a charitable cause.

“I work as a volunteer teacher,” she tells me, “and it is just wonderful.” For the past two years. Cecilia has been spending every Friday at the United Learning Centre (ULC), a school that educates Burmese children who do not qualify for public schools due to their parent’s status as refugees. The Centre relies almost completely on donations and the work of volunteers, and there are various expats involved, with other Spanish volunteers helping out with lessons and after-school activities.

“It is so rewarding,” beams Cecilia, “and the children are just so grateful, so happy to see me.” She describes how they throw open the door the moment she arrives, and are desperate to carry her bag into the classroom.

Despite having been a teacher her whole life, Cecilia admits that the experience of teaching here is very different, and she is thrilled to find the children so eager to learn despite their poor backgrounds. “My school in Barcelona was an upper class school,” she explains. “The children had everything they needed.” Here, many of the children she comes across have next to nothing. “Some of them are so bright, so intelligent, but what hope is there for them?”

Her smile fades to a pained expression as she talks about the limited prospects for the children she teaches, and the many others throughout the world that don’t have access to proper education. “All over the world people talk about the global crisis, but the real crisis is not a financial one, it is a humanitarian one.”

ULC is not the only cause to which Cecilia lends her time, and she is eager to tell me about an upcoming charity ball which will raise funds for the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), a charity that offers support and assistance to women who are seeking an escape from domestic violence.

The ball is organised annually by the Latin American Ladies Association, and though Cecilia may not hail from South America, she has been welcomed into the fold. “As soon as I arrived here the Latin American ladies invited me to all their events,” she explains, “and I love being involved!” They are also thrilled to have such a driven philanthropist in their midst, and the Equadorian Embassy recently screened a documentary that she made with her son which focused on women’s rights.


Creativity goes hand in hand with her passion for change, and she finds all manner of ways to use her talents for the betterment of those less fortunate. “I love to take photographs, too,” she tells me, “I have so many from our travels around Asia, and I enlarged some of my best ones and sold them.” The venture was well received, and Cecilia managed to donate RM5,000 to an orphanage in Cambodia and RM500 to a library in Laos, as well as having money left over to buy books for the ULC and treat the children to a watercolour painting workshop.

She is, it is safe to say, an extraordinary woman, and she has certainly made the most of what her life. “Life in Malaysia is a paradise for expats,” she says, “and of course I enjoy all the socialising and the dinner parties, but that is not all my life is. There are many people who need our help.” Thankfully, those people have a champion like Cecilia.

Anyone interested in volunteering with ULC should visit children/united-learning-centre or contact [email protected]. The Latin American Charity Ball takes place on 3 November at Hilton KL.


This article was written by Elizabeth Perry for The Expat magazine.
Source: The Expat November 2012

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