During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Catalyst, Regis' Christian Service club, added another major project to its catalog: the Zotung Refugee Initiative. Spearheaded by current senior Daniel Ngiam ’23 and his older brother, Samuel Ngiam ’22, a group of 14 students have participated in a remote teaching program, working with the children of Burmese Chin refugees attending the Zotung Catholic Refugee Learning Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Chins are a predominantly Christian minority ethnic group originating from western Myanmar. Many of them were displaced from their homeland to neighboring countries as refugees due to violence and persecution. The Chin refugees in Kuala Lumpur fled organized discrimination by the Burmese Army but still struggle to find economic and social success due to their status as refugees. Refugee status in Malaysia deems it illegal for adult members of the Chin community to work in their country, and many of them must work in harsh, unforgiving conditions for little pay. The refugee children lack access to regular education, and the community depends on the support of nonprofits and NGOs.
The Zotung Catholic Refugee Learning Centre was founded in order to alleviate part of this problem, but amidst the start of the pandemic, the organization was not permitted to operate in person. The Ngiam brothers, who had been volunteering with Zotung since middle school, worked independently with them to raise money for tablets that could support a transition to remote learning. Once the group was equipped with these necessary technologies, the Regians enlisted the help of their peers on 84th St. to support the centre's programs.
Beginning in November 2020, the Catalyst Zotung Refugee Initiative was formed. Since then the Ngiam brothers, alongside Leonardo Lobaccaro ’23, Antonio Lobaccaro ’23, Jack Flanigan ’23, Jonathan Hartanto ’23, Julius Dorsey ’23, Chase Javellana ’23, Andrew Cimmino ’23, Chris Kim ’24, Robert Taverni ’24, Rhandy Morocho ’24, Michael Cameron ’24, and Jose Galindo ’25, have provided online lessons to the Zotung children. Each week, the Regians lead Zoom classes for Zotung's elementary students, covering a variety of topics in mathematics, arts, music, science, computer technology, and English. In just under two years, the initiative has logged close to 700 hours of lessons.
While these Regians have been tasked with supplementing the children with a formal education, they have noted that some of the most important work they do involves offering these children of refugees a reprieve from the adverse environments they are exposed to. “Our Regis volunteers sometimes underestimated the power of their conversations with and commitment to the Zotung kids," said Daniel Ngiam. “For displaced children who the world has constantly failed, such simple kindness resonates.”
Fifteen additional Regis students are set to begin teaching with the program in the coming months, and Catalyst is working to continue to expand the project. The Zotung Refugee Centre is extremely grateful for all of the assistance the Regis community continues to provide them, and shared with the Regians a note of thanks for their kindness and generosity.
“I am humbled by the extraordinary work of Daniel Ngiam and the Catalyst members who teach remote English classes to refugee children at the Zotung Catholic Learning Center in Malaysia," said Director of Guidance and Catalyst moderator Ms. Christine Badi. “Due to the 12 hour time difference, the Regis student teachers begin their classes at 11pm, after they have completed their own coursework and study. This is truly a project of love and a visible display of the universality of the Catholic Church."