By Lydia Lee
World Vision Malaysia

My name is Lydia and I am responsible to initiate and oversee World Vision Malaysia (WVM) community development programmes (CDPs) in Sabah, provide direction for the growth of CDPs in Malaysia, capacity building of local staff, engage with stakeholders and explore partnering opportunities, collaborate with like-minded organisations and am one of the spokespersons for the media.

Before embarking on implementing any transformational community development programme with an aim towards a community’ self-sustainability, relationships and trust must be built with the community. The initial phase in starting in Tulid CDP starting from October 2011 was tough – no one in the area has heard of World Vision, WVM had no past track record in Sabah, the communities had limited engagement with NGOs. In one of the villages, some leaders actually thought I was from a new political party when they saw my orange World Vision shirt.

A lot of hard work and sacrifice was made, achievements were slow to come by (for example, it took one whole year of generally working alone in Sabah throughout 2012, before we had the first two Sabahan co-workers, and later on more Sabahan staff as field facilitators), plans can be suddenly thwarted by unexpected, unannounced events (such as the 13th General Elections and the Sulu crisis in 2013 when we planned to facilitate a series of participatory programme design workshops in several clusters of villages).

Personal life is usually at the backburner as a high degree of flexibility is needed to shuttle between West and East Malaysia to accommodate stakeholders’ timing. In spite of having the ‘best laid plans’, community development work in Sabah inevitably takes priority over other commitments, resulting in feelings of guilt from bailing on commitments to my husband, family and friends, or simply not committing to events and gatherings for fear causing disappointment later. Nevertheless, I am grateful that they continue to be supportive and I hope to do better in the area of being a good wife, daughter and friend.

I am touched by the care and hospitability of the community in Sabah and also a partner NGO, Good Shepherd Services when I first started working in Sabah. They took me in as one of them, allowed me to join them in their day-to-day activities even though I had zero farming knowledge – unable to chop trees and slow in moving tree trunks to clear lands for planting, slow in harvesting paddy and unable to distinguish edible and non-edible wild vegetables.

During the early, relationship-building period I got to know the community better. Through spending more time with the community, they opened up when they share their thoughts. Mothers, fathers and youths share their dreams and struggles. People really desire to do something to improve their condition, but lack the opportunities.

Successes are – when you are able to witness for yourself that children have shown increased confidence and motivation to learn, when field staff increase in their capacity, confidence and commitment, when a community showed initiative, motivation and ownership in setting set up their own pre-school in their village for their children’s well-being. Parents are willing to sacrifice for their children’s future. After seeing improvement in their children, parents are motivated to be good role models, even to the extent of changing their old habits for the sake of their children.

Last year, we responded to the floods in Kelantan. It was WVM’s first local disaster response. I was responsible for the relief and rehabilitation work among the orang asli communities in Gua Musang. It was a steep learning curve, I was further stretched to juggle a precious resource, i.e. time, in working in three locations – Sabah, Kelantan and Selangor.

The amazing grace of God, even though I do not have the ability to teleport or to be omnipresent (my occasional wishful thinking and outrageous daydream), God had protected me from major physical injury caused by accidents, and I have been safe from any serious harm that may have happened to a female staying alone in a village(s).

Throughout my time in World Vision Malaysia, I grew in my relationship with Jesus Christ. It is in times of struggle, uncertainty and knowing you are not able to do things with your own strength that leads you to a deeper dependence on God. When I was nearing the brink of burn-out after expending physical and mental energy throughout two months without a break, He brought forth renewal, sustained me from simply giving up and reminded me that He is my source of strength and hope.

He has also provided help in the form of people – people who are really committed to serve by availing themselves to be full time staff. I am very grateful for everyone I work with, for without such committed people giving their lives to do this work, we would not have gone very far.

What keeps me motivated? Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”  These words drive me to focus and do my best in every circumstance, that ultimately what I do will be pleasing to God.

Lydia Lee currently serves in World Vision Malaysia under the Malaysian Programmes team as a Manager.