Simple Dans Ma Vertu, Forte Dans Mon Devoir (Simple in My Virtues, Steadfast in My Duties).
This was my school motto which still lingers in my heart. My best friend who was from a boarding school once told me, “I don’t get this strong emotional attachment of convent girls with their schools. It’s like there is this ghost umbilical cord between you guys.” Okay, that sounds like an eerie Malay ghost story but on a serious note, my friend’s statement made me think hard about why former convent girls like myself love and take pride in our missionary schools so much.
During primary school, I vividly remember my friends and I paying our respects to Sister Fedelis, who was a kind nun and a caring English teacher. We attended an elaborate Christian funeral and carried candles, and our non-Christian friends and teachers (including our ustaz and ustazah) joined in the prayers for her in an old chapel with mesmerising neo-Gothic architectural influence.
Many conventional Muslim parents, including mine, waited patiently for us outside the chapel until we finished the ceremony. Our parents respected the schoolteachers and trusted that the Christian ceremony would not cause their daughters to deviate from their faith. That trust was built upon the professionalism, competency and transparency of the nuns and the other teachers.
The chapel is within the school compound but there were no extremists who requested that it be separated from the school, not even our Islamic teachers. I felt that the school belonged to all races and faiths where religious tolerance and moderate Muslims existed in harmony. As a Muslim, I think my convent school shaped me and my other Muslim friends into independent thinkers and profound believers in Allah who are not easily offended by the activities of other religions.
Convent Light Street (CLS) is the oldest school in Southeast Asia, the history of which dates back 167 years. That is how long the school has been having a positive impact on our education system. I still remember my history lesson conducted in an old wooden classroom located in an Anglo-Indian building known as the Government House. Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang, and Stamford Raffles, who founded Singapore, worked briefly at that Government House which is part of the CLS premises.
My history teacher once told us that where we sat in the classroom was the “sweet spot” for Light to watch his ships with his binoculars out of the wooden window. My point here is not about the English captain, but about my former dedicated Malaysian teachers who were passionate about their work. I had teachers who were willing to spend their leisure time after official school hours conducting extra classes to prep us for our exams.
Lastly, this school was where I met great friends from all walks of life and from different races, faiths and socio-economic backgrounds. My friends and I received a secular, quality and wholesome English-medium education at affordable fees. It is also where I found my first love that has no boundaries of race, religion or even gender. There was no need to label that love, and I thank the Sisters of the Infant Jesus for providing many Malaysians, including a Muslim student like myself, with a memorable education experience.
Noor Asmaliza Romlee is a former convent school student.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.