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This S’wakian teacher led his students to the state dance competition. Then MCO happened.

When we think of dance movies, it usually involves a group of teenage student misfits in an inner-city school, defying odds to reach the final competition. But this story is a bit different: in this one, a group of primary students from a rural village in Tatau, Sarawak — a place you’ve probably never heard of before until now — were on their way to the state championship.

Last month, when we became a judge for Anugerah Guru Inspirasi McDonald’s, this was one of the stories that caught our eye. More specifically, the story of their teacher, Cikgu Kalai Ampi, who led them there.

Image from McDonald’s.

We then got in touch with his former student, Candy Yap, to know more about this.

The teacher you wish you had

Cikgu Kalai was known to his students as the fun, well-dressed, and friendly teacher with a constant smile on his face. He’s always willing to help even out of the class, and loved taking his students out on weekend trips to the beaches and waterfall. He’s that teacher you wish you had, who treated you like a friend outside of class.

Cikgu Kalai (L) and Candy (R).

But he wasn’t just all fun and games. As a teacher, he was always determined to help his students improve. When he was first transferred to SK Nanga Tau in 2018 as the BM teacher, the passing rate for UPSR was only 34%. But next year, that rate jumped to 94%, with a 100% passing rate in BM. 

So even if they can be friends outside of the classroom, inside of one they have to remember their duty. As he always told Candy:

 “Diluar kelas kita berkawan, namun di dalam kelas tetap kita guru dan murid, dan apa yang murid harus lakukan adalah perlu siapkan kerja rumah yang diberikan oleh guru.”

Cikgu Kalai was also passionate about dance, so it was only natural for him to be assigned as the school’s dance teacher. And there, he found another opportunity for his students to shine.

The students have never even competed outside school before

He found out that the school students had never joined any dance competitions outside of school before. So he immediately set his sights on his students to do just that. He saw this as an opportunity for these young students, growing up in a rural village connected only by muddy timber roads and spotty phone lines to the outside world, a chance to travel outside and display their talents.

However, sending first-timers out unprepared for a competition might not be that wise. With the help of another teacher, they first organised a small dance competition in 2018 within the school, with their parents as the supportive audience.

He immediately saw that these kids were ready to compete, and it’s worth a try at a bigger stage. So in 2019, they competed at the Tatau district competition, where they achieved a respectable third-place finish. 

SK Nanga Tau students with their trophies. Image from Candy Yap

But he thought they could still do better, and continued to motivate the students to redeem themselves. They tried again in 2020, and SK Nanga Tau’s dance group won the district championship and a spot in the Sarawak state dance competition!

This must be an exciting time for Cikgu Kalai and his students, as they won it after only trying two times. However, their dreams of performing on a bigger stage were cut short. As we all know, back in 2020 the Covid-19 cases nationwide started rising, and the MCO was enforced. Due to that, the Sarawak state dance competition was cancelled.

“Hidup ini bagai roda”

In 2021, with the Emergency enforced and schools closed nationwide, it looks like the students won’t have a chance to try again this year. But that doesn’t mean that Cikgu Kalai and his students will stop dancing.

Every weekend, if Cikgu Kalai does not go home, he would lead a Zumba session with his students who are staying back at the hostel. In case you don’t know, the primary and secondary schools in the area have student hostels. This helps cut down on travel time, because as we mentioned before, the roads here aren’t the best, and some houses can be far from the school.

@cikgu_kayBambarambambaraban♬ original sound – Kalai Ampi362

And Cikgu Kalai, who is also the hostel’s head warden, will also help the students at the hostel if they needed anything. Whether they needed new slippers, necessities, or just a ride back to their longhouses, he was ready to give. When Candy asked why he’s so generous, he’ll always reply: 

“Hidup ini bagai roda; ada masa kita di atas, ada kalanya kita di bawah.” 


He hand-delivered homework to his students during MCO

But with the many MCOs happening and schools closed, Cikgu Kalai’s dance sessions are happening less and less as everyone is required to stay at home. Even worse, the students here aren’t able to do online learning. Sadly, the infrastructure here is still lacking, so even finding a consistent phone signal can be a challenge, much less one capable of streaming an online class. 

Undeterred, Cikgu Kalai and his fellow teachers have resorted to printing out the homework, hand-delivering it to the students, then returning later to grade it. This is challenging work, but this is their only option to ensure their students do not fall behind in school.

So because of his sacrifice and passion in helping his students to go further, we’re glad to see that Cikgu Kalai was one of the 25 winners of the Anugerah Guru Inspirasi McDonald’s, besides being a winner in our hearts. And when the MCO is finally lifted, we look forward to him leading the SK Nanga Tau’s students to compete at a bigger stage.

Keep on dancing, Cikgu Kalai!

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