Jacintha Tagal: The teacher who changed the life of my father & our family in Ba’Kelalan

“My father’s incredible life journey can be traced back to the classroom. Would you consider teaching a child whose life trajectory may change, because of you?” – Jacintha Tagal, 2012 Alumna

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My father is the inspiration behind why I joined the Fellowship. He was the first university graduate in his family and, in doing so, changed the trajectory of his family. He was incredibly bright and hardworking, but often told me that his teachers had a big part to play in his success. I learned, through my father, the impact of a teacher on a child’s life. One of them was Leonard Edwards – he was a Peace Corps Volunteer who taught in my father’s school for 2 years – much like our Fellowship. Recently, I learned of Leonard Edwards’ name through a relative. I excitedly googled him, found his contact information and emailed him with the header “Hello from Borneo.” I was beyond thrilled to receive a response from him. I had the opportunity to connect with Leonard recently and thank him. Below is an email correspondence between us.

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Dear Judge Leonard,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Jacintha, and I am the daughter of Dr. Judson Tagal – one of the very first university graduates from Ba’Kelalan, Lawas. A relative recently shared a story about how you and your team from the Peace Corps impacted my dads life, and I thought to reach out to you – to see if there is any way to re-connect on behalf of my dad and to convey our deepest gratitude for the work you did in Borneo many years ago.

It was a while ago since you were in Sarawak, but much has happened since then – my dad became a surgeon, then a state assemblyman for Ba’Kelalan, and finally perished in a helicopter accident in 2004 while trying to map out ways to bring electricity to Ba’Kelalan. He lived a rich and meaningful life, and it would have been very different had it not been for the opportunities the Peace Corps gave him.

Thank you,
Jacintha

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Leonard Edwards wrote:

Dear Jacintha,

I am very pleased that you have written to me. I spent two wonderful years in Lawas teaching the first class that graduated from Lawas Secondary School. Your father was in that class and he was called Sakai Tagal at that time. I did not know that he became a surgeon, but that does not surprise me because he was a very brilliant student and was destined to be a great man in his life. I was told of his death years ago and it saddened me.

If you want to learn what I have been doing, you can google my name or go to my website and please tell me what you are doing in your life. Do you have siblings? Are you in school at Harvard?
I hope to meet you some day.

Best wishes,
Leonard Edwards

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Jacintha Tagal wrote:

Dear Leonard,

So good to hear from you! Indeed I got your contact information by googling you, and browsing your website. I am also very impressed that you remembered my father’s name – and the impression he had on you even after so many years. I believe the people of Ba’Kelalan also fondly remember you and your friends from the Peace Corps.

Yes, you are right – I completed my undergraduate degree at Harvard the year 2011 in East Asian Studies and returned to Malaysia soon after. I taught for two years in a low-income community in Kuala Lumpur through the Teach for Malaysia Fellowship (I’d like to think it’s similar to the Peace Corps :)) and I am currently still in the field of education.

Yes – I would love to receive pictures – they are so precious. I’m also happy to receive scanned copies if that’s more convenient for you. I’m also attaching some photos here for you – in case you’re interested in seeing them.

YESThe first one is a picture of my dad in Ba’Kelalan, the second is of my grandparents, the third is of my dad and my youngest sister when she was just a few years old, while the last one is my family at my wedding. 🙂

Would you be interested in sending your regards to anyone here in Malaysia? Please do let me know!

Warm regards,
Jacintha

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Leonard Edwards wrote:

Hello again Jacintha: I found some old black and white photos.
I will send them to you if you send me your address. I took
them in 1965. Your father was one of my students – the best!

Leonard Edwards

Judson - 1967 edit

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Across Sarawak, there are children who lack a quality education that could potentially change their future. My father was not too different from these children: his village did not have electricity, his neighbours couldn’t speak English, and his own parents had not gone to university. Having teachers who believed in him, spoke English with him, and held high academic expectations for him certainly helped my father become a medical doctor and politician later on in his life. My father’s incredible life journey can be traced back to the classroom. Would you consider teaching a child whose life trajectory may change, because of you?

Jacintha Tagal is a 2012 Alumna who taught in a high-need school in Segambut, Kuala Lumpur for two years. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies from Harvard University, and is currently an Assistant College Director of St Paul’s Theological College Malaysia. Teach For Malaysia recruits, trains and supports Fellows to teach in high-need schools across the nation. Beyond the Fellowship, our Alumni continue to champion education in different ways. To date, we’ve impacted over 44,000 students, working with the Ministry of Education and other partners.

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