Saturday, 27 June 2009

Candle 20: Nora Ibrahim

What years were you at BBGS?

I was in BBGS from January 1978 to Dec. 1982 – for secondary school education. Who were my classmates (Form S4) back then? Let’s see if I can remember at least a few of them: MENSA gal Lim Poh Lian, prefects Karen Kaur, Sharifah Shaheera, Lim Pek Si, Wendy Kydd, and then there were Lily Ong, Siti Baizura, Lin Hsiu-Yi, Shirene Shan, Lim Yuet Suan, Shanti, Yvonne, Selina Richards, Winnie, Aliza Nayan, etc.

Of course I also remember my ‘bus sekolah’ mates – Phua Chiu Soon, Mable, Wai Kwan, etc.

And all the adventures we had gone through together!! Where are you now, gals, oops, ladies.....? Do contact me. My email is:

It’s time for a reunion!

What are your fondest memories?

Weekly School Assembly: Singing the school song and the class cleanliness shields!

The libraries: Ooohh, such a wonderful place! Lots of books & peace & quiet. I must be the only student in my class, if not the whole school, who had not attended any tuition class. Neither could I afford to buy those revision books for SRP or SPM. Being able to study in the quiet library was crucial.... .

Cheerleading: Was in the Gymnastics Club, the Swimming Club, etc. Was also involved in the School Magazine. In my final year, I actually took the courage to be one of the cheerleaders for Shirtliff House!

‘Give me an M, I, G, H, T. Give me an F, I, G, H, T.

We’ve got the Might, we’ve got the Fight, we’re gonna win, all right! Yeaaaahhh, Shirtliff!!!’

Food Sales: Once, our S4 class won a mountain of kitchen towels as the prize for the most amount of money collected from a Food Sale donated towards the Gymnasium construction. It’s not the prize that matters, it’s the sharing and the team spirit that are definitely part of BBGS values!

The dedicated teachers: The highly dedicated teachers, and the Head Mistress. For example, Mrs. Aziz who encouraged a fellow classmate to pronounce words properly (using methods very much like in ‘My Fair Lady’!). Ms. Yeo, the tulip and adventurous Geography classes! Mrs. Betty Wong and the unforgettable dissection sessions and ecology experiments (she’ll be proud to know I am a biologist ;-) ). And many other excellent teachers during my secondary school years – for chemistry, physics, history, BM, Maths and Add Maths, Home Science (yummm!), PE, etc.

I greatly appreciate all their dedication, help and support as these have enabled me to further my studies and to contribute back to society. The Headmistress, Ms Yeap, in particular, generously extended extra support and encouragement. Thank you for everything!

What did you do when you left school?

Attended the University of Waterloo, Canada and graduated with BSc. (Honours Biology), where I was active in nature and environmental conservation work, and was a volunteer Students’ Vocational Advisor (SVA). Upon returning to Malaysia, I worked for an NGO – the Malayan Nature Society (MNS) at a mangrove park. The park is well-known for its silver leaf monkeys (Presbytis cristata), otters, fireflies, as well as the numerous migratory and local avian fauna, many of which are protected species under various conventions such as CITES. We tried to rehabilitate the degraded mangroves by making a brackish lake system with islands which served as secure roosts for the Milky Storks re-introduction project and the purple and grey herons and as a stop-over site for ‘international’ migratory waterfowls. Later, I worked in an organization concerned with sustainable development issues of developing countries. It was a most enlightening and humbling experience – we worked internationally and nationally with scientists as well as policy makers, legal experts, indigenous peoples, anthropologists, human rights experts, socio-economists, etc. By then, I had been to more than 23 countries, including to Switzerland for one of the pre-1992 preparatory meetings of the Climate Change convention at the United Nations HQ in Geneva.

When Academia beckoned again in 1991/2, I applied for and was offered a Chevening Scholarship to do my Master. However, back then they only offered partial scholarship to cover tuition fees. I had no money to come up with the living expenses in the UK! So, there was no way I could accept that scholarship offer. Later, I responded to an EU-Asean scholarship advertisement by the British Council. Full support was awarded, hurrah! In England, I did a course on Coastal Management, and read for my Master (LLM) in International Environmental Law, specializing in the major international and regional environmental conventions (including the UNCLOS, Climate Change, Biodiversity, OSPAR, CCAMLR, London, Basel, OSPAR, CITES, Ramsar, UNEP regional conventions, etc.). I was also awarded a Rhodes Academy scholarship to attend the Rhodes Academy of Ocean Policy and Law.

In the mean time, I co-authored a book on ‘Pulau Redang Marine Park’, which is meant for the public but it also included fauna lists for mammals, birds and marine fish.

A few years later, I went on to do my climate-related PhD research on the effects of elevated temperature and ultraviolet (UV) irradiation on the marine chemical ecology of a tropical coral reef component. It was a challenge! It has never been done before in Malaysia, and many obstacles were in the way. One of the obstacles, as usual, was research funding. The BBGS value of perseverance is deeply instilled within me – I wrote a research proposal to a private Japanese foundation and argued hard to the selection committee during an interview session on why my project should be funded. It was successful and the much-needed financial support was greatly appreciated (at that time, the highest amount ever given by the Japanese foundation to a student project!) as I had to pay for the expensive equipment and field work for my research. Nisi Dominus Frustra!!

After that, the Max Planck Society awarded me with a Postdoctoral Fellowship to work on my postdoctoral research at a Max Planck Institute in Germany. Later, I became a Research Associate for an EU project on the deep-sea. For a while, the focus was on bridging the policy-science divide in marine issues. The most exciting was to be part of the International Polar Year scientific expedition on board the ice-breaker and research vessel ‘Polarstern’, in conjunction with the EU deep-sea project and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. We went to the Arctic Circle, off the northern Norwegian coast where the deep-sea, coldwater corals are located. A submersible was deployed to explore the seabed at ca. 300-400 m depth. Although only half of us scientists on board could use the submersible, we all benefitted from the samples and video footages brought up by the ‘yellow submarine’. Using the samples and data from this expedition, work on deep-sea biodiversity and conservation efforts continue.

Where are you and what are you doing now?

Currently, I am based in Europe and, inter alia, co-supervising a PhD student in a project of mapping the deep-sea biodiversity, and correlating to the deep-sea sediment and bathymetry.

(At the same time, I am helping two German editors to edit a new book on ‘Polar Biology’).

What BBGS values are you passing on to the next generation?

Integrity and all its associated tributes - respect, fairness, honesty, truth, hard work, responsibility! Even in the face of adversity, do not give up one’s principles - ‘With steadfastness and careful truth!’

Team spirit! Cooperation. Give a helping hand, especially to the disadvantaged. Contribute to society.

Would like to enthuse the younger ones to study hard and work hard, perseverance, strive to do good or for a good cause (money is not everything in this life).

Nisi Dominus Frustra

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ms. Yeoh,

Couldn't tell how impressed I'm to see your effort in bringing the BBGSian together. And bravo to Ms. Nora Ibrahim to have traveled the world and also inspired me of being one. Would love to attend the upcoming re-union at Pavilion and can't wait to meet all of the old girls and their stories.

From: Ezi Suhaini Idrus - BBGS 1999