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The abrupt termination of Russian humanitarian worker Valeriya Astashova’s permit to conduct English language classes at an Orang Asli village in Perak is yet another setback for her in the past year.
In March 2020, Astashova and her nine-year-old son Kyri first made headlines when they were among a number of foreigners stranded at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2), due to countries around the world closing their borders in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 32-year-old, who has run a hostel in Koh Tao, Thailand, for the past seven years, told Malaysiakini that she initially came to Kuala Lumpur in February 2020 to volunteer at an Afghan community centre in the country.
“My best friend said I was working too hard at the hostel and told me to go and do whatever I wanted to do for one month, so I was looking for different travel and volunteer opportunities and that is how I found the Afghan community centre in Kuala Lumpur,” Astashova said in a phone interview yesterday.Photos abeve - the hostel Astashova ran in Thailand
She said she has always been passionate about taking care of people. For example, she volunteered at the local orphanage when she was living in Pattaya, Thailand, as well as an old folks’ home when she was studying in the Czech Republic. She has also been on humanitarian missions at refugee camps.
Astashova, who holds a Bachelor's degree in international relations and a Master's degree in philosophy and religious studies, credits her grandfather for her interest in hospitality and serving people.
“My grandpa loves serving people. He raised me, so that is why. He wouldn’t even walk past a homeless person on the street. He would not just give food, but he would sit down and talk to the person and try to find the person a place to stay for the night.
“He is my hero, the best human being probably in the universe. Even now he is nearly 90 years old, and he has been trying to open a library in his hometown and he has been fighting the local council for it.
“My grandma is so angry because he is 90, he should stay at home,” Astashova recounted with a laugh.Astashova with her Orang Asli students
Though Astashova had initially planned to volunteer at the Afghan community centre for two weeks in February 2020, when she arrived and saw that it was in dire financial straits, she and the other foreign volunteers decided to extend their stay to two months, in order to try to save the centre.