In a class of their own

Sunday, 27 November 2016

An English lesson in progress. The children are encouraged to complete workbook exercises and read story books to hone their language skills. 

Street children learn the 3Rs and get a dose of life’s many lessons from volunteers who’ve become both their mentors and friends.

FOR Zack and his three siblings, home is a rented room shared by their family of six. It is the size of two cupboards and there is no space for beds or furniture. There are only three items in the room – a luggage bag, a table and a rice cooker placed on top of it.

It is so compact, there isn’t even room for play. So, in the evenings, the street in front of Wisma Alka Ria at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur becomes their playground. And the siblings are not alone; when the sun goes down, the street fills with children who just loiter around.

Zack and his friends make up the urban poor. But things have changed somewhat for them since August last year: Sunday nights see these children attending classes to learn Mathematics and English.

The free classes are run by Siti Rahayu Baharin’s organisation, Buku Jalanan Chow Kit (BJCK). Rain or shine, the Sunday class is held on the street, at Wisma Alka Ria’s loading bay.

And since June, an additional class is held on Friday at Institut Onn Jaafar’s centre in Chow Kit, after the institute offered the organisation the space. These classes focus on children sitting for exams and on intensive reading. Classes are from 8.30pm to 10pm at both places.

“Education is a fundamental right of every human being, and it needs be provided free,” said Cikgu Rahayu, as she is affectionately called.

The mini solar LED light provided by the ELS Learning Centres are over 10 times brighter than a candle or kerosene lamp.

The mini solar LED light provided by the ELS Learning Centres are over 10 times brighter than a candle or kerosene lamp.

So, the 35-year-old headed to Chow Kit weekly to teach “as the children were there already”. When word on the free classes got around, what initially began as a class of 15 soon grew to over 50 children.

The atmosphere at the street classes is electrifying. On Sundays, volunteers gather in the alley around 8pm to clean the area, sweeping up discarded syringes used by drug addicts, and other discarded items.

The street is then covered with tarpaulin sheets and small tables are set up.

By 8.30pm, the children appear, like magic. The air is filled with excited chatter as classes commence under the dim street lights.

On average, about 20 to 30 children show up for each session. And as there are about 15 permanent volunteers and 10 who come on a weekly basis, what these children get is akin to one-to-one tuition.

This formula is necessary as each child is totally different from the next.

It isn’t about books alone as (from left) Kamal and Rahayu teach children the correct way to brush their teeth.

At the November session, the teachers were teaching the children how to brush their teeth. When they asked the children how many times they brushed their teeth in a day, most of them replied, “Sekali” (once).
It isn’t about books alone as (from left) Kamal and Rahayu teach children the correct way to brush their teeth.

Some cannot read and need more help, said Rahayu, who lectures at Petaling Jaya’s First City University College in the day.

Those who come for the classes are aged between three and 14. “We teach mostly young children. They are easier to mould and are very enthusiastic,” she said.

Rahayu shared that she tried asking a group of older teens who loiter in that area to join her classes, but they are not interested. The younger children, and their parents, however, are the opposite.

Nana, seven, likes going for the classes because of the “baik” (good) teachers. When asked how long she has been attending the sessions, she replied, “Lama, lama, lama (very long)”.

During one recent class, she was seen doing her favourite activity – colouring a picture of a flower and a bear in her English book. Her ambition is to become a policewoman, as she wants to “tangkap budak-budak jahat” (catch all the naughty children).

But BJCK doen’t just teach the children Mathematics and English. “We teach them how to communicate and treat others with respect. And, as many of these children are not very interested in studying, we teach them to change their outlook towards books and education,” Rahayu said.

A boy attempting to tie the shoe lace of his brand new shoe.

A boy attempting to tie the shoe lace of his brand new shoe.

Once is usually how often these children eat in a day. So the group of volunteers bring food sponsored by Food Aid Foundation to the class.

After eating, an eight year-old boy vomited because he was too hungry. His friend, who is seven, has six teeth missing, probably the result of a lack of dental care.

Simple daily habits such as brushing one’s teeth are often overlooked. But these children need to be taught of its importance, said Rahayu.

“Education is the way out of poverty. I think this is something very meaningful,” said Sean Wong Keit, a BJCK volunteer.

The 22-year-old, who has been volunteering for over a year, said he has seen an improvement in the childrens’ general knowledge, communication and comprehension skills, and behaviour – they are more polite.

Preschoolers are often thrilled to work on arts and crafts activities.

Preschoolers are often thrilled to work on arts and crafts activities.

Another volunteer, Kamal Abdullah, 25, added, “My student’s mathematics teacher has seen an improvement in the subject. Kamal, who found out about the classes through Facebook, has been volunteering since October.

The children who come here are very eager to learn. Little things matter to them. For example, they like stickers so they will try very hard to do well in order to get one, he said.

Abdullah added, “Once you get attached to the children, it is difficult to miss a class. They would always ask you whether you are coming the next week, and it is impossible to say no to them.”

BJCK tries not to take cash donations, but accept items such as books, uniforms, small tables, mats, tarpaulin and food. The organisation usually announces the items it needs on its Facebook page. Those interested in donating can contact its members, then drop the items off during one of the classes.

“We don’t want the children to inherit the lives that their parents have. We want to give them hope for a better life, and we believe education can do that,” said Rahayu.

Note: Names of the children have been changed to protect their identity.
Related story: Enlightening sessions

Sumber:  The Star Online :  http://www.thestar.com.my/news/education/2016/11/27/in-a-class-of-their-own/