A broadcast giant’s CSR programme has spared rural kids the ordeal of trekking
for hours just to get to school.
THERE were 60 children, packed together like sardines in a room. They had to share beds and there was hardly any space to move, let alone study. This was the sad state of affairs at the shabby hostel at SK Malinsau, Ranau, in the interior of Sabah.
“On a regular school day, the floor would be covered with heaps of clothes, school bags and shoes,” said Galbert Guntas Luntuken, head warden of the school which has an enrolment of 228 primary students. He added that facilities were meagre and the wooden structure was rickety and at risk of collapsing.
“There was only one bath area for the children, and this was shared by the boys and girls. There were no lights in the toilets; this posed a danger to the children at night,” Yusin Mayadon, a parent, pointed out.
The hostel, built by the local government some years ago, was meant to disencumber the students, some of whom had to walk for hours in the morning just to get to school.
“It was very crammed in the hostel. There was no space even to do our revision,” said Azlan Yusin, a Year Six pupil.
Azlan’s day used to begin at three in the morning, when most of our kids are still fast asleep. At 4am, he would leave for school with some of his friends. Not on a school bus, but on foot! And they walked and walked for hours, treading the familiar yet dark path, possibly passing lurking beasts before they finally reached school.
“It took us nearly two hours to reach our school on foot,” said Azlan, 12, who hails from Kampung Tinindoi.
“We feared for their safety because of the distance; they have to walk across a suspension bridge to reach their school,” said Jamayah Abdul Salam, mother of Muhamad Akmal Rizal, a student at SK Malinsau.
“They arrived with their uniforms unkempt and muddy; most of them were tired out by the journey,” Galbert said.
Thanks to Astro Kasih, Azlan and Akmal – together with 80 schoolchildren from SK Malinsau – are now the residents of a newly-built hostel.
The hostel comes fully equipped with water and electricity supply, spanking toilets, a multi-purpose hall and an outdoor court. The two spacious dormitories, which can house 50 boys and 50 girls, come with high ceilings and are equipped with double-decker beds and lockers.
It’s just a five-minute walk to class – a far cry from the two-hour trudge to school which the kids used to put up with.
The tall trees add a serene backdrop to the hostel, and the children wake up to the orchestra of birds and insects every morning.
The Astro Kasih hostel project is part of the broadcast giant’s bigger Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme which has four main pillars – Life-long Learning, Sports and Wellness, Community Development and Environment. The Astro Kasih employee volunteer programme was launched in August 2009.
Under the Community Development umbrella, the hostel project was initiated and in 2011, the first Astro Kasih hostel was built at SK Magandai, Kota Marudu, Sabah.
Another one was built the following year at SK Sungai Paku, Kapit, Sarawak.
The third hostel was built at SK Malinsau and was completed at the end of last year.
The Astro Kasih volunteers laid the groundwork for the building of the hostel complex and carried out periodic inspections on the construction site, on top of completing the building installations and fittings. They were assisted by the Malaysian Armed Forces in levelling the ground and constructing the hostel.
“I’m so happy that we have a new hostel. It is spacious and we have enough room to sleep. There is a hall for us to study and do our revision,” Azlan enthused.
Akmal, 11, from Kampung Linapasan, echoed Azlan’s sentiments. He is delighted with the new hostel and is very pleased with the new ceiling fans and lighting.
To these students, this new hostel comes as a saving grace. It provides a safe and conducive environment for them to study and rest. The new attached toilets and bathrooms are a welcome change from the previous outdoor structure which was equipped with just a water tap and pail.
“I am very thankful to Astro for this new hostel. It is comfortable and spacious. The students will be able to study better and I hope they will do well in their studies. The old hostel was really pitiful and unconducive,” said Jamayah.
“The multi-purpose hall is equipped with an LCD TV and an Astro decoder with access to 17 learning channels,” said Galbert. “Astro will be providing a high-powered generator that will work in tandem with the solar hybrid system; this will make it easier for us to arrange extra classes at night. Our electricity is generated by solar panels, so after 8pm, there’s a complete blackout. This has made having tuition or night classes difficult in the past.”
The Astro Kasih volunteers also assisted the Year Six students in an intensive 12-week revision programme for the UPSR examination last year. This led to a dramatic improvement in the students’ performance.
“Astro did not just build the hostel and leave us. They coached us, students and teachers alike, to reach our goal of becoming one of the top schools in the whole country,” said Md Shafiq @ Juhilin Majin, the school’s senior assistant.
The other two schools where Astro Kasih hostels were built also recorded a marked improvement in student performance. SK Magandai is ranked top among 33 primary schools in the Kota Marudu district. For the first time, it recorded a 100% pass rate in Maths and English last year.
What makes this Corporate Social Responsibility venture by Astro special is that it did not just stop at building an edifice or providing an educational programme for the Year Six pupils. It went beyond that and emphasied self-sustainability.
This is where the third phase of the Astro Kasih project comes in. Called the Astro Kasih Eco Village, it looks into setting up a multi-trophic system for rearing chicken and fish. Members of the Malaysian Armed Forces helped in levelling the ground for agricultural activities.
As it is, when this writer visited the area, Astro volunteers were tilling the levelled ground and sowing the seeds of several crops. They were up at 6am, and worked through the day, stopping only for meal breaks. At another site, more volunteers, together with some villagers, were building a chicken coop.
Azlan and Akmal, and a host of schoolmates, can now look forward to school daily, well rested after a good night’s sleep. They need not have to worry about waking up at 3am and walking in the dark to school. They just need to concentrate on their studies and aim to score in their examinations, like any regular kid their age.
Empowering the poor