When KitaKitar, a secondhand uniform store at St Joseph’s Institution International School Malaysia in Petaling Jaya (SJIIM), embarked on ‘Walk in their Shoes’, an initiative to raise funds to buy 200 pairs of sports shoes for Orang Asli children, they never expected to exceed their target.
The campaign which was launched in conjunction with SJIIM’s Founder’s Day was inspired by Lasallian Founder St John Baptiste de Lasalle’s mission of service to those in need.
“Our initial target was to raise funds to buy 200 pairs of school shoes for Orang Asli children living in villages in the Royal Belum State Park in Perak, but at the end of the month-long campaign (from May 15-June 18), we were able to raise enough for 600 pairs of shoes, ” reveals Joanna Chellam who is part of the KitaKitar team.
Spearheaded by parent-volunteers Chellam, Adele Goh, Corrine Chow and Christina Chieng, KitaKitar is an initiative based on the reduce-reuse-recycle principle of reducing wastage through the sale of secondhand uniforms as well as upcycling them into other useful items, and all net proceeds go to charity.
For the ‘Walk in their Shoes' campaign, KitaKitar partnered with Projek Asal – an initiative to empower the Orang Asli – which has carried out earlier projects to provide clothing, slippers, clean/washed preloved school shoes, and other items to the Orang Asli children, as well as started Rumah Baca in several villages to help them learn to read and write.
With the support of donors and volunteers at SJIIM through the ‘Walk in their Shoes’ campaign, Projek Asal was able to expand its shoes donation from three kampungs to cover eight kampungs in the Royal Belum State Park in Grik, Perak, namely Kampung TanHain, Kampung Bongor, Kampung Jerai, Kampung Kejar, Kampung Baing, Kampung Tengah, Kampung Klewang and Kampung Sungai Tiang, reveals Projek Asal founder Noor Safinar Abu Seman, or Enaz as she is known.
“In rural areas, shoes are a luxury that most Orang Asli can’t afford. Even though it’s a necessity to protect their feet, it’s often not a priority to them because they would usually spend what little money that they have on essential items like food, ” she says.
“Some of them are so poor that they even go to school without any shoes or slippers, ” says Enaz.
The ‘Walk in their Shoes’ campaign saw the whole SJIIM school community coming together to help with volunteers comprising teachers, parents and children, as well as their family members.
“From the youngest – seven-year-old Year Two students Kara Goh, Christy Chow and Wan Shaqiera Wan Saifulrizal – to the oldest – Grandma Lee, a grandmother in her 70s who single-handedly sewed 200 five stones and drawstring bags – everyone volunteered to sew items such as bags for masks, hair accessories, traditional games such as five stones, teddy bears and others, which were gift-wrapped and then sent to donors as thank you gifts, ” says Chellam.
“There were also male teachers who stepped up to sew items such as scrunchies, ” she adds.
DIY kits – where everything was prepacked and precut – were prepared and sent to the volunteers for them to sew, and after they completed the sewing, they would send it back to KitaKitar. It took the volunteers about two months in total to sew about 800 items, each working at home with their own families.
The teachers also had lessons in class to raise awareness about the Orang Asli and the issues they face. They also had the children make gift cards for all 600 pairs of shoes as well as bilingual flashcards for Rumah Baca.
Enaz applauds the efforts of the students.
“I’ll ask the Orang Asli children to reply the personalised cards to thank the donors. It’s just like being penpals, ” she says, adding that it’s an opportunity for them to learn to read and write, and perhaps make a new friend.
The campaign took place mostly during the lockdown, so participants communicated via social media and Zoom, while DIY craft packs were prepared and sent using delivery services to volunteers for sewing, and donations poured in online through the school.
According to SJIIM director of marketing, admissions and communications Tony Lai, the school embarks on such community projects in order to build character in their students so that they will grow into well-rounded adults who can contribute to society.
“Our school is built upon the values of faith, community and service and it is our aim to build good character in our students so that they will be, not just successful in exams, but also become members of society who are empowered to make a difference, ” says Lai.
“The pandemic may have wrought chaos across the world, but it has also brought out the best of people in many communities, ” he says.
“During the pandemic, we found that parents are actually very willing to help and they go all out to do what they can to contribute. So, it’s not a surprise that the target was exceeded, ” he adds.
Other than cash donors, the school also received a donation of 500 packs of masks for the Orang Asli community from a supplier.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love, ” adds Maria Cafarelli, one of the student’s mothers, who likens the school community’s efforts to Mother Theresa’s quote.
The sports shoes have been purchased from Bata and will be transported to the recipients after the lockdown is lifted.
“We hope the project will serve as an inspiration for all our students and also encourage other school communities to embark on similar initiatives, ” concludes Lai.