Reaching out to kids in poor urban communities


Safe space to learn: Kidzone Mentari is a one-stop centre nestled in Block 5 of Desa Mentari in PJS 6, Petaling Jaya, that benefits about 250 children of all ages through education and self-development activities.

Children in the urban poor communities may lack opportunities in aspects such as better after-school childcare and extra self-development activities.

To address the situation as well as empower and protect this group, two non-profit bodies in Petaling Jaya have engaged with the less fortunate and vulnerable communities.

They focus through academic, leisure and uniformed body activities.

StarMetro spoke to representatives of Kidzone Mentari at Desa Mentari flats and the Boys Brigade In Malaysia 9th Petaling Jaya Company.

Staff P. Palaniandy supervising children playing carom at Kidzone Mentari at Desa Mentari Petaling Jaya.

Staff P. Palaniandy supervising children playing carom at Kidzone Mentari at Desa Mentari Petaling Jaya

Kidzone Mentari

Kidzone Mentari was launched in November last year and is nestled in Block 5 of Desa Mentari in PJS 6, Petaling Jaya.

It is run by Suriana Welfare Society, a non-governmental organisation formed in 2011. It is involved in promoting and protecting the rights of children who have been subject to abuse, abandonment, neglect, exploitation as well as human trafficking.

Located in a flat on the eighth floor, Kidzone is a one-stop centre benefiting about 250 children of all ages. It only services residents from the flats.

When StarMetro visited the unit, about 15 children below seven years old were seen engrossed in colouring activities while some were playing carom in the hall.

Students learn discipline through marching drills conducted by Boys Brigade In Malaysia 9th Petaling Jaya Company.

Students learn discipline through marching drills conducted by Boys Brigade In Malaysia 9th Petaling Jaya Company.

With their artworks decorating the walls, the humble unit was turned into a cosy learning environment.

Kidzone Mentari founder, James Nayagam, who is also Suriana Welfare Society Malaysia chairman, said besides free educational lessons, the children have other activities such as play and art therapy, music therapy, drum circle and choir.

“Our plan is to create effective activities within the at-risk community, especially for the children.

“The opportunity came when we got a rent-free unit to set up Kidzone Mentari,” said Nayagam, who is also a children’s rights activist.

The Kidzone programme takes place Monday to Saturday between 3pm and 8pm.

On Sundays, talks related to health as well as free legal advice are held for the parents.

Durgacshini (centre) participating in a camping activity organised by Boys Brigade In Malaysia 9th Petaling Jaya Company.

Durgacshini (centre) participating in a camping activity organised by Boys Brigade In Malaysia 9th Petaling Jaya Company.

Nayagam said the children were guided by five staff members trained to identify signs of abuse among children.

“Children, comprising kindergarten, primary and secondary school students, come here after school.

“The younger ones will come in and leave earlier, followed by the older children.

“They come and go in batches and they know they have someone to look out for them here.

Kidzone Mentari also assists parents with various issues.

“Sometimes, parents come to us for our advice on what to do with their children who had dropped out of school.

Kidzone Mentari offers free educational lessons, play and art therapy, music therapy, drum circle and choir. — Photos: RAJA FAISAL HISHAN and SAM THAM/The Star

Kidzone Mentari offers free educational lessons, play and art therapy, music therapy, drum circle and choir. — Photos: RAJA FAISAL HISHAN and SAM THAM/The Star

“Some children who come here have fathers in prison or are ill.

“They usually need food aid and we help their family.

“We also help the mothers with funds and provide them with skills training.

“There are mothers who leave their children here when they need to run errands.

“The children are in a safe environment and engage in nurturing activities.

“In fact, the parents tell us their school grades have improved since they started attending our activities,” said Nayagam.

He added that the project was first brought to the attention of resident leaders for their support.

“The residents call their resident leader penghulu.

“Without the support from the penghulu it will be hard to garner support from residents.

“We have established a good relationship with them,” he said.

The cost for the project is RM15,000 a month and it is funded through public donations.

Nayagam has received requests to set up a similar project in five other low-cost housing schemes.

Kidzone Mentari employee Jeffrey Tay coaching students in their homework.

Kidzone Mentari employee Jeffrey Tay coaching students in their homework.

“Our costs consist of salary for the staff, fees for speakers and materials for the students.

“We are short of funds but we want to set up Kidzone in five more low-cost housing areas,” he said.

The plan is to set up Kidzone in Lembah Subang, Brickfields, Bangsar, Kerinchi, and Cheras in Kuala Lumpur.

Those who wish to volunteer or donate can call 012-314 1100 (James).

Boys Brigade in Malaysia 9th Petaling Jaya Company

Troubled by social issues affecting youths in the low-cost areas, Pastor S.A. Ravindren formed the Boys Brigade In Malaysia 9th Petaling Jaya Company.

The Boys Brigade is an internationally known uniformed body.

The 9th Petaling Jaya Company, formed in late 2015, has 20 teenagers between 12 and 17 years from PPR Lembah Subang, Sri Sentosa Flats, PPR Kota Damansara, and Kayu Ara in Petaling Jaya. There are several members from Setapak, Kuala Lumpur.

Among the skills the teenagers are taught are marching, English, first aid, camping, badminton and futsal.

Chapter lieutenant Kenneth Chang, 27, said he joined the chapter to help students train for the various events.

“Pastor Ravindren wanted these students to learn discipline through the uniformed body, regardless of their background and race.

“We mostly focus on marching,confidence-building and self-motivation.

“We also coach them in the English subject,” said Chang, who does this part time.

Some of the teens in the unit are also school dropouts who have started working.

They join the unit voluntarily and through recommendation from their parents and peers, said Chang, who has a full-time job as a business development manager.

“We do not want them to be influenced by the wrong company and we speak to them in a respectful manner.

“This encourages them to be more attentive during our sessions and continue coming for practice,” said Chang.

He added that the most common problems among the youths were those related to gangsterism and relationships.

“They are comfortable in talking to us and confiding in us.

“We do not tell them what they should do.

“Instead, we speak to them about consequences. They then decide for themselves.

“The female students will have older reliable brigade leaders to speak to,” said Chang.

The students are involved in numerous activities of the Boys Brigade In Malaysia including those organised by other chapters in Malaysia.

The unit’s captain Ganesh Ravindran, 31, who worked in a grocery shop, said he would invite the boys to join the brigade.

“Sometimes when I see these boys loitering around, I will invite them to join the brigade.

“We get help from Damansara Utama Methodist Church. They provide us with a venue to practise and carry out lessons.

“For some of the poorer students, the church helps them with their transportation fare,” said Ganesh.

Student Maharaj Anpalagan, 16, said joining the brigade had helped him become a better person.

Durgacshini Saravanan, 16, said simple duties such as polishing her belt, had instilled better discipline in her.

Student L. Kavi Shallini, who comes from PPR Kota Damansara, enjoys the marching drill because she feels respected by her superiors here.

“In school we get yelled at a lot. Here, we are spoken to in a polite manner.

“Even when I forget something I can ask repeatedly. I will not be punished. I like that,” said Kavi Shallini who also hopes to improve her English here.


   

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