FOR EIGHT years, the YWCA Vocational Training Opportunity Centre (VTOC) comes alive by 8am from Mondays to Fridays.
Aged 16 and above, the participants are selected for the VTOC programme conducted by the YWCA with the aim of providing skills training to economically disadvantaged young women and girls in Malaysia.
The programme is divided into four courses - Computer, Secretarial & Basic Accounting, Kindergarten Teacher's Training, Sewing and Tailoring, and Culinary and Bakery.
These girls would be able to benefit from the vocational training that we provide, said VTOC chairman Julie Yeoh.
We feel it is essential to equip them with the necessary basic skills so they can make something of themselves in spite of their backgrounds.
When the programme was first launched in 1998, the teachers - all volunteers - had only determination, faith and the financial support of a few generous souls to go by.
From some 40 girls spread out over three courses in the early days (the Culinary and Bakery course only commenced in 2004), this year saw an enrolment of about 100 girls from all over the country.
We're hoping for about 90 graduates, said an optimistic Yeoh.
While the girls change year after year, the same challenges remain.
Operation costs, for instance, now touch the RM40,000 mark per month, alleviated only by the generosity of the Kuok Foundation and the Malaysian Community & Education Foundation, various individual donors, as well as rental of some of the rooms at the VTOC.
We provide lodging, food and training, and given the background of the women, our expenses are hardly reimbursed, said Yeoh.
Then there is also the social baggage each girl brings with her and the lack of motivation.
Because they don't see a future, they don't see the need to improve themselves so we bring in people to give them motivational talks.
And if the girls make things too difficult, we have no choice but to send them back, she said, adding that 10 girls have been expelled from the current batch.
But there is hope yet, because many of them take their courses seriously, like Sewing and Tailoring student Kartini Murad.
I think the syllabus is quite adequate, and the accommodation and facilitators are good, said the 27-year-old former factory worker from Batang Kali.
I have learnt how to sew quite a few things including clothes and cushion covers and do patchwork. I look forward to using what I have learnt here to set up my own shop someday, she said.
Despite the mechanics of the programme already in place, the perennial problem faced by the VTOC remains the shortage of volunteers. Even the 30-odd helpers (including staff and volunteers) are insufficient.
We need more volunteers, particularly for our reading programme which we started two years ago to help the students converse and read in English. The girls have a very poor command of the language, said Yeoh.
Some RM5,000 has been spent on books covering a wide spectrum of subjects that appeal to the students.
Reading classes are conducted twice a week.
Currently, the ratio is one teacher to five or even eight students. The ideal ratio would be one teacher to two students in order for the reading programme to be effective, said Yeoh, adding that the in-house reading syllabus is divided into five levels.
Yeoh is extremely grateful to her volunteers - all of whom have a genuine desire to see the students make something of themselves in the world.
These girls really need help in communicating, said Christabel Lee, a volunteer who has been conducting a class of 12 since April.
They must be prepared to meet whats out there, so I am doing my part in imparting my knowledge and skills to them.
Lee teaches the girls how to answer calls, greet customers and present themselves. And, while the task is trying, Lee finds motivation in the girls aptitude to learn.
Sisters Vasanthi and Chandra Jaganathan, both volunteers for two years, feel that there are students who are interested in improving their English, but not enough people to guide them.
Thats where we step in and do what we can. Whats going to happen when they go out in the world but cannot communicate? said Vasanthi.
We have children of our own, and if they were in these girls shoes, we would want someone to help them, too.
While Lee works on a classroom format, the sisters prefer to work with the students individually.
Each person has her own needs and weaknesses, some cant even read at all, said Chandra.
We really need more volunteers because we are taking too many classes. This makes the ratio too huge, and this makes the class lose its focus and less effective.
Nonetheless, in the face of such challenges, the team remain hopeful.
Many times we feel discouraged, but then we pray on it. And when we see the girls graduate and find employment, that really makes it all worth it.
For details on donations, sponsorship and to volunteer, contact 03-2026 7753.