Building their self-confidence

Students celebrate Merdeka Day at Sekolah Bimbingan Jalinan Kasih in Kuala Lumpur last year. — File photo

DEALING with abandonment and rejection is something even adults handle poorly.

So what about young children who were abandoned by their own parents?

This is where education and guidance is needed to ensure the children - who may be emotionally affected - would not turn to the “dark side”.

Dishevelled with ticks in her hair, an eight year-old illiterate Syafiqah Abdullah enrolled at Sekolah Bimbingan Jalinan Kasih (SBJK) in 2014 and managed to turn her life around. (see sidebar on the school).

Abandoned as a baby, Syafiqah was sent to her grandmother to be cared for but was also turned away.

Her first encounter with education was when she joined SBJK five years ago.

She remains an undocumented child and does not have her MyKad due to a lack of documents.

Cikgu AG (in brown batik) guiding his pupils to make Teachers’ Day cards to present to their teachers.
Cikgu AG (in brown batik) guiding his pupils to make Teachers’ Day cards to present to their teachers.

“My grandmother sent me to Rumah Kebajikan Titian Kasih, Kuala Lumpur because she couldn’t take care of me due to her old age.

“She also could not help much in helping to sort out my papers (documentation),” said the lass who was originally from a small village in Pahang.

Syafiqah feels fortunate that she found a secure place and people who cared for her.

“It is very different in the shelter and in my school. SBJK is a safe place for me and I enjoy coming here everyday.

“I have friends and teachers here who love and care for me. This is where I learnt about sewing, cooking and other hands-on skills,” said Syafiqah, 13, whose favourite sport is running.

The aspiring veterinarian is one of the 155 “neglected children” enrolled in SBJK, which is located in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur.

Fellow classmate Danish Rayyan, 15, admitted he was a bully and always picked fights before he joined the school.

Danish who is also from the same shelter as Syafiqah, said he was grateful when SBJK accepted him.

Zulkernai received the Special Education Award for his contributions to SBJK.
Zulkernai received the Special Education Award for his contributions to SBJK.

“Teachers here are always willing to give good advice which helps us become better people.

“I am motivated when they tell me to try my best, work hard and have a good attitude if I want to change in my life.”

Danish shared that before he enrolled into SBJK, his days passed aimlessly as he had no freinds and did not know what to do.

“Being here has taught me to make better decisions and made me a better person.

“I am making friends and have started studying. I’ve also picked up a few skills such as ICT and I love playing football,” said Danish who does not have his MyKad due to a lack of documentation.

Danish’s mother abandoned him when he was an infant. Fortunately, his father is in Kuala Lumpur working as a restaurant cook but does not have enough time to care for him and his sister, who also attends SBJK.The driving force behind SBJKMany would not venture into dark alleyways but this has not prevented SBJK principal Zulkernai Fauzi from going there to carry out his mission.

He believes he was put in his position (principal) by a higher power to help the children.

Zulkernai often spends his free time visiting Chow Kit, sometimes in the wee hours of the night to look out for “neglected children”.

“They are children who are born into unfortunate backgrounds. They have done nothing wrong and have the right to an education,” said the passionate educator who received the Special Education Award for his contributions to the school during the national Teachers Day celebrations in Penang on May 16.

Though he faces resistance from the public for running SBJK, an optimistic Zulkernai said he remained positive and motivated to give his “children” an opportunity to develop.

“Attending SBJK gives them hope. Besides classes on life skills, field trips and simple out-of-class lessons we conduct such as going to the park, taking rides on the MRT or watching a movie, helps them build self-confidence and expose them to the environment.

“They live in a big city yet they are not exposed to any of it. They are the B40 of the B40 group,” he said.

He shared a heart breaking situation where he found a student and his family living under a bridge. They slept on concrete and bathed with water from the river.

It is difficult for these children who have gone through such harsh conditions to smile but when they do, it keeps Zulkernai going.

“I am so happy when my children smile. Even one smile is enough,” he said, adding that the children call him “ayah” - treating him like the father they never had.

“They would come up to me, give me a big hug, and call me ayah. It started with a few, but word got around and now many of them call me ayah,” he said with a laugh.

Noting that the 15 teachers and staff under his care play a big role in running the “second home” for the children, Zulkernai said he has to make sure they are prepared to face the reality.

“Teachers can’t use the mainstream school methods as these children learn differently.

“Without strong willpower or motivation, it would be hard to teach these children. I always motivate my teachers and encourage them to build the children’s capabilities,” he said.

The teachers are given a free hand to teach the students based on their creativity.

This, he said, is to ensure the children enjoy classes and would keep coming back for more.

“One of my top challenges in running SBJK is keeping students in school.

Zulkernai arranging food supplies donated by NGOs with his “children” at the foodbank he set up within the school.The food is distributed to the children every Friday so that they would not go hungry over the weekend.
Zulkernai arranging food supplies donated by NGOs with his “children” at the foodbank he set up within the school.The food is distributed to the children every Friday so that they would not go hungry over the weekend.

“Many of their parents do not care about education, so basically, the children are continuing their lessons based on their own will and would come to school by themselves.

“The most difficult challenge for me is to convince their parents to let them attend SBJK, once I’ve identified them as they are often suspicious that I want to take advantage,” he said.

Meanwhile, SBJK counsellor Abdul Ghani Abu Hassan - fondly known as Cikgu AG - believes that when teachers are positive, the children would catch the vibe and be better themselves.

“I motivate myself by staying positive because I want to do my job right - which is to ensure (to the extent of my ability) that my students are happy when they come to school.

“When the children think more positively, they are able to mingle and foster closer bonds with their classmates who become their family they never had. It also helps with their learning process,” said Cikgu AG who has served at the school for a year.

The hardest challenge for teachers, he said, was helping students progress further.

“Teachers have to repeatedly teach the same topic to ensure the children would absorb the knowledge. Instead of focusing on academics, we help children here develop on their practical skills.

“Not doing well in studies doesn’t mean they are bad students. They each have a skill they can excel in. They always surprise us by producing or coming up with unexpected ideas,” he said.On top of imparting knowledge and making sure students keep up with attendance, Cikgu AG said giving constant encouragement was also a big part of the job.

To ensure the children come to school, teachers use edutainment and fun learning to encourage them not to skip classes.

In her first posting at her previous school SK Taman Segar, Cheras, Bahasa Melayu and Mathematics teacher Farisha Assila Saharudin believed that “street kids” such as those in SBJK were a “lost cause”.

“My thinking was wrong. We have to change this mindset if we want Malaysia to become a better place. Education is the way forward because it can bring positive changes to the children,” she said.

She was posted to SBJK in 2015 and learnt that these “street kids” just needed love and care.

“I became their foster mother. Before we start class, I have to make sure they’ve bathed and eaten so they can start class comfortably,” she said.

She said that many who enrolled at the school were illiterate and some did not know how to take care, or groom, themselves as they have never been taught.

“As teachers, we need to learn how to adapt to a completely different environment. In mainstream schools, teaching and completing the syllabus directed by the ministry is the focus.

“But here, building a relationship with the children is the most important,” she said.

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