Groups engage with the vulnerable via digital means


Tay says their books are intended for children of any age who need English literacy intervention.

LOCAL online community support has grown by leaps and bounds in the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Community leaders have adopted new ways of working and have improvised their daily operations to continue helping vulnerable members of society.

The Star speaks to two groups in the fields of mental health and education on how they have embraced online platforms to reach out to people.

Counselling during Covid-19

The prolonged isolation and worry over various issues as a result of the pandemic and subsequent movement restrictions have put many people under stress.

But with traditional face-to-face counselling proving difficult, some groups began offering online or remote counselling.

One such group is Partners in Counselling (PiC), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded by a group of counsellors-in-training comprising Master of Counselling students from Open University Malaysia.

It was formed in February last year as a way for students to fulfil their practicum hours due to limited access to resources and relevant activities.

PiC, with about 30 active members in the group, provides pro-bono services via counsellors-in-training and connects those in need with professional help, including licensed counsellors and therapists.

Lim says with the pandemic, virtual counselling ensures safety of both counsellors and clients.Lim says with the pandemic, virtual counselling ensures safety of both counsellors and clients.

“People are stressed out over the prolonged movement control order, so at the moment online counselling is the only way for people to seek therapy,” said Lim Wei Wen who is PiC vice-president and one of its founders.

She said virtual counselling was the mode of choice to ensure the safety of both counsellors and clients.

Lim said some of the challenges the clients faced were difficulties adapting to changes such as jobs, lifestyle and day-to-day shifts in behaviour brought on by the pandemic, and coping strategies.

“We can help clients adapt and accept those stressful changes they are going through,” she explained.

She said the clients’ stressors and coping strategies evolved into three phases since the start of the pandemic last year.

“The first phase was dealing with job loss and lifestyle changes, where those who could no longer pay rent on their homes, for example, had to move in with their elderly parents.

“In the second phase during the recovery movement control order last year, we noticed clients were depressed, anxious and frustrated because the previous coping strategies no longer worked.

“Phase three is grieving clients, as in those who lost loved ones to Covid-19, where they had to adopt new coping strategies to deal with death,” said Lim, 33.

PiC continues to provide free online counselling, with appointments being made via https://sites.google.com/view/partnersincounseling/counselling

Journey of young readers

In 2015, four school teachers came together with one vision in mind – to ensure that every child in Malaysia will one day be able to read and write in English.

To meet this goal, they formed MYReaders.

Accredited as a social enterprise by Entrepreneur Development and Cooperative Ministry and the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC) in 2020, MYReaders’ mission is to empower children through communities by providing free structured and sustainable reading programmes.

MYReaders was founded by four Teach For Malaysia fellows who were teaching in high-needs secondary schools.

“During our time in school, we realised that our students could not read basic English sentences and were unable to follow lessons in class.

“Three of my colleagues and I decided together to create our own literacy toolkit based on the Malaysian context, and build it into a structured reading programme,” MYReaders co-founder and executive director Tay Sue Yen told The Star.

MYReaders books are intended for children of any age who need English literacy intervention via the recommended one-on-one or small group teaching approach.

“We have two models. The first is our school mentor-mentee programme model, but since the Covid-19 pandemic last year we have been using Google Classroom for a parent-led model where the parents read with their child.

“Our Community Model is where we pair volunteers with students, one-to-one.

A child uses a phone to access MYReaders reading resources.A child uses a phone to access MYReaders reading resources.

“We used to conduct this face-to-face but since physical classes are not possible at the moment, we now conduct reading sessions through WhatsApp.

“We use WhatsApp because it is a familiar tool for families from all backgrounds and it can run on a basic smartphone with minimal data.

“We pivoted to online learning since March last year, and we are currently rolling out new programmes to recruit more organisations to run our community model programme,” added Tay.

The MYReaders Literacy Toolkit books are written in a structured manner to help children build up their foundation in phonics, and in the Malaysian context so they can relate to what they read.

MYReaders has recently also introduced LitHubX, a community-based literacy programme that provides reading diagnostics, structured resources and support for children to learn and read in English.

Each child will be assessed and guided one-on-one by volunteers and using self-paced modules with parental guidance.

“With LitHubX, we are looking to scale our impact across Malaysia to reach 200 children in the B40 group by June 2022, supported by a MaGIC Social Impact Matching grant,” said Tay.

So far, MYReaders has impacted more than 31,647 children, 92 parents, 777 teachers and 780 volunteers.

Those who wish to be part of the MYReaders volunteer community or fund their programmes, donate or buy their books, can visit www.myreaders.org.my/ or email team@myreaders.org.my

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