PETALING JAYA: Nine-year-old Yazid (not his real name) is a stateless child who doesn’t have a blue identity card despite being born and raised in Malaysia by Malaysian parents.
This is due to his drug addict mother who was in and out of jail while the whereabouts of his biological father is unknown.
As a result, Yazid won’t be able to enter school which requires formal documentation and this will leave him without a proper education, vulnerable and at risk of repeating the vicious cycle of poverty.
There are many stateless children like Yazid who require educational support and assistance to escape poverty and live a better life.
This is where veteran teacher Siti Rahayu Baharin, 42, decided to open Buku Jalanan Chow Kit (BJCK) with the mission to provide affordable education for stateless and underprivileged children.
“BJCK began as a non-governmental organisation in 2015 with a humble initiative to teach underprivileged children at various locations via a remote street library,” she said in an interview.
Eight years later, BJCK is now a full-fledged school in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, with 12 dedicated teachers and 130 students from around the community, of which 50% of them are stateless children, Siti Rahayu said.
“My life story started in a small town in Megat Dewa, Kedah, where my parents, who despite not being very well educated, were determined to send me to university.
“This taught me the value of education. When I moved here, I saw many children living in the streets without receiving a formal education.
“This inspired me to open BJCK to teach and guide them towards a better life,” she said.
Siti Rahayu, who is married with a 17-year-old daughter, said BJCK is a safe space for children to learn and grow without fears or worries of outside life.
“BJCK classes, in collaboration with Arus Academy, consist of academic subjects such as Mathematics, Science, Bahasa Melayu, English, Geography and History, together with a project-based learning method which aims to build a survival-literate children.
“We have 130 children, aged between seven and 18, and operate from Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 4pm,” she said.
Siti Rahayu also said that 50% of the students have learnt to read, write and count, do simple maths and progress in their academic syllabus.
“BJCK also has three stateless children, aged 17 to 19, who are registered as private SPM candidates,” she said.
Aside from that, BJCK has a Road to Citizenship programme to assist stateless children and parents in applying for Malaysian citizenship with the help of social workers and pro-bono lawyers.
“This secures their rights to education and healthcare,” she said.
BJCK executive director Amin Khalili Zolkepley expressed love and appreciation for the kids in the school, saying they are a blessing for him and his team of teachers.
“I love teaching and helping them grow into responsible adults,” he said.
Amin expressed his appreciation for the parents, mainly living around Chow Kit and Segambut, who have been willing to send their children to school and for extra classes.
“This would not be possible without them and our team of teachers who are dedicated to teaching the kids,” he said.
Amin added that he wishes BJCK will become an independent learning institution that provides more opportunities for underprivileged children and parents to lead better lives.
“We wish to collaborate with local communities, government agencies and corporate entities to secure vital resources, funding and expertise.
“We would also like to increase the reach of our programmes for marginalised children and families in Chow Kit by exploring options like setting up additional learning centres and programme enhancements,” he said.
On a related matter, BJCK has a community employment programme which aims to employ community parents or children who are at least 18 years of age to gain income by working with the organisation, Amin said.
“Currently, we have four individuals from the community who work as kitchen helpers, janitors and general workers. With this, they are able to earn an income and support themselves,” he said.
BJCK staff Athifah Roslan, 28, said she loves working with the children as they have been very cooperative and supportive of the programmes.
“It really doesn’t matter if the children have an IC or not, they are still fun to be around,” she said.
Athifah, who studied food biotechnology, also praised BJCK for their flexible working environment.
“The team is quite understanding. Whenever I’m sick or have an emergency, they’ll let me work from home or take off,” she said.
When asked what she hopes the children can accomplish in the future, Athifah wishes all stateless children will receive proper documentation and gain the right to education and healthcare.
For its efforts, Buku Jalanan Chow Kit is named as one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2023.