Walking with Bangsa Ria for the kids

Sometimes exercise can do more than strengthen the body when it serves a greater good.

WHEN I started writing In Your Face online just over two years ago, I had several driving objectives in mind – and one of them was to find ordinary people who were willing to roll up their sleeves to take on the challenges they faced.

Basically, I made it a priority to find people hard at work to build solutions instead of sitting around and complaining while waiting for handouts from the Government, politicians or other authorities or other powers that be, and shed light on their work and initiatives.

And when I think of such initiatives, I am often reminded of Bangsa Ria; a small parent-founded centre in Petaling Jaya that provides daycare services for children with severe disabilities, children who were in some cases rejected by other centres.

Indeed, some of you reading this out there might remember the centre from the David and Goliath battle they won against a lawyer who took them to court in early 2014 to try to evict them from their then-home in Section 12, Petaling Jaya.

And while they won that battle and have since moved from Section 12 to Section 17 in Petaling Jaya, their president S. Nagappan shared with me that Bangsa Ria still faces ongoing challenges in its day-to-day operations.

“We support 10 children – including our own – and we have three staff here, and with their salaries and the rental, our operating costs come up to RM10,000 per month. Parents who contribute only pay RM400 per child though,” he said.

He also shared with me some snippets of Bangsa Ria’s history.

“We started the centre 10 years ago because we couldn’t find any other place for our children.

“Before Bangsa Ria, I tried sending my son to several other centres but I faced challenges with the other centres for various reasons. With us, we can take any child in if they are not violent,” said Nagappan.

He also told me that the centre – which runs five days a week from 8am to 5pm – now provides a safe space for the children of parents from different parts of the Klang Valley, some of them working parents.

At this point, I asked him about how the centre keeps itself running.

Nagappan explained to me that Bangsa Ria relies on fund-raisers such as annual jumble sale to stay open, but added this year was the first year that they were participating in a fund-raising walkathon as opposed to their usual jumble sale.

Bangsa Ria will be participating in the 2km 23rd Annual Charity Walkathon with the Disabled organised by Persatuan Kanak-Kanak Spastik Selangor dan Wilayah Persekutuan on Nov 13.

“People who have been helping us have been getting tired, so we do not think we can expect the same level of volunteer assistance.

Additionally, most of the items sold at the jumble sale can’t be sold for a very high price – so there isn’t much money to make there,” said Nagappan.

This view was also shared by Bangsa Ria’s treasurer Johanna Tan.

“In 2015, we had to pay to rent a hall to hold our jumble sale as we cannot hold it on our premises.

“We also had to pay to transport all the items to the hall and then transport the unsold items back to our centre. Even if we hold a jumble sale, we cannot get as much as we would need,” said Tan.

She added that the main benefit of the jumble sale was not the money raised through the sale of goods but the exposure that Bangsa Ria received, saying that it was this exposure that led to further donations.

Tan also spoke of the Nov 13 walkathon.

“We are small, so we often get ignored. Big corporations overlook us, so we have to work out whatever ways we can to keep this centre afloat. Previously we had jumble sales, but they were hard, tedious work.

“We are hoping that the walkathon will give us more exposure to the general public.

“Some of the other organisations participating are very large, with one hundred or two hundred people in their group.

“Unlike them, we are a smaller group that is also in need of help,” said Tan.

And I for one am in favour of what Bangsa Ria is doing, as these parents have rolled up their sleeves for the last decade to provide a safe space for their children and other parents and children in the same boat as them. It is a real community initiative.

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. This is especially true if the child – through no fault of his or her – is born with disabilities. The child and their family will face many challenges.

In that light, Bangsa Ria is one village working together to provide a safe space for these children with disabilities. I do hope we can rally to support them.

Those who are interested in supporting Bangsa Ria’s participation in the walkathon can contact the centre at bangsaria@gmail.com or call 03-7960 0560.

Senior writer Tan Yi Liang’s In Your Face aims to prove that people have more positive power in their hands than they realise, and to challenge them. He can be reached at tanyl@thestar.com.my

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Opinion , Tan Yi Liang , columnist


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