Bittersweet memories for volunteers

TO BE a volunteer at Yayasan Salam Malaysia, one must be committed, dedicated and have much patience, says Azean Turiman, 31, a part-time volunteer at the foundation’s Rumah Pangsa Sri Murni ICT Centre in Shah Alam. She finds the job both challenging and rewarding.

“When I first started teaching at the centre, the students were mostly elderly people. They were too afraid to even touch the computer, let alone learn how to use it,” she said. “They needed a lot of handholding and I had to muster up a lot of patience.

“Eventually, I was rewarded when my students learned how to operate a computer. It’s a good feeling having helped someone accomplish something.”

Azean, who lives near the centre, said she felt compelled to coach the elderly folk and her other students because they were so eager to learn despite letting their fear get the better of them.

“They so wanted to know on how to operate the computer and to use the Internet,” she said. “Teaching them the fundamentals of computing was a struggle at first. I had to repeat myself a few times before I could make them understand.”

And if that wasn’t enough, Azean’s class was also plagued by slow Internet speeds and the old computers being used tended to break down often. The machines have CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitors instead of the flatscreen LCDs (liquid-crystal displays) that are the hallmark of today’s PCs.

She hopes that someday the centre will be equipped with newer computers, so that more up-to-date applications can be taught, and with less chance of a hardware malfunction happening during classes.

Azean, who taught for eight months at the centre, had to quit last year to care for her baby. She hopes to volunteer again someday.

For another volunteer, Mohd Noor Jamil Mohd Ishak, 25, teaching at the Nur Salam safehouse is also exciting. The safehouse, run by Salam, is for underprivileged children from the slums in Kuala Lumpur.

“At Nur Salam, we teach the kids, ages 8 to 12, how to use the Internet, as well as Microsoft Office applications, which may come in handy when they seek employment when they grow up,” said Mohd Noor, who is also the IT and Toy library co-ordinator at the safehouse.

He said the children are from very poor families and they come to the centre to play. While they are there, the volunteers encourage them to learn how to use computers.

“Surprisingly, most of them are not shy and they can interact with everyone in the class,” he said. “But handling these children can be challenging. You sometimes need to coax them to learn.”

Mohd Noor used to be a volunteer at the safehouse before becoming a full-time staff in 2007.

Among the 20 community ICT training centres operated by Salam, the Access@SSBlind Centre is one of the newest.

Located in Kuching, Sarawak, it opened its doors last year to the visually impaired, who are taught to use computers and the Internet, as well as office applications.

“Here, the students are taught via a software called Job Access with Speech (or Jaws),” said Md Ghani Ibrahim, Salam’s chief operating officer. “This software reads aloud the information on a computer display.”

The centre has 10 PCs, which are shared by the 15 students during each lesson. The classes are held daily, from 9am to 5pm, except on Mondays.

“When we first started we had a part-time, visually-impaired trainer from the Malaysian Association for the Blind. This is because the trainer would know how to approach and handle the students more effectively,” said Md Ghani.

Today, the centre has a full-time, sighted trainer. But the centre hopes to recruit a visually-impaired volunteer to also help teach.

Since it opened, 20 students have graduated from the centre.

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