Big sister to the children

Gigi’s father gives priority to his children’s education. He has been strict on his children and does not allow them to loiter around. He would also ensure that they complete their homework. To Gigi, her world is only between the Titingan Community Learning Centre and her home.

As much as she wants to attend school, 16-year-old Gigi missed her chance as she has passed the eligible enrolment age. She could only bring her younger siblings to the Learning Centre and wait for the time to bring them home daily.

Knowing her eagerness to study and noticing that she just idled away her time while waiting for the classes to end, volunteer Moey Poh Lian discussed Gigi’s situation with fellow volunteers. They then decided to engage her as an assistant at the Learning Centre, helping to prepare refreshments for the students. Whenever Poh Lian is free, she would teach Gigi basic mathematics. Gigi is also allowed to sit in for humanities lessons.

Everyone is confident to leave matters in Gigi’s hand because like a big sister, she takes care of all the students’ needs attentively.

Poh Lian said, “When we gave her the extra bread to bring home, she would reserve them for her younger siblings instead of having them herself. She is well-behaved and is able to lighten our load.”

Teacher Nurhayat also praised Gigi. She said, “Gigi loves the children here and she treats them like her own siblings. She is very responsible and good in managing her time to complete all the tasks entrusted to her. She is a great help.”

Wooden houses on the sea

Last year, Gigi did not turn up at the Learning Centre for a while. When Poh Lian and fellow volunteer, Tan Boon Tiong, learnt that it was due to her father’s injury from a fall, they visited her at her home on September 26. Gigi and her family lived in a small wooden house on the sea, at the furthest part of the village. In order to get to her home, volunteers had to walk pass a wooden bridge, which was shaky and felt insecure to walk on.

Before reaching the doorstep, they had to walk pass another bridge, extended to the house plank by plank. It required some courage to cross the narrow single-plank bridge, and Poh Lian could only make it with Gigi holding her.

Poh Lian related, “Initially, I was afraid to walk to Gigi’s house because it was too dangerous. The planks were thin and beneath them was the sea. But Gigi and her family have gotten used to it. She said she and her siblings had all the experience of falling into the sea when they were kids.”

Gigi has 11 siblings, 2 of whom had passed away, and 2 are living elsewhere after marriage. Her mother passed away four years ago while giving birth to her youngest brother at home. Her family lived in dilapidated conditions, with only a closet as furniture given by the Learning Centre. There were many holes in the roof, and the tattered wooden walls were only covered with cloths. The family had to bear with water leaks whenever it rained.

It was when Gigi’s father was trying to fix the broken roofs that he stepped on some rotten floor planks and fell into the sea. He sustained injuries at the back of his head, but as he could not afford to see a doctor, he could only apply some medications on his own and rest at home. Everyone in the family had to go hungry that few days because the father could not work.

After discussions, volunteers quickly delivered RM100 emergency cash aid and material supplies worth RM50 to the family, besides helping them to repair the house. Poh Lian recounted, “We immediately bought some food, including a tray of eggs, for them. We later learnt that they finished up all the eggs within a day because they had never eaten an egg before. They usually shared only a pot of porridge for a day.” 

Education makes better future

On November 15, 2017, Boon Tiong and a few other volunteers carried the repair materials and a water tank to Gigi’s home, with help from her father and elder brothers, under the blazing sun. Before the volunteers’ arrival, her father had thoughtfully dismantled the toilet, which was enclosed with sackcloth, and strengthened the bridge with additional planks, so that the volunteers could reach their home safely from the back door, without having to walk pass the single-plank bridge near the front door.

Boon Tiong related an episode where he fell off the bridge: “I felt the urgency to do recycling the moment I fell into the sea because the sea was so muddy and dirty that I couldn’t get the stains and smell off me even after several showers.”

Boon Tiong shared with empathy, “Gigi told me that there was a night when it rained so heavily that they could not make it in time to the mosque for shelter. The children ended up spending the whole night in fear, hiding in the closet.”

Boon Tiong felt that material aid is only a temporary relief to the family’s predicament. It is only through education that their lives can improve. With the setting up of the Learning Centre, the children will now have a chance to receive education, thereby altering their fates and creating a better future for themselves.✿✿