Enabling Underprivileged Students to Have Dreams

Skimming through the Self-Assessment Booklets, an entry written in Bahasa Malaysia caught my attention: “My father earns only RM850 per month…” Taking into consideration that the Malaysian poverty line is RM980 per household per month, I could not help but wonder how this family live their lives, and whether the children under such circumstances could have a dream of their own?

We met the Form 4 student in question, Nur Farisha Hidayu binti Nur Hasyim, and her family, on October 20, 2019, at the Tzu Chi Study & Awards Scheme presentation ceremony. There was a trace of worry in their eyes despite the smile on their faces. The mother said, “My daughter has won a study aid, so my whole family is here to witness and share her joy.”

Poverty does not prevent Nur Farisha from giving the brightest smile. [Photograph by Ng Hock Thai]

Nur Farisha’s father is an Indonesian, while her mother is a local. Being the eldest among the siblings, she is aware that her father is striving hard to support the family of seven with a meagre monthly income, which he earns as a part-time construction worker. She revealed in a rather low voice that the family was in debt that they could not possibly clear. As such, they could only strive to live day by day. Payment of school fees for her and her siblings weighed heavily on the family; usually they could only afford to pay partially.

Despite the hard life, Nur Farisha always wears a smile. Last year, she passed the Form 3 Assessment Examination (PT3) with four credits. Upon recommendation from the school, her application for Tzu Chi Study & Awards Scheme was approved. She passed the said study aid of RM350 to her mother to pay for school fees and uniforms for her siblings. With this, the heavy burden on the minds of all in the family was lifted.

She wrote in her Self-Assessment Booklet that she wished to be an immigration officer, so as to help her father.

Gaining business experience

Like Nur Farisha, Putera Azib Ahmad bin Aziz has many siblings. As his name—“Putera” suggests, he is as gentle and elegant as a prince. He speaks Mandarin and has a Mandarin-sounding name of “Azib” given by his teacher. His father is a vegetable farmer with 11 offsprings from different wives. Some of Azib’s siblings are already working, while he and his younger brother are Form 1 and primary school student respectively. Both of them attended the ceremony, accompanied by their elder sister.

Azib (right) and his younger brother have been beneficiaries of Tzu Chi’s study aid for two years in a row. [Photograph by Ng Hock Thai]

Azib’s family has been a Tzu Chi care recipient family. Tzu Chi volunteers recommended that he and his younger brother apply for the study aid for the second time. He may just be a 13-year-old teenager, but he is a grateful young boy, who never gives in to life’s challenges. He revealed that his father has always taught him to be grateful for help given to him, while his mother always shows him by example to keep an open heart and persevere when facing difficulties in life.

His elder sister said that Azib, who achieved the second position in class in his school, is the cleverest among the siblings. Since Primary 5, he has been helping his father in the farm. Be it growing, harvesting and selling vegetables and flowers, or buying fruits from wholesalers to sell, he takes them with a positive mindset.

To him, sitting at the vegetable stall is no big deal.  Whenever he is free, he would catch up in his school work or just observe the passers-by. To him, it is a special opportunity to prepare himself for the future. He said, “I want to study hard because I want to change my future for the better. My dream is to become the highest authority of a company.”

Reserving the study aid solely for education

Ng Zhe Xuan of SJK (C) Malim arrived with his mother, Loh Lee Kiew, early that morning. For four years in a row, he has received the study aid from Tzu Chi. Now, he is a Primary 6 student, and is as tall as his mother.

According to Lee Kiew, her son is better than the other three in their studies. She was thankful to his teacher, Tang Pui Yue, for discovering Zhe Xuan’s hidden talent and for recommending him for the study aid throughout these few years. The latter might not have any chance otherwise, being a very quiet boy.

With the arrival of each child, their financial constraints became a greater problem. However, Lee Kiew and her husband (an auto repair mechanic) had the common understanding of keeping the study aid untouched for any purpose other than education.

Lee Kiew was happy to hear that Zhe Xuan has the ambition to be a scientist in the future; she could not imagine that such a quiet child could have such a big dream.

Mama, please don’t cry

Angelyn Tam, a Primary 3 pupil, said she has no big dream. She only wished for her mother not to cry anymore. Her mother, Tan Shik Lee, is a single parent who looks after two daughters. With mutual understanding with her office co-workers, she takes the girls to the office on Saturdays, as she could not leave them alone in the house. Having witnessed the hardships faced by her mother, Angelyn takes the initiative to help in house chores, besides learning to use money carefully.

Tan Shik Lee has a pair of well-behaved daughters. One of them, Angelyn Tam (2nd from right), is prepared to give up what she likes in order to save for the family’s expenditure. [Photograph by Ngow Judy]

“When shopping at any supermarket, she would keep track of how much has been used. If the figure is already close to the budget, she would take away items she has chosen for herself. When making deposits into her savings account, she would offer to let me use the money should I need it.” Shik Lee narrated tearfully because she was so touched by such a thoughtful and caring daughter.

Last year, Shik Lee looked to Tzu Chi for aid as she was concerned about educational expenses for her girls. Tzu Chi volunteers in charge of her case then started to pay monthly visits to the family. They have also given their recommendation for the children’s application for study aid. The girls are aware that rewards can only come with efforts made. Hence, they would take the initiative to record what they were supposed to do in the Self-Assessment Booklets given to them, and show the booklets to the volunteers during their visits. There is an obvious change in that family as they have become livelier due to the caring visits by the volunteers. The normally demure Angelyn has opened herself up, while the younger girl chatters, jumps and laughs happily; the mother notices the change, a result from the volunteers’ home visits.

Facing life’s challenges with courage

With Deepavali a week away, Tzu Chi Malacca had earlier on presented festive gift packs to its Indian care recipients. The volunteers also took the opportunity to distribute gift packs to pupils from Tamil schools who are beneficiaries of Tzu Chi’s Happy Schooling Scheme.

Sarojah a/p Kutheraveloo has received such a gift pack for the third year. She could still recall the items in the gift pack she received last year, such as, wheat flour, packet drinks and muruku.

Sarojah a/p Kutheraveloo and her family are delighted as her twins received study aid and a Deepavali gift pack from Tzu Chi. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]

Sarojah and husband have five children, one of whom had passed away due to bacterial infection five years ago. In the past, the school had recommended that her four children apply for Tzu Chi’s study aid. For this year, only the Primary 6 twins among the four obtained approval for their applications. Fortunately, the school has helped them to apply for transportation subsidies under the Happy Schooling Scheme.

Recently, the family shifted from the dilapidated house they had been staying in to a new house rented at RM300 per month. Although Deepavali was approaching, Sarojah did not make any festive plans due to the family’s situation. Her children told her: “So and so are preparing a lot of festival goodies...” At such time, Sarojah would teach the children to accept life, and take life’s challenges without complaints.

With deep felt thanks, Sarojah a/p Shunmugan receives a Deepavali gift pack from Tzu Chi for the first time. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]

At the scene of distribution, Sarojah smiled happily upon seeing the happy faces of her children when they discovered chocolates in the gift pack.

Taking good care of the school bag

Another mother of the same name, Sarojah a/p Shunmugan, attended the event with her eight-year-old adopted son, who has been awarded study aid and also subsidy for school transport. This means a great relief to the family.

Sarojah has another two children of her own. Her eldest son lives in Johor with his grandmother, while her second son is attending college. Seven years ago, her adopted son, then a nine-month-old baby, was abandoned by his parents. At a relative’s suggestion, Sarojah adopted the baby. Besides her own family, she is also taking care of her sick sister-in-law. In addition, she herself had just undergone an operation, and is still unable to go to work, leaving her husband as the family’s sole breadwinner.

Sarojah deeply appreciates the study aid given to her son. The burden of buying new uniforms and school shoes has been taken off her shoulders. She revealed, “This boy has to change his school bag for the fourth time in a year.” To save money for other uses, she reinforced the straps of the fourth bag before her son started using it. A few days back, the boy received a letter from the school informing him that he has been given the study aid. He was excited and reminded his mother time and again to attend the event, for he deeply appreciates the great help that Tzu Chi has given him. In Sarojah’s words, the boy is hardworking in his studies, and helpful in house chores.

Each year around Deepavali, Sarojah would make cookies for sale. This year marks the first year she receives a Deepavali gift pack. She and her son are very thankful for the thoughtful gesture of Tzu Chi.

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In her speech, the CEO of Tzu Chi Malacca said that the festive gift packs are a collection of kindness coming from members of the public. She pointed out that although others may have a grander celebration for the festival, as long as one has the will to work hard, there will surely be a better outcome. She encouraged all the parents and their children to look upon challenges as a stepping stone to greater heights in life, and hoped that the children will become responsible, disciplined and patriotic individuals, besides doing due good to the environment and saving planet Earth.

Two rounds of Tzu Chi Study & Awards Scheme presentation ceremony brought forth families that suffer various kinds of difficulties. At the same time, the care and love shown towards the young ones by the parents and Tzu Chi volunteers were clearly felt.

“We are just acting as a bridging medium, as we do not want any student to stop schooling, or to take up part-time job due to financial problems. It is hoped that they will do their best to continue with their studies,” remarked Tan Loon Sin, a teacher from SMK Bukit Baru, while informing that the school would report the predicaments faced by its students to Tzu Chi if they are unable to help in the long run.

Tan Loon Sin (left), a teacher from a secondary school in Malacca in charge of student welfare, came to witness the ceremony, where her students received the study aid. [Photograph by Ng Hock Thai]

Tzu Chi volunteers take the participating children round the Tzu Chi Malacca premises to appreciate Tzu Chi’s missions. [Photograph by Choo Tee Seng]

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