Unwanted and unwelcome by their own government and often being subjected to constant harassment, the Myanmar ethnic minorities were forced to flee their village and braved the jungles to escape into neighboring countries such as India, Thailand and Malaysia. In Malaysia alone the numbers of Myanmar refugees are more than 100,000. Out of this, approximately 13,000 are of school going ages, but with only less than half of them in schools. As Malaysia is not a state party to the 1951 United Nation Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, refugees are treated as illegal immigrants and are not accepted into public schools.
In December 2008, we were approached by a Myanmar pastor who informed us about the problems faced by the Myanmar communities in Kepong. One major concern then was that there was no school they could send their children to get an education. A small school operated for just 6 months and was closed due financial problems. There was an urgent need for a school to be set up for the 50 Myanmar children who have reached school going age then. With the help of Sister Danielle Ee of Jesus Caritas Parish in Kepong, we started planning and raising fund for the setting up of what was then called Kepong Migrant Learning Centre.
Some Foundations and individuals like Sue Yian of Hong Leong Foundation, members of SIBKL, Jesus Caritas Parish and even people from as far as Singapore and Kuching have contributed to pay for rental deposits and first month rental and bought text books, fans, lightings, building materials, paints, tables and chairs, as well as educational aids etc. to help set up the school. Eventually on May 4, 2009, the Kepong Migrant Learning Centre opened its door to 50 Myanmar children. The name of the school was later changed to HELP Community Learning Centre.
In April, 2010, after spending another RM13,000 to purchase electrical equipment, paying of rental deposits and renovation cost including painting, electrical and plumbing works, we moved into a new location. The new premise has a total floor area of 3,500 sq. ft on 2 floors in a 4-storey shop-lot a few blocks away from the old school. We partitioned 4 classrooms on the 2nd floor for elementary classes. There is 1 room used as a store room and a big hall on the 3rd floor for 2 preschools classes. The need to relocate the school is due to the increase in the school population from 50 to more than 80 students and from 4 classes to 6 classes. Our classes are from preschool to standard 7.
There are 3 full-time teachers and 3 part-time teachers in the school now. By part-time we mean they work from 9:30am to 12:15pm from Monday to Friday. In the afternoon, evening and weekends, they have to take up other jobs because we can only afford to pay them RM250 each per month and give each a 10 kgs. pack of rice despite some of them being Masters degree holders. We shall continue to pray that one day, in the very near future, we may be able to pay them better and upgrade all of them to full-time teachers.
With some help from UNHCR, 3 of the present teachers have been upgraded to full-time teachers since August, 2010. They are given a RM800 monthly compensation but such sponsor may only last till December, 2010. We have also revised the wages of the remaining part-time teachers from RM250 to RM350 per month starting August, 2010.
At present, we teach only 3 subjects namely English, Mathematics and Science in the English language. We have just started classes in the afternoon to teach Burmese, the national language of the Myanmar people in September, 2010. As there are more than 11 different ethnic tribes among the Myanmar children in our school, we can only teach the Burmese language, this is also at the request of all the parents. Since most of these children may be resettled to English speaking developed countries such as American. Australia, Canada etc., we feel the emphasis should be on the English language. This is to prepare them for schooling wherever they may be resettled later.
We collect a token monthly sum of RM20 as school fees from each student, RM15 for siblings of students and RM10 for children of single mothers. Each student is given a pack of milk powder worth approximately RM25 when they pay their school fees. Every day we serve each child with biscuits or waffles and a tablet of chewable multi vitamin. We need a several kilos of biscuits or waffles each day, although we do get sponsors for them every now and then, we need to purchase most of them.
Before we started the project for the new school premise, we had a buffer fund of approximately RM10,000. The relocation to the new premises have left us in debts which we are still struggling to repay. In order to create a better educational environment with better ventilation and space, we decided to move into the present new and much bigger premise. We believe in providing a better study environment for these children.
We have been blessed with donations of 2 units of projectors and a scanner from Epson Malaysia and a set of Dell desktop computer complete with LCD monitor from Help University College recently. We are praying that we may be able to get donation for a laptop for both management and educational use in different classes. We are also hoping to build a computer lab to start computer classes for our students but that would require at least 10 units of desktop computers with LCD monitors costing approximately RM13,000. It may take a long time before we may be able to raise enough funds to fulfill that dream.
As the number of students continues to increase, we find the need for additional tables and chairs for the classrooms. We anticipate more students to join our school in the next few months. It has always been our wish to provide school uniforms to all the students to give them a sense of pride as a student of the school. If we provide 2 uniforms per student, the uniform project would cost us at least RM6,000 excluding school shoes. We will ask the parents to purchase school shoes for their own children.
Twenty students who are staying in Bukit Maluri and Pusat Kepong have left us because it was too far to walk to school and they could not afford to pay RM70 per month in fare for the school bus. It is our hope that one day we may be able to buy a second hand school van to pick up these children so that they may have the opportunity to be educated. There are also pupils staying in Sri Damansara and Menjalara who would like to join us but they too cannot afford the transport charges.
At HELP Community Learning Centre, volunteers and sponsors play very important roles in helping us be what we are today and hopefully in the future too. The donations, both in cash and kind, helped us pay for all the necessities, teachers’ salaries, utility bills, cost of the renovations and relocation expenses as well as other expected expenses. Without the support from our sponsors, we would never have progressed this far. We have local volunteers who come in 2 or 3 mornings a week to teach our students the English language. We even have an American volunteer who flew all the way from New York to serve in our school for 5 weeks. It is amazing how many kindhearted people there are in this world. We will always welcome both local and foreign voluntary volunteers to come to our school to teach the English.
The command of spoken English of our Myanmar teachers is insufficient to fulfill the standard we desire. For this reason, we are attempting to have an ongoing teachers training program.
Social clubs like the Lions and Rotary clubs have also been such a blessing to our kids. They have organized children parties, field trips and movies and some are conducting story reading classes during weekends for our students.
The pre-university and matriculation students and lecturers of HELP University College have been among our biggest supporters. They have organized various functions to help raise fund for us and constantly come to visit our school and organize parties in their campus for our students too.
Publishers like Oxford Fajar, Longman etc. have been so kind to provide us with lots of workbooks, dictionaries, atlas, story books etc. We hope to invite with more publishers to come forward to help us in our constant needs for educational books and materials
Our current premises need maintenance; there will always be some electrical wiring to be done, lightings to be fixed, a small partition works or pipe leaks to be repaired etc. It is our hope that we may be able to put together a list of volunteers who may be able to provide their professional services to us when such needs arise.
Top Priorities of HELP Community Learning Centre
1) Fulltime teachers
There are 6 teachers in the school now, 3 of them being fulltime teachers sponsored by UNHCR and the other 3 being part-time teachers. Fulltime teachers are paid RM800 per month whereas part-time teachers are onjly paid RM350. Upgrading 3 part-time teachers to fulltime would require a budget of RM2,400 per month (RM800 x 3), or RM28,800 per year.
We acknowledge the need to extend schooling hours to at least 4 hours each day. This will require upgrading our part-time teachers to fulltime. The decision to upgrade them is dependent on the availability of funding.
1) Teachers’ training program
We know the importance of trainings for our teachers. Although Harvest Centre is providing occasional teachers’ training courses, we feel an ongoing teachers’ training program would greatly benefit our teachers. Such trainings may be conducted over weekends or after class (3.00pm) in the afternoon. We plan to appeal to educational institutions of higher education, especially those in the field of teachers training, to help us with this ongoing teachers training program.
2) Setting up of a computer lab
Being computer literate at a young age is absolutely essential in the modern society we live in, more so for people who may be resettled in developed countries like America, UK or Australia etc. Out of 86 students, more than 50 are age 7 to 16. There is an urgent need to start computer classes for these students. The plan is to start a lab with 10 to 12 computer of at least Pentium 4 (used or new) and above or its equivalents like AMD or even Atom processors. The computers should come with legal Window XP operating system software, Linux operating system can also be considered if we can get professionals to train our students on the use of the software. We can install and use the free IBM Lotus Symphony office software for word processing, presentation and spreadsheet.
WISH LIST (fixed assets)
1) A basic laser printer for the admin. office RM350
2) An injet colour printer with extra external ink tank RM400
3) 4 units Cupboards with door and lock (for libraray) @RM350 x 4 = RM1,400
4) 6 units exhaust fans for classrooms/toilets @RM100 x 6 = RM600
5) 10 units L4 feet x W18” classroom tables @RM120 x 10 = RM1,200
6) 6 units of fire extinguishers (6 or 9 kgs.) @RM90 x 6 = RM540
7) A 2nd hand van to ferry students RM30,000 to RM40,000
8) Office/management table W30” x L6’ RM500
9) 2 units Laptop computers for classroom use RM2,000 x 2 = RM4,000
10) Desktop computers to set up computer lab RM1,300 x 10 = RM13,000
OTHER NEEDS (fast moving consumables)
1. Biscuits (various types) @RM8 per kg. x 35 kgs.
per month RM280 per month
2. Exercise books (various types) 40 books
per month. x RM0.45 per book RM18 per month
3. White board markers (with refill) Pilot Board Master
Blue/Black, refill is about RM20 per box of 12 refills RM40 per month
We invite you to visit us and experience the happiness that comes from giving and showering love to the poor, marginalized and persecuted people. You will be amazed how much joy they will bring to you in return.
We know most of you are working professionals and may not be free to visit us during weekdays. Although school schedule is from Monday to Friday, there are usually classes on Saturday too.
For more information, please contact Chris Jong at 012 8730 380.
For contributions, please issue cheque or bank in to :-
AmBank (M) Berhad
Account no. 243-201-200779-2