By LYDIA GOMEZ and TAMARA JAYNE
Education – or school – has long been spelled out as a cornerstone of success.
While people from various walks of life know this to be true, there are communities that still struggle with fluctuating school registration and retention rates.
A 2013 survey conducted by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) revealed that thousands of children were unable to complete their secondary or tertiary education in Malaysia due to a few common reasons: the lack of interest in schooling, along with the inability of families to afford school expenses.
A majority of these students were revealed to be from lower-income households – one of the factors found to perpetuate the dropout cycle.
Several initiatives exist to break this cycle. Among them is the ECM Libra Foundation’s “Stay-In-School” programme.
This project provides opportunities for youths to remain in school or university until they complete their education.
Driven by the need to help as many Malaysian children as possible through education, the foundation has partnered with local community leaders, non-governmental organisation as well as individuals in their quest to make a difference.
Small steps, big difference
By running their programmes, ECM Libra Foundation hopes to make a lasting difference. Even if through seemingly small acts, the foundation – which started 12 years ago – believes its efforts would add up to create big changes in the lives of children and youth who come from a disadvantaged socio-economic status.
Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan, chairman of ECM Libra Foundation and ECM Libra Financial Group, is passionate about giving Malaysian children from less fortunate backgrounds the opportunity to dream big, and realise why it matters to stay in school.
And while having top achievers among the beneficiaries would be a glorious achievement for the work that the foundation does, Kalimullah says the aim of this foundation was to equip, and provide as many Malaysian children as possible the opportunity to break out of the poverty cycle.
“I grew up in a poor family and I understand the situation of many of the children in our programmes. We want them to have that opportunity and to make the most out of it,” he told Leaderonomics recently.
“This is the chance for us to make sure they get their basics right, at the very least. If we can provide the opportunities for them to complete their education and become gainfully employed, they can go back to help their families. That’s our objective,” said Kalimullah.
The foundation aids beneficiaries by:
1. Giving grants to schools and communities (e.g. for purchase of computers, libraries, school uniforms, bags and shoes)
2. Offering interest and bond-free study loans to students who want to pursue their tertiary education in Malaysia.
3. Sponsoring teaching programmes such as tuition classes, pre-school programmes and skills training for youths in rural areas.
“The loans that they repay are interest free – it is simply to give them a sense of responsibility and dignity. And that money doesn’t come back to us; it goes back to others, through the other programmes and initiatives that we support,” Kalimullah said, adding that the foundation’s work and success feed into other outreach programmes that they sponsor.
Keep it simple – and fun!
Lim Beng Choon, executive trustee of the ECM Libra Foundation makes his observation about a project aided by the foundation:
We noticed (that) one village deep within the interior of Sarawak did not even have the need for a secondary school because none of the kids had ever passed their UPSR (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah) exam in primary school. And most of the time, the kids don’t even show up at school.
“The village elders approached us, saying they needed help. So, a youth leader got a group of Form five school-leavers and several university students on their term break, and travelled to this village to help the kids pass their exams,” Lim said.
The group, he said, would go into the village – Long Lamai, a remote Penang settlement in Ulu Baram – and stay there for eight weeks at a time. With each passing year, they have managed to steadily increase the percentage of students who pass their UPSR exams.
Lim described how they achieved this, and the method was surprisingly simple – and fun!
“These kids were not interested in studying because they did not understand why they needed to study. So, these young people who were willing to play with the kids came in and used creative ways to teach the children. They used games and group activities, mixing elements of commerce and nature to conduct their lessons.
They make it creative and fun for the children to discover the importance of learning, he added.
“To us, it is important that these kids at least get their ABCs and 123s right before they ever decide to drop out of school,” said Lim.
Dedication and discipline
Lim related another instance where a tertiary institution in Penang accepted a group of orang asli girls who wanted to further their education, despite them not having the complete prerequisite for admission.
“The principal made it her personal mission to mentor them regularly, just to make sure that they did not drop out. Four out of five of them are now working and repaying their loans.”
Repayment of interest and bond-free loans, said Cheah Sook Lian, senior manager of ECM Libra Foundation, was primarily a way for beneficiaries to gain a sense of self-esteem.
“Before they sign the (loan) agreements, we make sure that they understand what they are getting themselves into. We also have their guarantors understand their roles. We are quite tough with them during this process, and along the way give them tips, hoping to prepare them for their job interviews,” Cheah said.
Cheah believes the programmes exist not just to educate, but also to instill hope and confidence in the children that would ultimately allow them unleash their true potential.
“And not quit halfway,” Cheah said.
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