Aren’t we humans too, teacher?
Those were the words uttered by 10-year-old Raina, a stateless child living in Pulau Gaya, Sabah. Those five words marked the closing of ‘Di Sini Aku’ a short film capturing the vivid challenges of stateless children trying to pursue a future but bound by invisible barriers. Many stateless children struggle to find their voice and identity as a result of poverty and marginalisation — but they are not alone. Children in poverty share the same struggles too.
According to UNICEF, children are more likely to live in poverty than adults because they are more vulnerable and powerless. Globally, there are one billion children facing multidimensional poverty where their education, health, housing and safety is compromised. This fact has been exacerbated as a result of Covid-19, with an additional 150 million adding to that number.
Malaysian children are no exception. Poor children in this country are prone to both short and long-term consequences in their development. Here are some examples:
- One in five children in Malaysia have problems with stunted growth.
- At least 1,500 children marry every year in this country.
- 29,000 students dropped out of school in 2019, and the majority were from poor families.
The above are just the beginning of the extensive challenges met by these children.
To try to ensure nobody is left behind, there have been numerous past and ongoing governmental efforts. Additionally, NGOs have played a significant role in filling the gaps. These changemakers are found in every state and each working in different areas to help alleviate child poverty in the nation. Here 10 extraordinary organisations worth checking out:
Education is one of the surest ways for the next generation to get a better start to life. By law, Malaysians are legally obligated to send their children to school (primary 1-6), yet, there are still thousands of children not in school.
While both primary and secondary school education in Malaysia is free, there are fringe expenses incurred such as the cost of uniforms, books, shoes, stationery, transportation, etc to ensure a proper education experience.
Instead of a safe and conducive environment to study, some schools (especially rural schools) are found in a dilapidated state. Imagine classrooms, with no electricity, no clean water, unsanitary toilets, and ceilings and walls that are falling apart. Some of these schools have been found to be dangerous and even hazardous for students to be in.
Without proper education, the next generation of underprivileged children are forced to enter the workforce prematurely, some may even be married off early and others fall into various vices because of bad company. Thankfully, there are a number of NGOs that are adamant to change the fates of these children. Here are some of them:
Dignity for Children Foundation was founded in 1998. This NGO is focused on providing broad-spectrum care and education for the urban poor children in Kuala Lumpur. They currently serve more than 1,700 children and youth ranging from 1-18 years old, running education programmes in the Sentul area. Additionally, Dignity also provides support to similar community schools catering to poor children in South East Asia through their community-school start-up and teachers’ training programmes.
Learn more about Dignity and its ongoing efforts here.
#2: SUKA Society
Through their Empowered 2 Teach programmes held in various states around Malaysia, SUKA has impacted the lives of many indigenous children. The provision of training, support and resources to these communities has empowered them to start their own pre-school education classes for children in rural villages. Currently, SUKA is supporting six indigenous pre-school classes with a total of 150 students between 4 – 6 years old.
Visit them here to read more about their impacts over the years.
#3: Borneo Komrad
Among Borneo Komrad’s projects is an alternative learning centre (ALC) for the marginalised children of Sabah. Started in 2015, this organisation is the brainchild of university students and the local youths who cared deeply for the underprivileged community in Sabah. The ALC was developed by the Kelab Sastera Mahasiswa (KARMA) and Suara Mahasiwa Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Located at Rumah Pangi Kampung Shahbandar, Tuaran, Sabah — classes are held during the weekends from 2.00 – 5.00pm. Similar learning centres are also established in Tawau and Semporna.
Interested to lend a hand? Visit their website to learn more.
CHILD PROTECTION SERVICES
Domestic violence and child abuse is an overlooked and often unspoken problem that comes with child poverty. Many low-income families live in cramped housing areas (eg. flats) shared by numerous family members. On top of that, not many low-income families have the spare cash to afford child-sitting services and this leads to neglect.
In 2020, there were 3,875 child abuse cases that were reported between January and September. In contrast to 2019, there were a total of 6,061 cases reported within the same time frame. While the numbers have shown a significant decline, the treatment of these children is is no less horrendous.
With no one else to turn to, these children have nothing to safeguard them from the abuse and neglect at home. Apart from the reliance on the Social Welfare Department for intervention, several NGOs have stepped up to offer protective services to children in need and these are some of them:
Driven by the mission of developing awareness on child sexual abuse (CSA), Protect and Save the Children is the only social organisation in Malaysia that focuses on the prevention, intervention and treatment of CSA. They commit to producing safer communities where children are far from exploitation through their advocacy and prevention education within the community.
Want to play a part in making the community safer for children? Visit them here to learn how contributions can be done.
Based in Penang, the Children’s Protection Society (CPS) is an organisation that caters to neglected, abandoned and abused children coming from poor and dysfunctional families. Founded in 1991 as an initiative by Dato’ Seri Nazir Ariff, they aim to provide at-risk children with a safe and supportive environment that would aid in their development. Presently, they are looking after around 30-40 children between ages 5 to 18 years old while their outreach programmes cater to some 30 children in Butterworth, Penang. CPS is open to donations, sponsorships and even volunteering services.
Up for volunteering at CPS? Visit them on their website here and find out how.
FOOD AND NUTRITION
What a child eats, especially in the first few years of its life, determines how well they grows. Nutrition and sufficient food is essential for a child’s cognitive and physical development. A healthy diet prevents malnutrition and all sorts of non-communicable diseases. Unfortunately, food and adequate food supply is a luxury to some families.
12% of Malaysian children have less than three meals a day, and these meals are often not balanced and nutritious meals. Many families stated that they simply did not have enough money to feed their children nutritious foods.
According to UNICEF in 2018, 1 in 5 Malaysian children below 5 years old are stunted, making Malaysia the third-highest for stunting in South East Asia. Stunting is an occurrence when a child does not grow and reaching physical growth milestones according to their age. It has very dangerous short and long term consequences like a higher risk of dying from repeated infections; adult obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.
Here are the organisations trying to ensure that the future generation is properly fed:
Rise Against Hunger is an international hunger relief organisation that provides food and life-changing aid to vulnerable communities around the world. Their approach to ending hunger revolves around the packaging of nutritious meals packed by volunteers and then distributed accordingly throughout the globe via their country partners. Their programmes consist of child nourishment as part of the safety net programme. Food packages are used to support and bolster children’s attendance in school as they do not have to worry about not eating right.
Want to learn more about their volunteering programme? Click here to learn more.
Charity Right is also another international food aid organisation that caters to marginalised communities globally. They support schoolchildren and adults in refugee camps in slums and remote villages. They believe that children are more likely to stay in school with the provision of regular meals in school, increasing their chance at a better future. As of 2019, they have allocated 5.5 million meals worldwide and 1,500 meals to refugees and children in Malaysia itself. They are currently working on the One Million Meals project aiming to serve underprivileged children with a million meals this Ramadan.
Contribute to their cause and learn more about their work here.
#3: World Vision
The Malaysian Assistance Fund is a donation programme organised by World Vision to support children development in Malaysia. Currently, their Community Development Programmes in Sabah are benefitting from this fund. With the organisation of the health and nutrition workshops, they were able to train mothers on proper child feeding practices and teach them how to prepare a nutritious meal. Home gardens were also developed as part of their effort in improving the children and the community’s dietary diversity. Donations are much welcomed towards the growth and success of this project.
Click on the link here to learn more about the assistance fund and how it is bringing about change to the children in Sabah.
The most vulnerable communities were children from rural populations. Little girls were at greater risk compared to little boys and children from the B40 community were found to have more mental health issues than their M40 and T20 counterparts.
Additionally, there are also children living with functional difficulties that range in severity. The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 recorded that 4.7% of children ages 2-17 years old experience functional difficulties. This includes difficulties in areas of movement, mental state, cognitive function, emotional control and behaviour. These children need to be properly cared for to ensure that their future is secure.
There are also children with chronic bodily pain, pain in any part of the body which increases in pain every day for three months or more. 3.5% of children aged 13-19 years old were affected by the pain. This pain only gets worse with age. Regardless of whether it is physical or mental, a child’s health needs to be monitored and taken care of at all times. They need the correct environment to thrive, and here are organisations doing just that.
Mitra Enrichment Organisation wants to ensure that children of all ages, gender, race and religion are provided with quality education and healthcare. Whilst they mainly empower the vulnerable community with skills that can’t direct them towards higher education, they provide basic healthcare, as well as are constantly teaching CPR Practises, first aid, hygiene practises, and even educating them on dental hygiene. In collaboration with Teddy Mobile clinic, these children are given basic medical screenings too.
Learn more about their team and find out how contributions can be done here.
Initiated by Cheras Baptist Church in response to the increasing need for early intervention services, this centre was opened in July 2000. The Early Steps Care Center provides educational programmes and support for all types of special needs children, such as Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, Developmental Disabilities/Mental Retardation, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, Global Delay, Asperger’s Syndrome, William Syndrome, Tourette’s Syndrome, etc. The centre gives these children a safe learning environment with the right experts to guide them.
Check their blog out here to see their works.
Evidently, there are many more organisations out there that are helping children in need here in Malaysia. Know some of them but do not see them on the list? Let us know!
Explore Our Sources:
- UNICEF. (2021). Child poverty. Link.
- UNICEF. (2020). 150 million additional children plunged into poverty due to COVID-19, UNICEF, Save the Children said. Link.
- UNICEF. (2018). Children Without: A Study of Urban Child Poverty and Deprivation in Low-Cost Flats in Kuala Lumpur. Link.
- UNICEF. (2021). An Online Launch of Advocacy Brief and Panel Discussion: Towards Ending Child Marriage. Link.
- Ministry of Education Malaysia. (2018). Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025. Link
- A. Hakim. (2020). Over 1 Million Malaysian Children Are Not In School & Other Problems With The Education System, Says Former Minister. The Rakyat Post. Link.
- UNESCO. (2013). Malaysia Education Policy Review. Link.
- F. Zainudin, (2020). 3,875 child abuse cases up to September, lower than previous years. Free Malaysia Today. Link.
- UNICEF. (2018). Children without. Link.
- D. Kok. (2019). Stunting in Malaysia: Costs, Causes and Courses for Action. Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia. Link.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2019). National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019: Key Findings. Link.