People have often cautioned each other to tread the streets of Chow Kit carefully. Historically, Chow Kit has been perceived to be rough in its character, mainly due to its past reputation of being a red-light district. The social ills that are rampant in the crowded streets were the subject of a popular classic Malay song, aptly titled Chow Kit Road by Sudirman which cautions its listeners of the pickpockets and kidnappings in the area.
Munir Darussalam, 25, born and raised in the area, says it is still a struggle for Chow Kit to shed its old skin. In school, his classmates had specific names for them.
We were called budak-budak [children] Chow Kit at school. Some called us orphans, when in reality I have parents. – Munir Darussalam
To outsiders and their prying eyes, Munir and his friends roaming the streets of Chow Kit, were nicknamed “Budak Lorong”, labelled homeless or good for nothing.
But, in the midst of it, Yayasan Chow Kit (formerly known as Nur Salam) became a safe space for growing children in Chow Kit. Munir recalled the days he spent there, and how it charted his course for the future.
A Sanctuary In The Heart Of The City
When Munir was 8 years old, Chow Kit streets were his playground and Nur Salam or YCK was only a one-floor building. Thanks to one of his friends, Munir started visiting the centre after school, to fill his time and meet his friends.
The centre became a place for children left without caregivers after school. It is a safe space, shielding children from establishments that reeked of social ills such as gambling dens that are abound in the area.
As time ticked by, the centre grew into a three-storey building and Munir visited daily. Over the last two decades, the city’s least affluent neighbourhoods have two drop-in centres in the area: Pusat Aktiviti Kanak- Kanak (PAKK) which caters to children in primary school (7-12 years old) and the Kuala Lumpur Krash Pad (KLKP) for adolescents aged 12 to 18.
There are many activities there and the space is big. My friends and I attend regularly instead of playing on the streets. They provide meals after school as well.– Munir Darussalam
With the aim of equipping youths like Munir from Chow Kit with the tools to break the mould and elevate their socioeconomic status, the centre offers an array of enriching and developmental programs in a nurturing environment.
The program coordinator Abang Asrul organised daily activities for us. Sometimes we play congkak (traditional game) or carom.– Munir Darussalam
Munir especially liked activities organised by external sponsors; it gave him a chance to explore the world beyond Chow Kit as a child. He recalled trips to the zoo and other outdoor activities. But, the yearly highlight is during the holy month of Ramadan where the children at YCK are treated to buka puasa (break fast) meals, he recalled with a laugh.
We had plenty of activities outside of Chow Kit, we went camping, zoo visits and Petrosains. During Ramadan, we can truly save money by all the food we receive. – Munir Darussalam
Although YCK is gradually bringing a positive impact on the community, Chow Kit’s deeply ingrained outsider stereotypes persist. It was with the objective of enlightening others and offering a raw, undiluted perspective on life in Chow Kit through theatre, emerged.
We were casually chatting with Abang Firdaus, a programme coordinator when the idea of telling stories in Chow Kit came about. We wanted to highlight both the positives and the negatives. When you talk about Chow Kit, it’s always the social ills like gangsterism that people think about. However, there are good parts too, especially with YCK here.– Munir Darussalam
Together with Firdaus, a programme coordinator at the centre and Awaludin Shuti, an alumni and Chow Kit Youth founder, they got to work to transform their dream into reality. They pitched in to an old TV3 show Sejuta Impian, and received the necessary funding.
Their first theatre performance, Lorong the Musical, opened at Lot 10. Following its success, Munir, 17 years old, was cast in the second theatre show, Lorong Pemimpi in 2015.
I was an extra in the first theatre. I played one of the leading roles in our second theatre at DBKL for 5 days. That is something I can’t forget!– Munir Darussalam
Training Wheels Removed
At 18, after completing his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Munir bid goodbye to KL Krash Pad. Munir was in limbo while searching for his passion – taking up various part-time jobs.
While waiting for SPM results, I tried to find my passion. I worked at 7-Eleven and as a promoter.– Munir Darussalam
It was during this soul-searching period that he recognised his passion for baking bread.
I really enjoyed watching Youtube videos about people cooking and baking in the kitchen. It seems quite fun. There was this video that made me fall in love with bread. – Munir Darussalam
At Yayasan Chow Kit, opportunities are at every corner and no one is left behind – even for those leaving the centre. One of the social workers in the centre, Kak Ira, shared that there was an opportunity for him to follow his passion.
Munir applied and received study aid from Didik Kasih EduCare Program, a charity program under Great Vision Charity Association (Persatuan Harapan Mulia). Thanks to the study aid, Munir attended a 6-month bakery course at Bakery Ria in Ampang, completing his Sijil Kemahiran Malaysia 2 (level 2 of skills certification).
Part of the aid condition is to give back to society, and what better way to give back than teaching children at YCK how to bake bread? Together with his coursemates, Munir taught fifteen children how to make buns.
I am proud to have a chance to share my skills with them. This is an unforgettable experience for me. – Munir Darussalam
Years later, Munir shared that one of the participants in his former workshop is now training as a baker too!
One of the boys that I taught to bake turned out to have taken his SKM 2 and is currently a trainee baker. I hope that, in the future, I will inspire many more.– Munir Darussalam
Windows Of Opportunities
With YCK, we were always learning new things and meeting new people. When I take up the chance and take the risk, things turn out well for me. – Munir Darussalam
One figure in particular that has consistently served as a bearer of good news and opportunities was Kak Ira. After completing his SKM 2, there were hiccups in pursuing his education further – due to the expenses it would incur. Munir sustained himself through part-time jobs.
Kak Ira posted another opportunity, this time at Aeon Bakery. A programme that allowed Munir to work while completing his SKM 3 qualification. To Munir, who had never strayed too far from Chow Kit, the prospect of moving to Johor was daunting.
I have never lived independently. Moving to Johor meant finding my own house and fending for myself. But I grabbed the chance and thankfully I had a friend with me.– Munir Darussalam
5 years later, Munir was a supervisor at an establishment run by his friend, called Nian’s Desserts and was running a home-based business, kofel.my selling innovative croffles. Once more, Kak Ira came knocking with a new opportunity.
Kak Ira posted a vacancy at Rebung’s pastry kitchen in our group. I submitted my resume, made it to an interview and got the job.– Munir Darussalam
Today, Munir is a pastry chef at Rebung Restaurant, an establishment that serves traditional Malay dishes run by celebrity chef, Dato’ Chef Ismail and Malaysia’s first astronaut, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar.
Whisking A Better Future
Munir is among the 90% of children that have come through Yayasan Chow Kit and are now contributing back to society. Happily married and a father to two boys, Munir recognises the importance of Yayasan Chow Kit in reshaping the lives of children in Chow Kit.
Sometimes I invite my friends to see what Chow Kit truly looks like. I told them about how YCK has been a pillar of some of the significant changes in the area. But of course, it depends on the individual. No matter how many positive reviews we have talked about or the good job YCK is doing, if they believe Chow Kit is a bad place, it will always be a terrible place for them. – Munir Darussalam
From a young boy who roamed the streets of Chow Kit, to a pastry chef with a long-term dream of his own, Munir now hopes to open his own bakery together with his brother. Munir’s journey is a story of resilience and when given the opportunities and tools, children will thrive.