Wiki Impact celebrates Teacher’s Day 2023 by honouring teachers who go above and beyond to ensure that all children, regardless of their socio-economic status, citizenship, abilities, or background, have access to education. Their names may not immediately ring a bell, but these unsung heroes have positively impacted countless lives and futures.
“Tak kenal maka tak cinta” (you wouldn’t love something unless you learn about it) is how Jenepa Karun, 30 years old teacher at Pusat Bimbingan Alternatif Grace Tawau sums up her compelling story as a teacher to the vulnerable.
Six years ago, Jenepa, who was persuaded by her friend to teach at the centre, was challenged to step out of her comfort zone.
I told myself, I will give it a go, but if I don’t fit in as a teacher, I will leave the centre. Deep down, I really didn’t think I could be a teacher.
Jenepa had aspired to secure a good job with decent wages, leveraging her technology Management diploma from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. However, it was at the centre that she discovered her true calling. Recognising the dire situation of the stateless and undocumented community, Jenepa felt compelled to lend her expertise and support.
After teaching for some time, I knew immediately that it was my calling. I can only plan so much, but God decides.
To some, educating stateless and undocumented children may seem unnecessary, but Jenepa firmly believes that by providing them with access to education and learning, the long-term benefits are undeniable. Pusat Bimbingan Alternatif Grace, established in 2010 by a local Calvary church congregation, proudly serves over 700 students.
If we don’t do our part in providing education and guidance to the stateless and undocumented children – more social ills will happen in the future. Education can help curb social problems by teaching students good manners and character and eventually, we will see a better generation.
Jenepa’s role extends beyond teaching mathematics and basic conversational Mandarin. She emphasises the importance of instilling proper manners and moral values in her students. Undocumented and stateless children often face unjust labelling for contributing to social issues. Jenepa believes that by cultivating good moral values and manners, the negative reputation of the community can be transformed.
I hope my students learn good manners at school and become role models to others, even Malaysian citizens. To me, manners may be more important than knowledge itself.
While Jenepa acknowledges the challenges of keeping students in school, especially given their families’ poverty, she and the dedicated teachers at the centre persevere. No fault of anyone, but Jenepa realises that the community’s vision for the future can be short-sighted.
Our students come from a family background that is kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang (to live from hand to mouth). At times, our students will not come to school because their parents think that education and school are not important – instead, earning money or working is more important.
Pusat Bimbingan Alternatif Grace follows a proactive approach by visiting students and their families, actively seeking solutions to ensure children receive their education.
We visit them at their homes, usually in remote areas and get to know their families. Then we ask them what issues or challenges they are facing to help us understand their situation better.
Understanding the unique challenges and personal stories of their students allows the centre to provide tailored support. However, it is unfortunate that the status of these children sometimes hinders their ability to pursue their dreams.
Nevertheless, Jenepa constantly reminds her students that learning and knowledge are never wasted, as they enrich their lives and shape them into better individuals.
They may not become police officers or teachers, but because of education, they will be better people.
As a teacher, Jenepa’s greatest desire is to be remembered by her students as someone who positively impacted their lives. She hopes that the values she instils in them will be cherished and shared not only with their loved ones but also with the broader community.
I want my students to remember me as a teacher who taught them good values. Hopefully, these values will not only be shared with their loved ones but also with other community members.