WE must be a beacon of hope because if we tell people there’s nothing they can do, they will do worse than nothing.
These words from writer Margaret Atwood ring true, especially for cases that many perceive to be hopeless.
In this regard, Destiny For Children (DFC) is on the same page with the Canadian writer. The charitable non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Sibu was set up in 2012 as the ‘Door of Hope’ for underprivileged children so that they could have hope for a better future — and self-worth as well. And it does this at a learning centre at Brooke Drive — one child at a time.
This year, the centre, which opens Monday to Friday from 7.15am to 12.15pm, is giving lessons to 101 children in maths, Bahasa Malaysia, English language, art, moral and science — plus co-curricular activities like outdoor games, sports and dancing.
According to the principal Pauline Rogers Jaban, the centre accepts children from ages five to 12.
“Our programme provides an opportunity for the children to learn new skills and increase their understanding capacity. We also provide them breakfast and lunch,” she said.
Not plain sailing
But that doesn’t mean it has all been plain sailing. Although 108 children enrolled this year, some stopped attending class due to family problems while some just decided to quit.
DFC will follow up with the families to see what can be done.
“Normally, we don’t want to push as we respect the family’s decision. However, we do want to follow up to see whether the parents have changed their mind or whether the family’s problems have been solved,” she explained.
Pauline said she also had to deal with another problem — discipline — as the children did not attend class regularly.
Since everything is provided for, there, admittedly, are some parents who take the free education provided by DFC lightly.
In such a case, Pauline would issue a warning to the parents that the child risked dismissal if attendance did not improve.
Pauline usually gives the parents time to think things through. But because sometimes the parents couldn’t care less, she has no choice but to let the child go.
“Dismissal is not a closed door. The parents can appeal and when they do, it shows they realise they want their children to continue schooling,” she pointed out.
According to her, some parents need a bit of wake-up call when it comes to their children’s education.
Citing an example, she said: “One boy was dismissed this year. He had been irregular in his attendance throughout his three years at the centre.
“I kept telling the parents they could not take advantage of the centre. At the beginning of the year, our class was full but we gave one place to this boy.
“But he was taking his place lightly and since the parents weren’t keen to work with us in making sure the child attended school regularly, something had to be done.”
However, dismissals are rare and Pauline believes the centre is now dealing with a different group of parents — those who understand the importance of getting their children educated.
As such, some parents are willing to pay for their children’s education. The DFC allows this for two reasons.
“First, it’s to make the parents feel involved and give them a sense of commitment to their children’s education. Moreover, we can plough back the payments to help the parents financially.
“Our monthly fee is RM25 per child. But we don’t want to burden the parents. If there are more than two children in a family, they just pay RM50.
“When they pay, it shows they have a sense of responsibility towards their children’s education and are willing to pay for it.
“Secondly, any fees we receive will, of course, be helpful in the running of the centre. As a non-governmental organisation (NGO), we need the community’s financial support. The fees will help us to pay for petrol for the van, the food, the facilities and the like.”
Finance and space are DFC’s biggest concerns. Every year, Pauline has to control the size of intakes. So, starting next year, the centre will no longer accept five-year-olds as the entry age will be from seven years.
According to Pauline, one reason for the change is that children who are five years old or younger could enrol in private pre-schools.
Another reason is the limited teaching staff.
“Our highest is Level 6 class for 12-year-olds. But at that level, we also have 13, 15 or 16-year-olds. How are we going to accommodate them all.
“I need to recruit more teachers but there will be more expenses. We just don’t have the money to hire new teachers for these children,” she lamented.
For now, the children aged above 12 will attend afternoon classes. Pauline hopes to start a skills-training programme for them next year and would need the support of the community to see it through.
DFC is also reaching out to more children outside the town area and has, to date, spread to as far as Teku and Sentosa areas.
It hopes to open a centre in Sibu Jaya next year, and though this will not be easy with the financial constraints, Pauline is determined to do it, noting there are many stateless children, school dropouts, and people without Malaysian citizenship in Sibu Jaya.
“We’ve a place we can use and are hoping by next year, we can set up Destiny Sibu Jaya which will be just like the present centre,” she said.
She added that two DFC teachers would be sent to the centre in Sibu Jaya next year.
Working with the children at DFC is no child’s play, especially when most people see these children as hopeless cases.
But Pauline believes in breaking the vicious cycle of deprivation through education.
Apart from academics, DFC helps the children to build their character and self- confidence. Like other schools, there are sports and co-curricular activities, including dancing classes.
“We create some sports for them such as tchoukball and futsall. The students have entered competitions and this year, the DFC tchoukball team won a few trophies. Through sports, we help build self-confidence and instil discipline in the child.”
Bible and moral classes are also conducted.
DFC collaborates with some government departments and other agencies such as National Registration Department (NRD) to help with citizenship applications for needy parents and their children.
Pauline, who has been teaching many years, said working in DFC is a privilege. She finds it rewarding in making a difference to the lives of the students whom most people consider as no-hopers.
“If you see our logo, it has a shape of a house and a heart. A house means when the children come here, they feel safe and can find a family.
“In the middle of logo, there is a door — which means a door will always open to those in need.
“The shape of the heart means the children are loved to help strive in their studies and find their own destiny,” she said.