Monday, September 19, 2011

FOOD FOR THOUGHT, FOOD FOR HOPE

Assalamualaikum w.b.t,

Here is a piece of story that I read from Wardina Safiyyah OfficialPage (Facebook).

This is Izam. The reason I am not posting his full name and have his face is pixelated is because of a promise I made to his father (more on that later).


 He is 10 years old. A few months ago, he was caught along with his 12-year-old brother and a friend, selling a table they stole. The table edges are reinforced with metal. They sold the metal part to a scrap metal dealer for a measly RM3.

Why? To buy a small bag of rice.

“We were really hungry,” they said.

“I did not have the heart to punish them when I found out,” said Ustazah Norazainah. She has been teaching at KAFA Integrasi Al-Insaniah since 2004. In fact, she is one of the key people involved in the setting up of the school.

“We’ve had a lot of break-ins, vandalism and theft at the school. It’s really frustrating because we have to raise the funds for the school ourselves.  It saddens me to find my own students stealing from the school, but when I found out why, it’s even worse.”

She ended up giving them aid and asking Izam and his brother to show her where they lived.

What she saw broke her heart. Izam has five siblings. They live in a dank flat unit with their father, who wasn’t home at the time. He was out by the roadside along Jalan Masjid India, selling toys.

Their mother left them some time ago. Ustazah Zainah was told it was because she couldn’t put up with the dire conditions.

The siblings were sitting on the floor, eating plain rice off a tray. The youngest was a four-year-old boy. Ustazah Zainah said he looked weak and was passive. Perhaps out of hunger and malnutrition, or an illness we know not of.

The school principal, Ustazah Hawa, told me that they had asked for the father’s permission to care for the four-year-old and the older sister, but he refused. The teachers didn’t know what else to do.

Izam and an older sibling do not have birth certificates. So, they couldn’t go to primary school. His 13-year-old sister was able to go to secondary school, but she also had to care for the youngest sibling when her father wasn’t home. Most of the days, Izam had to take care of his younger siblings while his father goes to work and the older siblings goes to school.

When I first met Izam, he looked quiet and withdrawn. The uniform he was wearing was stained in many places. He told me he wore the same uniform every day, washing it on the weekends.

We chatted about random things. He told me his favourite subject was Jawi. I then asked him to write his name on a piece of paper. He could write (in Roman letters), which was actually an achievement, considering he never went to school.

I asked him what he had for breakfast.

Nothing, he said.

What did he eat before coming to KAFA?

Nothing.

I looked at the plate of goreng pisang in front of us.

“Is this your first meal today?”

He nodded.

Izam told me he sometimes didn’t feel hungry, because he was used to it.

Ya Allah. I cannot imagine what this child endured everyday.

I asked him if he’d like to go to school. He instantly brightened up. He flashed a quick, hopeful smile.

Ustazah Zainah asked if I would like to visit Izam’s home, and I agreed. When we arrived, we found that the father wasn’t home but at the surau performing his Asar prayers. He had instructed his daughter not to let anyone else but family in. Not that it would be much of a problem for unwanted guests, as the doorknob was missing. In its place was piece of rag that was also used to bolt the door. At night, they would hang a curtain across the tell-tale doorknob for security.

We waited for his father outside. When he arrived, he quickly apologised for not being able to allow us to enter.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but it is too shabby inside, I am too embarrassed to let you in,” he said.

He was apprehensive of my presence. He told me that although they were living in extreme poverty, he was not a beggar. He did not want the media to come in with their cameras, highlighting the sorry condition he and his children were living in. He found it abhorrent that people would showcase their poverty with tears streaming down their faces.

I gave him my word that I would not take any photos of him or his home. I will highlight their plight though, but not in the manner he didn’t want me to. I was there in my capacity as a mother, not as a journalist.

Ustazah Zainah and I tried to convince him to allow the school to care for his youngest child and elder daughter during the day, so that he could concentrate on his job or finding one that paid better wages. He was reluctant. His excuse was that if he went to work, who would cook and prepare his children for school in the morning? The teachers had actually come up with a feasible schedule that allowed his youngest to be taken care of by the school and Ustazah Zainah presented it to him, but he still seemed unsure.

He seemed resigned to his fate, saying things like this poverty will make him closer to the Prophet s.a.w. I told him that many of the Sahabah alaihis salam were rich, but they were also very much close to the Prophet. Before any of us judge him for hiding behind the religion, let us remind ourselves that he is also a man. It is very much the male ego that is saying “everything is fine the way it is, I meant for things to be this way.”

I applaud him for trying his best to manage the children with the little they had to go on, but let’s face it, the children are still very hungry and stealing for food. They need education to break out of the cycle of poverty. He told me that Izam often begged him to go to school, saying that he felt left out and had low self-esteem because his peers went to school and he didn’t.

When we told him it was possible to work on getting birth certs for his children, he said,"But what good would it do? He's already in Standard 3..isn't he alreadyleft behind?"

Both Ustazah Zainah and I negated him. I told him his son was motivated to study, and he was a bright student. In fact, many of the poor and hungry children at the school are bright students, said the ustazah. They just did not have the opportunity for a better life.

I snuck a quick peek at Izam, who listened to our conversation with hopeful eyes.

Izam’s father told us he was embarrassed that his children were going to the KAFA school without paying the school fees, as he couldn’t afford it. But Ustazah Zainah said that it was okay, just as long as they came.

“How can I charge these kids for ilmu akhirat? This is my responsibility, to educate them,” she said.

May I state up front here that the children’s mother is a Malaysian, but their father is perhaps, Indonesian. His accent gave him away. Earlier, when disbursing aid, someone told me they did not feel happy helping out because he wasn’t Malaysian. I believe this kind of remark is uncalled for. He is still a human being and the children still children. They are entitled to basic rights like food, shelter and education. And, we are all Muslims. That is the only thing we need to remember.

As our beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w said in his last sermon: “O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust.”

The teachers at KAFA Al-Insaniah have gone above and beyond the call of duty in helping the children. JAIS can only afford to pay for one teaching session, but some teachers, like Ustazah Zainah, teaches two sessions, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Some teachers are not even getting paid.

JAIS expects the rest of the money to manage the school to be raised through the school fees. In theory, this would work as many of the KAFA schools in the Klang Valley are located in the medium to upscale neighbourhoods. Many parents can afford the fees of RM20 a month.

However, KAFA Al-Insaniah was built in the middle of a PPRT (Housing Project for the Hardcore Poor). Many of the families there are on the zakat list. Half of the children go to the school are also recipients of the zakat fund, indicating the kind of extreme poverty they are in.

“How can we have the heart to ask these kids for school fees?” asked Ustazah Hawa. “In the first few months when we did, many dropped out. We thought it would be better for these children not to pay rather than miss out on their  education.”

The teachers have already taken a pay cut to keep the school running. They make about RM1,200 a month.To make matters worse, thieves have broken in, stolen the school fees, computers with student data inside and the money they raised from various charity sales. Thieves have also broken in the school canteen pantry to steal the food. Manhole covers, drain covers and other metal items from the school have also been stolen, causing hazard to the school children. The wire fence have been cut and slashed by vandals and thieves for easy access to the school. The teachers are at their wits’ end on how to keep the school running against these odds.

Every ringgit you donate to the school feeds a child, encourages them to go to school, and helps them change their lives. Every ringgit spells hope, ends hunger and motivates someone else to do good in this world.

Please visit this page often to see how you can help. No donation is too small. Every donation is a gift to someone else, and is a gift that keeps on giving.

Aisha r.a said that Rasulullah saw said: "The deeds most loved by Allah (are those) done regularly, even if they are small." (Bukhari, Muslim)

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Donations can be channeled
through the following bank accounts:

Maybank
MBB account - 164388710655
(SAKINA BINTI HAJI MOHAMED).

Please write 'For KAFA' in the
comment box and email sakina_amx@yahoo.com.

RHB
 Account number 1-12479-00092090
(TENGKU ELISA BUSTAMAN BT TENGKU MOHD ALI)

Please write 'For KAFA' in the comment box and
email elisa_taufik@yahoo.com.

To donate directly to the
school, bank in to:

Bank Islam SAR AL-INSANIAH
Acc no: 12047010031372

or contact

Guru Besar Ustazah Siti Hawa 0139180191
 Ustazah Norazainah 0173217971




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