I never knew there is such a huge community of Myanmar refugees in Selayang alone! When I was sent by Rentwise to do a feature story on one of the learning centres in Selayang, I was both intrigued and excited at the prospect of meeting them in person. Much have been heard and spoken about the refugee community at large but I’ve never been this up close and personal. So, this is definitely an eye-opening experience!
It was very difficult to find the place as I was confused by both the old and new Pasar Borong Selayang. I thought there has only been one. GPS couldn’t register and pick out the location. So it was all stopping and asking around. This photo documentation and write up serve to further communicate the ongoing CSR program by Rentwise and most importantly, highlight the cause of the centre and the plight of the Myanmar refugees.
Rentwise Malaysia has indeed given these Myanmar refugees at the Pasar Borong Community Centre (PBCC) Learning Centre in Selayang a reason to smile. 7 units of refurbished Dell laptops were donated to the centre back in August 2011 as part of its ongoing CSR program. A Rentwise personnel and myself paid the centre a visit to see if any further assistance could be offered, in addition to checking on the conditions of the laptops. This donation is a small step towards improving the Learning Centre to be better equipped to teach and guide its students in a safe and conducive environment.
However, the PBCC Learning Centre is just one out of an estimated 50 such centres in Malaysia. More can certainly be done to improve the living, working and learning conditions of Myanmar refugees in these centres. The plight of this under-privileged but growing community in Malaysia often goes unnoticed.
As of 2011, there are more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees in Malaysia. 15,000 of them are children of school-going age. According to an UNHCR estimate, only 6,000 of these children attend schools which are set up by various Myanmar community-based groups. These schools are normally referred to as “Learning Centres” and are funded by NGOs or voluntary organisations. These numbers have definitely risen in view of the recent exodus of Rohingyas fleeing the social unrest in Myanmar.
The numbers are staggering, as Matthew Ngoh, founder of PBCC Learning Centre puts into perspective. “Along this stretch of shop lots here, there are about 10,000 Myanmar refugees alone,” says Ngoh. Parents would find work either at restaurants, while a large number of these refugees would be working at the nearby Pasar Borong as labourers.
Many of these Myanmar migrants arrived with a longing for a better country, but unfortunately, it’s never been so for them. It has not been an easy life for them as unlike Malaysians, they are at a legal, social and political disadvantage due to their “stateless” existence. They are constantly living in uncertainties and have been especially wary of their movements for fear of arrests that would see them sent to detention camps.
“Most of these Myanmar refugee children marry as early as 13 – 15 years of age! Thus, it’s easy to be deprived of a healthy school-going childhood where learning is everything at that tender age. I can’t stress enough the importance of education when I speak with their parents. Education is the only way out for these kids,” Matthew explains. Matthew recognizes the importance of education in steering young Myanmar children towards the right path in life.
“Education is undeniably a powerful means to upgrade oneself and enlighten one’s journey towards a brighter future,” he continues. “Knowledge of IT is one of the most effective tools in broadening these children’s learning experiences and accelerating their absorption of study materials. With computers, the possibilities are endless,” Matthew adds.
Realising this, Rentwise Malaysia has donated 7 units of refurbished Dell laptops to PBCC Learning Centre. These are Dell Latitude D610 CENT-1.73 and Dell Latitude D610 CENT-1.86 units that will be used to teach the children about all things information technology and a wide range of other computer skills such as typing, playing educational games, interacting with instructional CDs and internet surfing.
Unfortunately, the centre does not yet have an internet connection and will be more than glad to receive funding assistance for its monthly subscription. Located on the 2nd floor of a shop lot, PBCC centre is constantly running on a tight monthly budget. It has 3 full time Myanmar teachers which incurs a monthly cost of RM 1,600. Rental is RM 600 monthly while utilities are at RM 100 monthly. Some of these children would bring their own home-cooked lunches to the centre while others would enjoy a simple meal of milo, crackers and bread. The centre only has a pantry without any cooking facilities.
The UNHCR-certified PBCC Learning Centre is founded by three individuals 3 years ago in recognition of the plight of this community. They are Alan Lee, Pastor Yeoh and Matthew Ngoh. Ngoh, a retiree who now serves full time at the centre has always a special place in his heart for these children. “Most centres would have Myanmar teachers teaching English, but here in PBCC, Pastor Yeoh and I personally conduct English lessons for these children. Mastering the English language is of utmost importance,” Ngoh says.
Apart from English, the PBCC Learning Centre conducts classes for Bahasa Malaysia, Science, Maths, Arts and Computer lessons for its 28 children aged between 4 to 12 years old. Art and Computer classes used to be conducted but unfortunately have to be discontinued about a year and a half ago due to lack of volunteers.
“Back then, our computer classes were during every Sunday afternoon for both children and adults. However, these classes have to be put on hold due to lack of volunteers,” Ngoh reveals with regret. “It would really be great to have volunteers help revive these classes at least twice a week to give these children a refreshing boost in their learning pace,” Ngoh hopes.
“Rentwise has been especially helpful and when some of the donated laptops were faulty, they were instantly repaired. We are grateful for their donation and hope to get more volunteers to help us train the children on how to use the computers,” Ngoh says.
Most of the learning materials including school books and stationeries are supplied by UNHCR. “Of course, we would always welcome donation from members of the public, whether be they reading materials, food items, clothing or even toiletries,” says Ngoh. “We are currently sustaining on public donations by NGOs and churches. Unfortunately, one of the churches is not able to support us financially this year. Nevertheless, we should still be able to pull through another year,” Ngoh says optimistically.
Initially when the centre was opened, admission to all Myanmar children was free. However, Ngoh soon realized the need to secure commitment from the parents and safeguard the centre from those who treated it as a free “day-care” centre for parents to leave their child before going to work. He does so by charging a monthly fee of RM 30 per child. “We do so because we hope the parents would take their children’s education seriously. This is a learning centre and no different from a school. You just can’t attend as you wish,” Ngoh says. “Even then, many of them cannot afford to pay and we just waived it or accept a lower amount. Payment is erratic and on average, we only manage to collect 50% of the fees, much of which is used to pay for the children’s transportation,” Ngoh explains.
Ngoh certainly has high aspirations for the centre’s operation. “We are looking to rent or renovate an entire unit of 2 or 3-floor shop lot so that we will have full control over accessibility, and ultimately security. Currently, we have no control over who passes our centre on their way up to neighbouring units. We have children in this centre and their safety is always first on our minds,” Ngoh says.
On that note, Ngoh also expresses his hope to provide a means for single mothers to take shelter at the centre. “A bigger place also translates to an ability to conduct multiple classes simultaneously with minimal disruptions between them,” he explains.
The PBCC Learning Centre at the helm of these 3 caring and loving Malaysians will continue to provide refuge to the Myanmar refugee community. The struggle of these Myanmar refugees is real. Every day is a constant fight for survival and recognition to be treated equal just like any other. “It’s pretty heart-wrenching at times when you witness poverty-stricken families breaking up or ill-treated by authorities for being just a refugee in a foreign land! However, nothing beats witnessing the smiles, joy and laughter of these children during their play time and classes. When that happens, everything becomes so clear, and suddenly, the entire struggle seems worthwhile,” Ngoh smiles.
I believed I was left with more questions than answers after the interview with Matthew. Things simply just don’t add up. Many of the problems faced by these underprivileged and ill-treated foreigners are undoubtedly and directly linked to an undeniably flawed system with extremely poor standards of enforcement that is meant to exploit rather than to help. The answer to that? There isn’t. Perhaps, at least not for the moment.
The Pasar Borong Community Centre (PBCC) Learning Centre is located at:
Jalan 2/3a (Pasar Borong Baru),
Selayang, Selangor 68100.
The centre welcomes donation of any kind from the public, NGOs and corporate organisations. Any enquiries can be directed to Mr. Matthew Ngoh (Email: email@example.com | Mobile: +6016-3804463)