A lesson of life

Dignity students in Practical Life Class.

It is always a two-way interaction for teachers and students. While the students learn from the teachers, the teachers also gather life’s lessons as they spend time with their students. Two young teachers share their journeys and experiences teaching underprivileged children at the ‘Dignity for Children Foundation’.

Equal access, equal chance

Twenty years ago, two individuals built a foundation for underprivileged children to have equal opportunities in terms of academics. Established in 2000, ‘The Dignity for Children Foundation’ believes that quality education can eradicate poverty, and it has continued to provide education to many children ever since.

Under the foundation, classes from pre-kindergarten to form five are available. After completing their secondary education, the young adults could enrol in Dignity’s Transformational Enterprise programmes which comprise cafe management and f&b training, sewing and design, hairdressing, early childhood education, urban gardening, woodwork, graphic design, art and handicrafts.

Dignity students in sew X dignity (Transformation Enterprise).

The foundation aims to help underprivileged children and 90 percent of the students are non-Malaysians — which includes stateless migrants and child refugees — many of whom had no proper roof above their heads.

On their Instagram page (@dignityforchildren), they often talk about the harsh realities of the students’ life. One, in particular, stayed in a rented squatter house with only plywood as the roof and walls. The 9-year-old boy named Seng and his mother would sleep on a damp mattress each time it rains.

Passionate to help these children, two teachers from the foundation shared with New Sarawak Tribune their experiences and life lessons that Dignity had given them.

Teacher Shom

Shomaskumar Susei.

Shomaskumar Susei admits that life is not easy. Teaching under Dignity had taught him that there will always be various challenges along the way. “But we all need to push through and come out stronger, better,” he said.

A psychology graduate, Shom found out about Dignity from his friend while working at an e-hailing call centre. “I was amazed to find that there is an established school that provides quality education to the marginalised and stateless,” the 27-year-old said.
Shom disclosed that he did not come from a wealthy family and was the first to obtain a degree among his siblings. “Hence, their mission resonates with my desire to help the underprivileged.” He then applied to join Dignity and have been teaching Maths and Business subjects to the lower secondary students.

Shom (second from left) with Dignity’s IPET team.

Always a passionate teacher, he recalled his teacher, Mr Ismail who was kind to him and his classmates despite their mischiefs. “He taught us well and constantly encouraged us to be better and inspired us to learn and grow. And I said to myself that I should do the same when I’m older.”

At Dignity, his students provided him with constant motivation. Shom shared that it was not an easy task to teach the students, “but to know that they can receive education and potentially make a change to their future and their families, that keeps me going.”

Teacher Hannah

Hannah Chin.

The head of the Upper Primary Department in Dignity, Hannah Mae Chin came to the realisation that life is often not fair. “While we are on our journeys, some of us drew the short straw.” The 22-year-old elaborated that for every complain she had about her life, somebody out there is probably facing something much worse.
“So I stopped complaining, and learned to count my blessings and appreciate the beauty of the moment, whatever the moment may be.”

Hannah’s dream to become a teacher started when she spent two weeks tutoring students in Pitas, Sabah. “It became clear to me that I enjoyed explaining things to people. But more than that, there was such a big difference between the rich and the poor when it came to accessing education, and I want to help to bridge that gap.”

Hence, she was glad when she was introduced to Dignity, “and from there, I believed that I could play a part in making their vision a reality.”

Hannah said working at Dignity had made her realised the joy when her students understand what was taught, but ache when they have to go home to their dingy, over-crowded households.

A graduate of International Relations, Hannah hoped that more people would become aware of the social injustices that are happening, and that “We actually play an important part in creating a society where every child is given equal access to education and every person is given an equal chance at life.”

As for Hannah, teaching in Dignity had made her see the difference that the foundation has made for the students. “The joy of watching students shine when they finally understand what they are learning can’t be explained with words.”
Each day Hannah ache over the fact that most of the students would go home to dingy, over-crowded households, with parents who may not be able to always put food on the table.

Nonetheless, seeing the world becoming more isolated has strengthened her resolve to continue to reach out and bridge the gap between communities.

Hannah Chin and her two students.

For more information, do visit https://dignityforchildren.org.