I’m a big softie.
Actually so’s Nic.
Whenever we hear stories of underprivileged kids, we get pensive.
I was at House of Hope on Saturday with the gals from my WomenBizSENSE group to do our yearly community project. Each year we pick a home to visit. It so happens that this year, we decided to visit House of Hope again.
House of Hope isn’t an orphanage. It’s a drop-in centre for the kids who live in the Rifle Range area of Air Itam. It also feeds the elderly (they come in with their tiffin carriers to bring cooked food home).
It’s open all week, from 9am to 5pm.
For those not familiar with Penang, Rifle Range was one of the earliest low-cost flats catering to the working class.
I was there early so I spoke to Olivia, one of the directors. This amiable woman showed me around, explaining what they did.
The first floor has a toy library, a computer room (with old donated PCs) and a therapy room.
“Why therapy?” I ask.
Some of the children have been abused and a therapist comes in regularly to help them. They engage in art to express their feelings. I saw some of the artwork when I was at the House of Hope charity lunch at Parkroyal Hotel about three weeks ago.
The children who did manage to express themselves often drew in dark, sombre colours. One drew himself perched off a tall building, almost at the verge of jumping off. Many of them are poor, with one parent either in prison or come from broken families. Many of their parents are single parents, ekeing out a living by working shifts hence they are not home all day.
Downstairs houses a large space for group activities and a tiny art room. The kids, she tells me, love doing colouring and making handicrafts. They often squeeze into the tiny air-conditioned room. They’re also teaching the children how to grow vegetables like okra.
“The kids don’t want to go home in the evenings. They still hang around even when we close the centre at 5pm.”
She said that it was very good of us to get McDonalds to sponsor burgers for the kids that Saturday. They had often written to McDonalds but never got any reply.
“Sometimes I pity them. I take them out for dinner before I go home. But sometimes there are like 9 kids in my car. I can’t buy them burgers all the time.”
In fact, she gives them a simple dinner, sometimes roti canai, sometimes rice with dishes. And with plain water. They know they cannot order soft drinks or cold drinks.
They’re happy even with such simple food.
Some of them, says Olivia, don’t dare to go home to an empty flat. There’s nothing to eat at home. They don’t even have a fridge!
Some go to school hungry.
Thank God they can have a meal when they get to House of Hope after school.
I nodded. It takes perspective like this to realize how fortunate I am. I don’t much fancy burgers unless I have nothing to eat. And here are kids whose parents are too poor to buy them food, not to mention fastfood.
A teenage girl of about 16 I spoke to later told me she liked KFC. Her father left the family while her mom, a dialysis patient, struggled to support the 4 siblings on welfare money. This family of four girls and their mom really made me stop and think.
The four of them regularly come to House of Hope.
I asked if she lived in Rifle Range.
She was politely shy, shaking her head as her huge eyes stared back at me.
“We took the bus. About 20 minutes. Not far from here.”
Her youngest sister, Mages, was 10 going on 11. She was lively and cheerful, smiling each time I asked her a question.
When we asked what she wanted to be when she grows up, she softly whispers – “Doctor”.
I ask if she’s afraid of blood. She shakes her head while her eldest sister smiles.
And what do you want to be, oh eldest sister? The lanky girl in her white punjabi suit says she has dreams to be an aeronautical engineer.
Jo and I smile. We tell them that anything is possible.
Anything is achievable. You just have to believe and have someone believe in you.
Isn’t that so?
Note: If you want to donate to help or sponsor a family or even a child, you can do so here. It can be as little as RM50 per month to give a child some pocket money to go to school with, and to be taken to school in a school bus.