Cham­pi­ons for our chil­dren

It’s not easy be­ing a child ad­vo­cate, but it can be equally chal­leng­ing for their par­ents.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R. AGE -

IT can’t be easy for a par­ent to hear peo­ple ask why your seven- year- old child can’t just en­joy a “reg­u­lar child­hood”, but Tay Mei Yean says that’s the kind of ques­tion she reg­u­larly gets.

That’s be­cause Tay’s daugh­ter, Leah Choy, is a child ac­tivist who bakes and paints to raise funds for var­i­ous causes, in­clud­ing the treat­ment of her younger sis­ter Adele, who was born with cere­bral palsy.

“Peo­ple ask why are we en­cour­ag­ing her to do what she’s do­ing,” said Tay. “It’s over­whelm­ing but what we can do is fo­cus on the pos­i­tives to keep us go­ing.”

Thank­fully, there are also plenty of peo­ple who are in­spired by how deter­mined Choy is, but the fact is, there are just as many who don’t see ac­tivism or ad­vo­cacy as some­thing for chil­dren or teenagers to get in­volved in – es­pe­cially in Malaysia.

One of the main con­cerns, nat­u­rally, is that the chil­dren’s stud­ies will be af­fected.

It’s a chal­lenge, def­i­nitely, but Za­rina Zain­ud­din makes it work. Her son Fir­daus Ah­mad Farouk vol­un­teers at a soup kitchen ev­ery week, and still he man­aged to score well in his PT3 ex­ams last year.

Even then, Za­rina doesn’t mea­sure her chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment in terms of aca­demic achieve­ment alone. The prob­lem for her is that the school sys­tem in Malaysia doesn’t seem to en­cour­age non- aca­demic de­vel­op­ment.

“Schools gen­er­ally don’t have a sys­tem where they en­cour­age so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, and I be­lieve that as par­ents we should play a big­ger role in teach­ing our chil­dren to help oth­ers,” said Za­rina.

Unicef Malaysia com­mu­ni­ca­tion spe­cial­ist In­dra Ku­mari Nad­cha­tram echoed her state­ment, adding that it is im­por­tant for adults to be­lieve in chil­dren’s ideas and val­i­date their vi­sions to “en­able” ad­vo­cacy in them.

“This is an im­por­tant part of ev­ery child’s growth, as it helps them un­der­stand how their ac­tions have an ef­fect on the lives of oth­ers,” she said.

She added that while many par­ents do try to in­spire their chil­dren to do good, th­ese lessons aren’t be­ing re­in­forced any­where else in so­ci­ety.

Thank­fully, some teach­ers take it upon them­selves to en­cour­age stu­dents to think be­yond their lit­tle bub­bles in school.

Ka Kai Fong, a young teacher from SJK ( C) Chi Chih, is one such teacher. He en­cour raged his stu­dent Loh Shi Ya to be­come an n ad­vo­cate for en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abilit ty, which led to the en­tire com­mu­nity aroun nd the school get­ting in­volved in a mas­sive re­cy­cling pro­gramme.

“We didn’t have any ac­tiv­i­ties like thatt in the past,” he said. “But af­ter Loh start- ed her Re­cy­cling Club, we’ve won the Na­tional Re­cy­cling Com­pe­ti­tion twice and we’ve re­ceived a lot of sup­port fromm the com­mu­nity.”

Abby Latif, pro­gramme di­rec­tor of fe­male em­pow­er­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion WOMEN: girls, be­lieves that if young peo­ple were given more op­por­tu­ni­ties to make a dif­fer­ence in schools, they will sur­prise you.

The prob­lem now, she said, is young peo­ple aren’t be­ing trained to speak up and make a dif­fer­ence.

“Adults need to stop putting bar­ri­ers and lim­i­ta­tion on chil­dren,” said Abby. “Af­ter all, they are our fu­ture, so they need to be able to par­tic­i­pate in cre­at­ing the world they think they should have.”

— Photo: NORAFIFI EH­SAN/ The Star

Tay ( left) said Choy’s de­ter­mi­na­tion helps her fo­cus on the pos­i­tive.

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