Friday, October 26, 2007

Who cares if Faizudin can't read!

ISTIMEWA - an eight-letter word that a Std 4 pupil couldn't read! Istimewa is Special in English but there was nothing special in Faizudin whom I met yesterday when he dropped in with his friends to my house for Raya.

I've been sitting with my junior guests when they came for Raya. Angah would prepare the drinks and the kueh and I'll sit with them to chit-chat. It has been a habit in the last week or so to ask these children how their schooling were.

I'd ask them how they fare in their studies. Of the 50-odd children who dropped by, I've met only two boys who seemed to be doing well, reading the newspapers and magazines with confidence. And able to converse reasonably well too. Most of them are in primary school while a handful are in lower secondary.

It's this age group that makes the Raya rounds. Those who are older wouldn't visit houses of people they don't know.

Faizudin was in his Chelsea jersey, bought by his father for Raya. He sat in one corner enjoying his root beer when I asked him about his studies. He wasn't talkative at all, unlike the others who were joking and chatting non-stop.

Faizudin's father is a driver and his mother is a full-time housewife. He has 2 other siblings. He was looking at the pictures in a magazine when I asked him to read aloud. He just sat there, staring at the first word, not uttering anything. When I put my arm around him, he whispered that he couldn't read.

I just couldn't understand it. Here's a Std 4 pupil and he couldn't read a word! Who's responsible for this? His parents? The school? The education system? All of the above? What will happen to this boy when he grows up? Doesn't his parents know and realise that their son couldn't read? Didn't the teacher in school spot this? Nobody cares?

Adoi! I don't know what to make of the situation. My conversation with these boys always reveal the same facts - their parents work day and night to make a living; they play all day; they go to a school nor far from their flats; they went back to their kampong every Raya; they can't speak English; they enjoy television programmes; most want to be soldiers or policemen when they grow up.

My chat with them also revealed they all have a minimum of two new shirts for Raya. Very few of them have new shoes. And most of their parents bought nothing new for themselves for Raya.

It was almost deja vu for me. I went through the same Raya when I was a boy. But I was lucky I guess. I lived in a tough neighbourhood where everyone knows each other, and we played and studied together. Our parents were coolies and labourers, and none of us were spared the rod if we were not with our school books as night falls.

I guess times have changed. Faizudin will have to realise soon that he's got a long way ahead of him. I don't see a future in him unless his parents or teachers realise the small boy has a major problem.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

It's back to the grind folks!

THERE'S been a lot of dramas the past week. TV dramas that is! Every local TV station have some sort of dramas screened during the Hari Raya period. There were some re-runs of local movies, obviously aimed at entertaining the public during the festive season.

If you stay home, chances are you'll be watching one or two of the dramas. Or be made to watch one or two. And I've come across families who do their Raya rounds dictated by what time particular dramas are aired on TV.

Some people may argue that the dramas keep people indoors and turn them to be anti-social. The TV chaps argued that their ratings have gone up based on the dramas. And that's good for business, they quickly added.

I've no real complaint about dramas. Inevitably, the plots revolve round the balik kampong theme, filial loyalty, which kampong to go back to this Raya, etc. Most of the dramas were tear jerkers too. The endings were almost predictable, though you may come across some technical flaws in the story line.

The remaining three weeks will see open houses everywhere. You'll get to see the mad rush from one house to another as the invitations come thick and fast. Pak Ya the lemang maker sells about 1,000 lemang a day averaging RM8 per pole. Which explains why he's having such a wonderful Syawal.

Some friends who dropped in open houses of VVIPs (read politicians) came away surprised that they too received RM100 duit raya gifts! And they are not kids and certainly not orphans or disabled. I wonder why they do this. Assuage some sins? Buying influence? Your guess is as good as mine...

(But this can't compare with the giving of pre-Raya duit raya at breaking of fast events hosted by VVIPs!)

But folks, it's back to the grind now! It's still Syawal and the Hari Raya mood is still in the air. But work is work, and there are outstanding tasks to finish. I'm sure some of us would be bringing our cakes and pastries to the office to have mini open house within the department or jist among friends.

The roads in KL are getting congested again. For several days city folks enjoyed free flow of traffic and were were spolit for choice for parking in any part of the city. It's business as usual because a couple of traffic police issued summones to cars parked along yellow lines near Pelita Bangsar! Days before, one can park anywhere without too much of a bother.

While the Raya gave us a few days of despite and shielded us from life's daily toll, I'm afraid today's realities will engulf us again. Rising oil prices will also hit us despite the Government's assurance that there won't be any this year. Highway tolls too are set to be revised upwards.

We'll need to be extra vigilant in the face of rising violent crime; traffic accidents resulting in fatalities have also not declined despite Ops Sikap; and the politicians continue to trade punches as talk of a general election becomes louder.

But I've really enjoyed my Raya. I don't believe Raya is for kids only. As one gets older, every Raya is to be enjoyed and cherished. On that note, I'll light up my bamboo decorative lamps once I get someone to source for some kerosene. Mind you, kerosene is not always available in your neighbourhood sundry shop..

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Selamat Hari Raya & count our blessings!

THREE teenagers dropped in to my house this morning, making them the first visitors on Hari Raya day. Mohd Saiful is 13, Adam is 15 and Azhar is 12. As they sipped their cold drink, I threw them a few questions but the answers stunned me.

Saiful should be in Form 1 this year but has dropped out of school; Adam sat for his PMR but seemed dazed when I asked him questions about his studies and family; Azhar is the son of a taxi driver whose ambition is to be a soldier inspired by the war movies shown on TV>

Saiful's family moved house and he had to change school too. He had some fees to pay but his parents couldn't raise the money. He just dropped out of school and is now enjoying his childhood by doing nothing except play with friends in the multi-storey flats. It's now almost a year since he dropped out of school. He has two other siblings, one still in school.

Adam is a gangly lad whose father works as a guard in factory not far from his house. Questions thrown at him had to be rephrased by Azhar. Only after this could he answer. Through some supplementary questions, I found out that he's the sixth among his siblings. When asked who's the youngest in the family, he had to ask Azhar for the answer.

Adam and Azhar are not related but Adam just seemed unable to comprehend basic questions. I wonder how he would fare in his PMR exams.

Of the lot, Azhar was the one who appeared to have some semblance of responsibility and awareness. He came out fifth in his class. His father is a taxi driver and mother is a housewife. His father is not driving his taxi today and everyone has gone out for their Raya rounds.

I was disturbed by the attitude of the other two boys. They just didn't seem to know what's happening around them; just didn't seem to even care about themselves. Today, they have only one mission - to go to as many Muslim homes to celebrate Raya (read collect duit raya), regardless whether they know the households or not.

In my days, children would go only to homes of people they know. But times have changed I guess...

I know kids will always be kids, and going on Raya rounds is a normal thing to do. I love having visitors on Raya day and it feels good if they are also well-mannered. Raya has less meaning and enjoyment without children. Hari Raya is also a time of giving and sharing. Just look at the faces of the children when you pass them the duit raya and you'll see how their eyes lit up!

I wonder how many more children are there like Saiful and Adam - who seem to know nothing else except to have fun, play with their handphones all the time, have no inkling about their studies, and knows even less about what they hope to get out of life. You can't blame them for some of their problems and the situation they are in.

What does the future holds for them? What happened to big plans mapped out by people like Puteri Umno who boasted about their tuition centres in flats and residentials areas? have these boys escaped the safety nets provided by Puteri Umno and other like-minded bodies?

It's not easy I know. But we just can't turn a blind eye on these children. Giving them the duit raya is not much of a help and won't go a long way in easing their hardships. But then again a boy like Azhar, staying in a similar environment like Saiful and Adam, is still able to at least show a decent result in his school exams.

(I take him at his words but he does show a more pleasant and intelligent personality). I told Azhar to study hard and make something for himself. Fine if he wants to be a soldier but make sure he becomes a good one, and strive to rise to the very top.

While one must acknowledge the initiatives of people like Puteri Umno and NGOs, more has to be done if we don't want to see our children end up as street urchins and hooligans and irresponsible individuals. Some sustained self-help programmes perhaps?

My sincere wishes and warm regards to everyone who drop in to my blog. May your days be blessed always and may all your dreams come true! Maaf Zahir Batin.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Who spread pictures of Nurin on the Net?

THE first beast was the one who murdered Nurin Jazimin. The second is the one who circulated what is believed to be her post-mortem pictures via the Internet! The gruesome pictures surfaced this morning and they are enough to make one's blood boil!

The pictures show various injuries the little girl suffered. I assume they are meant only for medical record. But today, they are spread over the Internet in what can only be described as a dastardly and an inhumane act of violation on a dead person.

How could this happen? Who is responsible for this? Where is the right of the dead to privacy? Where is respect for the dead? Isn't there any trace of human decency at all by those who did this? What kind of action can be taken against the petpetrator/s? How many more of such acts of indecent exposure?

Let's get to the bottom of this once and for all!

Doa for Tun M on Lailatul Qadr night

MY religious Guru often say that one of the best times to offer a doa is when it rains. Tonight it rained. And many also believe that tonight is the Night of lailatul Qadr, a night whose blessings exceed all other nights!

And this was the night when the small mosque in my dusun held a doa selamat for Tun M, who, an IJN statement said earlier, has been moved out from the ICU to the Bunga Raya ward. This in itself brought much cheer and an audible sigh of relief all round.

The doa selamat was held after Isya' prayers and after the majlis khatam Quran, where the Quran reciters concluded the remaining surah from the Holy Book. In Ramadhan, Muslims are encouraged to read the 30 chapters of the Quran while seeking to enhance their understanding of the teachings of Islam.

The old imam then led the terawih prayers, joined by youngsters in their teens. This, the kampong elders said, wasn't a common sight. Not that he was displeased, he quickly remarked. Just before supper, the mosque committee gave away donations of sarongs and duit raya for the village orphans.

My dusun is located in Behrang, about an hour from KL and less than five minutes from Proton City. Some of us are trying to move the kampong folks to become more involved in kampong activities and gradually bring them into the mainstream of social and economic developments. It remains to be seen whether we can achieve anything at all, given the lethargy often seen there.

The kampong comes to life when it's the fruit season. Or when there's a wedding, when the young boys would rent musical instruments and offer some form of entertainment to guests!

But tonight the congregation seemed to speak with unity of purpose. They had all come to offer their doa selamat to Tun M for "his services to the nation, a debt that we owe to him," said the bilal in his short opening remarks.

The bilal also led the tahlil, special doa for the departed. In all, it was a night where everyone sought blessings and forgiveness for themselves and their loved ones. InsyaAllah, our prayers will be answered.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Bob ends duel with Alongs

AMIDST the announcements of several new economic and growth corridors coming up in the country, there are also sad stories of companies closing down. Chased by creditors, both institutional and individuals (read Alongs), these entrepreneurs are calling it a day.

I know a few who are still struggling to make ends meet. One had to scale down his operation by giving employees half pay and told to take long Raya leave. If they get job offers, they are free to go and start afresh.

Bob, a character I had highlighted before, is one entrepreneur who was forced to cease operations. Declined credit by banks, blacklisted by the likes of CTOS even though he had cleared himself of those debts a long time ago, and chased relentlessly by Along, Bob celebrates this Raya as a beaten (though not out) businessman.

The last year or so has been the worst he had ever experienced. Bob survived through heavy borrowings from Alongs. For a brief spell, he couldn't tell whether he would survive especially when the Alongs turned nasty and threatening. His three-story office was almost gutted after a kerosene can was used to start a fire about three months ago.

This was the last straw. Bob has decided to sell his operations to a foreign party. He's not making profit but he gets enough to reclaim his sanity and save his live. By the end of Ramadhan, all the Alongs would have been paid. As do several more big creditors.

He's taking a short break. He wants to enjoy a day out with his family without having to fear for his and their lives. He wants to take things easy for awhile.

What next,. I asked him. Small time agriculture, he said. He wants to try his hand at some herb gardening and maybe go into agriculture trade. He has relatives and freinds who seem happy in their agricuture business. If I can't sell the produce, at least I can eat them and feed my family, Bob said.

He's also afraid of doing business using political connections. He found out that there's a limit to political patronage in his business. If you want to get big projects and make big money, you have to spend big money to secure those deals, he argued.

"Enough is enough. I want to go below the radar and work quietly. I've been hit too hard and I'm not sure if I can survive when competing on an uneven playing field. I want to rear some goats, plants some herbs, maybe rear some fish and feed my family. I'm not prepared to share my livelihood with Alongs and ungrateful people in authority anymore," he told me last week.

Well, what can I say except to wish him Good Luck. I hope he writes a book and give advice to young entrepreneurs. Ramadhan has offered him a period of contemplation. When Raya comes, Bob will assume a new role in a new business. Things can only get better!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Adopt a home after Ramadhan!

IN ABOUT one week's time, Ramadhan will be over. Syawal will come bringing with it new clothes, ketupat and rendang and much merriment. And soon, Life goes back to what it was before Ramadhan. It's back to the grind, as many would say.

Malaysians have been most charitable and generous during Ramadhan. You see this on TV, and read about it in the newspapers. Hardly a day goes by without some corporates donating something or other to old folks, the handicapped and the orphans. Corporates compete for their visuals during such acts of charity to be splashed on TV and in the papers.

I know that corporates "give back to society" under their corporate social responsibility programmes. This is done in many ways - via sponsorship of events, supporting some worthy causes, initiating some projects intended to pave the way for a better Life. All this is well and fine.

The truth is clear and simple - CSR is good for business. Only genuine CSR separates the good business with the great ones! Some corporates profess to adopt good CSR projects, but the challenge lies in the sincerity and philosophy of their managers. Some CSR projects are stopped because there's a change in company policy, change in management personnel, change of ownership of the corporates, and a host of other, sometimes petty, reasons.

But I have a suggestion in the case of donations to orphans, old folks and the handicapped. Maybe, just maybe, some rich corporates may want to "adopt" an old folks home, an orphanage or home of the handicapped. By doing so, they will be extending an all-year round assistance to these homes.

Even if they allocate RM1,000 a month to their "adopted" homes, that would go a long way towards easing the burden of these shelter houses. Of course, the corporates are encouraged to spend more during the festival period!

Many homes are deprived of basic amenities. Some homes operate way below the radar that they are hardly known, for some reason or other. Often, the inmates survive on the generosity of well-wishers, many of whom are individuals. Some shelter homes barely survive.

Some big giants spend a fair bit of money supporting animals in the zoo or supporting a sports they like. Nothing wrong with that. They should continue doing so. For companies who are already doing that, maybe they want to spare some loose change supporting homes of the really under-privileged and the deprived.

So there! Scan the horizons and one can easily spot a deprived home in dire need of all sorts of support. Corporates and their owners may not get prime time exposure if they do this, but rest assured you'll be remembered 24/7 by those whom you help. The doa from the recipients count for more than the one-time splash in the media.