While I am aware that most Malaysians associate the Chow Kit area in Kuala Lumpur with vice, drug users and illegal activities, I look back on my days of carrying out legal aid outreach work there with much fondness. And when I began receiving shoeboxes in excess of the number I requested for the Shoebox Project, Rumah Nur Salam (formerly Pusat Aktiviti Kanak-Kanak [Children's Activity Centre] Chow Kit) was somewhere on the top of my list of recipients for our shoebox gifts.
Rumah Nur Salam is a 'safe house' for at-risk children from different backgrounds. Rumah Nur Salam also operates a 24-hour activity centre aimed at improving the quality of life of the children of Chow Kit, almost all of whom are from lower income families and who live in environments that expose them to greater risk of harm. Most of the children come from single-parent families, while some are the children of members of marginalised communities, or may have been trafficked or exposed to harm before. Some do not have the requisite legal documents proving themselves to be citizens or enabling them to attend school.
I contacted the affable and friendly Volunteer Management Coordinator of Rumah Nur Salam, Ahmad Fansuri, and explained with unnecessary defensiveness that we (i.e. the volunteers) are not a Christian group, but a multi-faith group mostly made up of members of the Malaysian Nature Society.
In true Malaysian spirit, Ahmad responded that they welcome everyone of all faiths, and that it would be good for the children to celebrate all festivals and learn of different faiths and cultures. And so I spent the rest of the week sorting, filling, packing and labelling shoebox gifts, and invited my friends Sheela, Ili Fatimah, Shet Mei and Lysha to spend Christmas Day at Rumah Nur Salam with me.
Snack time before the games begin! My friends and I marvelled at how well-behaved and polite the children are, even those who are boisterous or talkative. Some of the younger ones 'salam'-ed us before accepting the treats that we handed out for breakfast. A few children offered their snacks to us and to the caretakers before settling down to enjoy the goodies. Credit must go to the caretakers and the highly engaging Children's Coordinator, Hasrul, for teaching the children so well.
Shet Mei, who loves children, was delighted when the little ones asked to be photographed with her. The children of Chow Kit, although at greater risk of harm, have an advantage over children of more sheltered environments, in that they are more open-minded, accepting and streetwise. How many 5-year-olds would be able to define 'condom' correctly and without squeamishness? The children of Chow Kit may frequently be little old souls, but are just as in need of protection and care as any other children.
Ili Fatimah was first recruited as a volunteer for the Malaysian Nature Society Eco Kids Junior Day Camp on December 5. She provided such valuable help that I asked if she could come and help out again for this event. I wish all undergraduates were as reliable as her! The ones I tend to meet at the SPCA are so helpless that I sometimes wonder if they have been bottle-fed and swaddled in cotton wool until the age of 21.
A noisy and rambunctious round of Musical Chairs helps the children forget the squalor of life outside Rumah Nur Salam! The Children's Coordinator plans enriching activities for the children daily, while certified tutors and teachers assist the children in their studies in classrooms set apart from the rumpus room in which we had our little party.
Rumah Nur Salam lives up to the motto on its nursery walls: "Because Every Child Matters". With therapy, lessons, love and patience, most of the troubled children are now well-adjusted, productive and healthy young persons.
My friends and I were especially impressed by the fact that quite a large number of the children have since been accepted into residential boarding schools (Note to friends who are not from Malaysia: Places in residential boarding schools are reserved for high achievers).
Time to get down and boogie! No party is complete without music, and the children love to dance. Many of them have really slick moves. The art classes conducted at Rumah Nur Salam also include dance classes as an exercise in self-expression. We noticed that the teenagers were especially kind and helpful to the younger ones, so this is a strong indication that they have learned well from the good example set by the caretakers and coordinators.
A young winner comes forward to receive his prize after a particularly arduous round of "Musical Statues".
Time to hand out the gifts! The children were disciplined and polite and waited until everyone has received their gifts before opening their gifts together. Half an hour after the gifts had been opened, the floor was spotless and every scrap of litter had been swept up and disposed of by the teens.
This little boy could hardly contain his excitement at receiving his gift!
A little girl minds her friend's box while they wait to open their gifts together.
The children admired the contents of each other's boxes and shared their sweets without bickering, not because they are born angels, but because the Children's Coordinator had taught them well. Children living in welfare homes or attending community centres should not only be fed and clothed, but be taught manners, consideration, gratitude and concern for the environment. It sure looks like Rumah Nur Salam has done a good job with these youngsters!
Too cool for school! The children performed a “Thank You” song for us which had us rolling in mirth! “Xie xie ni! Nandri! Domo Arigato, Hai!”, they sang with gusto, followed by a Japanese-style bow!
My friends and I would like to thank the children of Rumah Nur Salam too, for the friendliness and appreciation they expressed so easily, which made us feel welcomed and loved. And our especial thanks go out to the Children’s Coordinator, Hasrul, for his dedication to improving the quality of life of the children, motivating them into becoming better persons and enriching their minds and souls with improving activities. We would love to come back again to conduct another activity during the next school holidays.
“Nur” in Arabic means ‘light’, while “Salam” means ‘peace’. Rumah Nur Salam is therefore an appropriate name for this sanctuary that has lighted the way to a better future for the children of Chow Kit, and provided a peaceful refuge for the children against the chaos of the outside world.
For more information, please contact:
Address: Rumah Nur Salam, No 24B, Jalan Chowkit, 50350 Kuala Lumpur
Facebook: Rumah Nur Salam, Chow Kit