21 June 2008

End of the tunnel, at last! - Part 1

“Pak Cik,you still remember me, don’t you ?” I looked hard at the short chubby figure dressed in baju kurung and smiling broadly at me. It was a familiar face indeed, unmistakable with dimpled cheeks and all. Her name was on the tip of my tongue. Noticing my stunned look and slight hesitation she volunteered, “Ana…” That was as far as she got. “Ana Sarda!” escaped from my mouth quite spontaneously. That name is by no means a common one but I had it uttered over and over again during the years she was at Almanar. It is like the title of an old favourite tune which escapes you when you need to name it. Someone needs just to say the first word and you get the rest.

Ana Sarda joined Almanar early in 1998, together with a group of form 1 pupils. She was a skinny figure of twelve, to-day a charming lass of twenty-two. Pak Cik have not seen her for a good seven years. How she has changed over the years to one who is free and easy at conversation and generous with her smile.

Then, in 1998, she was the eldest of six in the family. Her father retired early from the army but life had to go on with the growing family. Her mother, a good cook, prepared half-a-dozen types of ‘kueh’ every night and her father had it all delivered to a number of coffee stalls before dawn to catch customers on their way home from surau after their subuh prayers. Ana did her share of the work helping her mother. Consequently, she could only start doing her school work after nine o’clock. But that was not all as she had to wake up again by four, an unearthly hour for children of her age, to help out with the final part of her mother’s work, frying, boiling, packaging and so on.

That was Anna who, nonetheless, never failed to attend classes at Almanar with enthusiasm, albeit looking rather tired. Pak Cik came to learn of her nocturnal ‘co-curricular’ activity at home, and appreciating her position, I chose to ease my pressure on her. I even tolerated her occasional sleepy nods in class, fighting drowsiness. But Pak Cik was very worried particularly when it was barely three months before her important Form 3 examination (PMR). With hardly another choice I sought her father for a frank talk. It was such a relief to Pak Cik when he readily agreed to my suggestion that Anna be given the permission to stay with Pak Cik’s family during the months leading to PMR. Nuri then became her temporary home.

For some reason best known to Anna she left our house after the examination and simply vanished. There had not been a visit from her, not even a phone call. It was a great disappointment beyond words. And now, after seven long years of diappearance, she turned up. Pak Cik was least surprised when her second question was, “Are you angry with me, Pak Cik ?” I was truly lost for words. “Pak Cik I have finished my study at UPSI.”

Pak Cik and family offered her tea and sympathy with the sole intention of seeing her succeeding in life, and now she turned up to tell us just that. Should we grudge her for her disappearance and apparent lack of gratitude or should we be delighted with her success? She is now waiting for her posting as a teacher in chemistry, the subject she majored in.

A drop of tears for Ana!

It was a long dark tunnel and Ana has come to the end of it.



1. While waiting to be posted, Ana has been seen at Almanar voluntarily giving help to
pupils with problems in science and maths.
2. Ana is now the eldest of eight, two more added into her family since she joined in
1998. She is hoping to take along her two young brothers, still in primary school, to
wherever she is being posted because she is determined to see their success in life as

Ana has begun to live up to our motto : Berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan

01 June 2008

PIBG meeting of sorts at Almanar

For the first time in all these years, thirteen in all, Pak Cik decided to invite parents of new pupils for a get-together. Pak Cik opted for small groups of about twenty parents with the hope of promoting a more cordial gathering. Furthermore the Form One group of 2008 opened with quite a large number, close to forty.

Pak Cik began the afternoon with a simple introduction of Almanar, explaining the very reason for its existence – berkhidmat kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan. (Ex-Almanar members must have heard enough of that, for sure.) Pak Cik tried to dispel the general notion that something offered for free was of lesser quality than one with a high price tag. Fortunately, in as far as the free tuition at Almanar was concerned, this was not difficult to sell. The performance of pupils associated with Almanar during the last several years had spoken for itself.

During the course of the ‘cakap-cakap’ session we talked, among other things, about Pak Cik’s rather critical view on TV, computers and hand-phones. Uncontrolled, the numerous entertainment programmes dished out over TV, and ingenious computer games are fast turning into a problem of addiction among children. It is so easy for the addicted ones to spend absorbing hours on TV or exciting hours on a computer. On the contrary, how tiresome and boring it is for the same pupils to concentrate for ten minutes on a school book!

A pupil not in possession of a hand-phone can be regarded ‘ketinggalan zaman’. Among certain groups of pupils that is how it is. It may be beyond the comprehension of many village folks that an unhealthy relationship between ‘shy’ kampong boys and girls can develop from the ‘misuse’ of this modern gadget. Sending SMS is private and is hardly noticeable and, hence, it causes no embarrassment. That extra courage to approach a girl or a boy is no longer necessary. Coffee shop ‘politicians’ lament endlessly over the worsening moral problems. Few indeed appreciate that an innocent looking hand-phone can be a serious beginning. In an urban environment, where parents are from the middle or upper class, modern gadgets are just things taken for granted. For that matter it is a norm to see two cars in front of a house. In a village where two bicycles are shared among a family and one bicycle for each member of a family is a luxury, a hand-phone does represent a different value, more so to a young teenager, and can cause a different effect, too.

Pak Cik cited to the parents an occasion when two girls exchanged glances as I was talking on my hand-phone in a room at Almanar, At the end my conversation one of the girls, wearing a cheeky smile on her face, asked Pak Cik the model of my hand-phone. They did not have to hide from Pak Cik that they very well knew it.

“Nur, it’s just a cheap Nokia, the cheapest Pak Cik could get for under RM 150/-.” I responded casually. “And what is the price of yours?” I asked, playing an admiring look at a hand-phone beside her book.

“It’s just over RM300, Pak Cik. This friend’s is worth nearly RM 400/-,” smiling at he girl beside her.

“Why are yours so expensive?” I asked, showing a genuine curiosity.

“Ours have cameras, Pak Cik,” was her reply. “Ask a silly question and get a silly answer,” I thought to myself.

Well, here is poor PakCik, totally lagging in ‘kecanggihan’, and these children, spending their annual bursary of RM600 from the government – being of poor family but way up front in the possession of something ‘canggeh’!

Indeed we have numerous problems at a village level, different from one to another, a fishing village or one in the interior. Pak Cik often wonder how many ‘experts’ and ‘pakar’ from our ‘menara gading yang bertaraf antara bangsa’ care to carry out this kind of social study and highlight the many ills in a kampong society. The Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz did many of those during his days, hence his in-depth views of problems among Malay children and so on. A person like him could have thought of the need for an organization like Tabung Haji. He is convinced that Malay children in the villages need better nourishment for better brain. Alas, we are now all for turning our young ones to astronauts!

The parents listened to Pak Cik’s ‘cakap cakap’ and we all laughed light-heartedly. Finally we adjourned to Nuri where Mak Cik had some tea with ‘something-something’ simple prepared to end the occasion. That was an afternoon well spent.

Anak Pakcik No.2
Trust pakcik to jolt our senses to the reality of things! Indeed, the habitual act of taking things for granted. RM300 mobile phones? It is even scarier to find out from Azim (a form 1 student in urban KL) that some of his friends are walking with RM3000 handphones stuck in their pockets, and still complaining of lagging behind in terms of “yang tercanggih”! Ringgit and sense seldom come together.

For you dear Al-manar students, I envy you. You are with pakcik in his “prime time”, when he can sit back and share his life experience to all of you on a constant basis. His words oozes with virtues and wisdom, so children, listen up and pay attention!