Rain clouds rolled over the sky, hiding the mountains from view as we journeyed from Petaling Jaya to Slim River at 7 in the morning last Saturday.
With 80s rock albums playing in the background to keep us awake and a trunk full of goodies and art supplies, we were ready for a day with the children at Kampung Changkat Bintang.
Upon reaching Pak Ya Bistro & Catering in Slim River, the roads grew increasingly narrow as we drove into the Orang Asli village.
We were greeted by children who were making their way to the Balai Raya, where weekend classes and sessions are conducted.
Our team quickly got to work, unloading the supplies and goodies, re-arranging the tables and gathering the children.
This weekend, Team Uplift decided to switch things up. Rather than conducting a tuition class, we decided to focus on soft skills through drawing, acting, and public speaking activities designed for left brain-right brain activation and to build confidence.
The children seemed a little apprehensive at first but they eventually warmed up to us, allowing themselves to let go and enjoy the process.
Mr. Kumar Nagalingam kicked off the art class by introducing himself and the volunteers. The children spelled each of our names out and they would grin from ear-to-ear when they got it right.
“Siapa suka melukis (Who likes to draw)?" Mr. Kumar’s voice boomed. A sea of hands rose.
Following Mr. Kumar’s detailed instructions, the children began drawing kampung (village) houses, with an attached kitchen and long window panes.
I was in charge of the nursery kids and noticed that one of the girls had stopped following Mr. Kumar’s directions. Curious, I peered over her shoulder and saw that she was creating a masterpiece of her own.
With long bold lines and curves, it almost resembled an abstract drawing of a tree. I looked down at her face, etched with concentration and focus. I beckoned Mr. Kumar over and pointed at her drawing, he whispered, “We have our own little Picasso here today!”
We had many little Picassos present, each adding their own creative twists to the drawings.
When I asked a group of teenage girls if they had art classes prior to this, they shook their heads.
It was amazing to see how invested they were in this creative process. But I also felt a tinge of sadness, thinking about their lack of resources in pursuing these artistic inclinations.
Before concluding the art class, Mr Kumar gave the kids homework, requiring them to work on another drawing before our next creative session.
As the kids enjoyed the snacks and drinks we brought along, they watched curiously as we pushed the tables and chairs aside. Once they were done eating, we asked them to form three rows across the room.
One of our volunteers, Roshini, taught them the Poco Poco dance to work on their coordination, movement and self-expression through music.
With music blaring from our stereo, the kids giggled as they attempted to follow the steps.
After a few practice rounds, the children got the hang of it, dancing to the beat of the music and even singing along. They looked absolutely ecstatic, and it was such a joy to witness.
We then moved on to our next activity – pass the parcel! The children sat in a circle and passed a pom-pom around. When the music stopped, the person holding the pom-pom had to mime a scenario and the rest had to guess what they were trying to present.
This miming activity was designed to encourage the children to use their creativity and thinking skills to effectively communicate an action without using words.
Next up – public speaking... in English!
Silence descended upon the room as none of them felt confident enough. But as we warmed up by formulating simple sentences to show them what they could do, their eyes grew wider, and they found the courage to speak up in English. We learnt how much they love football and what they wanted to be when they grow up.
Even though it was just our first class, I felt immense pride watching them raise their hands and attempt to describe the things they liked and enjoyed. We taught them pronunciations, correct grammar and how to effectively communicate in English.
We ended a fun and interactive workshop with a simple choral speaking activity to help the children improve their articulation, broaden their vocabulary, and how to vary and use intonation when speaking.
As we wrapped up the session and said our goodbyes, I watched them file out of the Balai Raya, feeling a sense of contentment. But also, a fiery need to do more.
In this Orang Asli village, tucked away in Slim River, I had a glimpse of what life was like for these young children and teenagers. I was blown away by how much talent they possess and their eagerness to learn. I cannot imagine being denied these opportunities, the rest of us take for granted, solely due to their positionalities.
They deserve better.
And that’s exactly what Uplift hopes to deliver through these weekend classes. We want to ensure quality education is accessible to every child in the country. No one should be denied this fundamental human right.
But before we can even dream about making a difference, we need an army of volunteers to help us carry out this cause.
We need YOU...
If you’d like to create lasting impact in the lives of our Orang Asli children, please reach out to Ms Parames (+60 16-244 9385) / Mr Kumar (+60 12-603 9321) or visit asiaheroes.org today.