Uplifting communities through education initiatives

WHILE many marginalised communities, including the B-40, put education as a high priority, it remains out of reach for many, due to their environment and poor living conditions with families struggling to make ends meet, resulting in many bright students rarely going on to complete tertiary level education, due to their financial and other constraints. This was not the case for Letchumanan Anbalagan, 27 years, who successfully completed the University of London (external) law degree and the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP), all with flying colours and was recently accepted for pupillage into a law firm.

Coming from a B-40 background, his family had financial constraints and Letchumanan had to share his home with more than ten family members, and regularly spent nights on the floor due to lack of space. Despite his poor living conditions and financial constraints, he was a good student and displayed potential, enough for his then School Counsellor of SMK Bandar Utama, where he was studying, Chen Poh Hong, to recognise his talent, and chose him to be one of the mentees under the Rotary Education Fund in 2012, when he was just 15 years old.

This proved to be a life-changing journey and transformed Letchumanan into a bright, confident student, who excelled academically both in his SPM and STPM and was actively involved in clubs and societies, both in his secondary school and at Brickfields Asia College where he studied for his law degree.

Among the awards Letchumanan received were The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award from the Ministry of Youth and Sports Malaysia for outstanding leadership.

Today, as a young newly qualified graduate, deciding on which firm he would choose to do his pupillage to eventually become a full-fledged member of the Bar, Letchumanan remains deeply appreciative of the many opportunities and exposure the Rotary Education Fund (REF) gave him, run by the Rotary Club of Bukit Kiara Sunrise (RCBKS).

Business manager Jeremy Ng Joo Hwang, 68 years, Letchumanan’s mentor shared how the Rotary Education Fund, which was initiated in 2009, had a four pronged holistic approach, comprised of the Youth Mentorship Programme (YMP), Leadership Training Programme (LTP), Values Education Programme (VEP) and Financial Assistance.

Ng shared how each aspect of the programme was designed to expose the student to mentorship training from trained volunteers, who would guide, encourage and review schooling progress, and apart from meeting Letchumanan twice on a monthly basis at his home, he also received RM250 monthly under the REF, to pay for his necessities on a daily basis.

“In the case of Letchumanan , the financial assistance was for five years, right up to his STPM and when he began his law studies, he took a PTPTN loan to cover the cost of his studies,” said Ng who stated that it was leadership by example, and the financial assistance given by the REF was to lessen the financial burden so the student need not work to cover his or her expenses.

Dr Sanjay Doshi, the current president of RCBKS said it was one of their most successful programmes, as it had given more than 170 students the opportunity of tertiary education, and had enabled RCBKS to make a positive difference to young lives of all races from the lower income group, who display high potential but are currently underperforming, and who show a strong desire to help themselves and RCBKS puts them on the start of a road to a better life. Sanjay said in recognition of its success, other rotary clubs have emulated RCBKS’s REF, and in so doing many other B-40 students have also benefitted from this initiative.

Dr Sanjay added that they shared a close relationship with their partner, HELP University, who had assisted them to run many workshops and had provided support over the years, through career workshops for mentees, who had then gone on to complete their tertiary education.