When Buddies of Ipoh was first set up as a wing under the Perak Family Health Association (then Family Planning Association) back in the late 90’s, its main objective was to provide moral and emotional support to People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and their families. The volunteers were there for the PLHIV to talk to and to encourage them to go on with life despite being diagnosed HIV+. Financial support in any kind was not in the plan.
Then came the case of a poor single mother diagnosed with HIV, with 3 school-going children needing help with their basic schooling necessities. The volunteers then passed the hat around among themselves and friends to collect funds to help out with the children’s schooling needs. The funds were used to buy them uniforms, shoes, bags and also to pay for their school fees.
It was then that the idea of setting up the Children Education Fund came about, so there’d be ready funds to help out any children needing financial assistance with their schooling needs.
In 2004, Buddies broke away from PFHA and was registered as The Buddies Society of Ipoh Perak, standing on our own. That was the year I personally joined as a volunteer. By 2007, when I was the treasurer, the Chairperson then came up with the idea of the Education Sponsorship for Children Program, where we’d be sourcing for individual sponsors for each individual child needing financial assistance for their education. After months of discussion, the Education Sponsorship Programme started off in 2008 with 9 children being sponsored. Right from the beginning, this program was handed over to me as my baby. And it is still my baby now in its 8th year running.
So what happened to the first 9 children under the program? 2 of them are already studying in local universities, 2 more dropped out of school before even completing form 5 (yep, despite getting financial assistance), 1 went to a private college after SPM but dropped out, 2 are now in form 6, 1 in form 3 and the other one in form 4. We won’t let the dropouts deter us from continuing this program. The fact that 2 of them made it to university (and are still there) is reason enough for us to try and provide the same opportunities to other children.
It is 2015 and to date close to 50 children had been covered under this program. Yes, we had a few more dropouts, and a few whose sponsorship had to be revoked for misuse of funds, but what is so satisfying about the program is that more and more of these children are seeing the importance of education. Those who did not do too well academically, started showing their potential once we led them to vocational courses in subjects of interest to them.
I don’t know for sure until when I will have to take charge of this program, and when I can find a suitable volunteer (one who is comfortable with numbers at least) to be trained to take over, but despite some setbacks, I do get great satisfaction when some of the children show some interest and determination in their studies. Although the sponsorship program is only until they complete secondary school (either form five or form 6), those who do well enough to further their studies, would usually still get some sort of assistance from their sponsors especially when they need to register at universities/colleges/polytechnics etc.
I can’t wait for the day they graduate. I know one girl who will complete her diploma soon. And she had already indicated her interest to join Buddies as a volunteer. Hey, seeing the day she graduates with a diploma is satisfying enough for me. Her wanting to be a volunteer? That’s a bonus!