It has been 8 years since we started the Education Sponsorship for Children program, meant for the children of our PLHIV clients needing more than just the yearly back-to-school expenses. I was pulled into the committee to discuss the setting up of the fund, not knowing back then that I'd end up as the one having to handle the program under my wing.
Looking back, we started off with 9 children being sponsored under this program. The number increased to 16 in 2009, 23 in 2010, 31 in 2011, 33 in 2012 & 2013, 38 in 2014 & 2015, and this year, despite having 4 additional children in our list, we're down to 32. That's because quite a number of the sponsored children had completed their SPM or STPM. All in all, 60 different children had been sponsored so far.
So what happens after their SPM/STPM? Our Sponsorship program only covers their schooling expenses up to form 5 or form 6. Our funds do not cover expenses incurred if they further their studies in higher learning institutions or if they go for vocational training.
Surely they can apply for PTPTN, Tabung Kemahiran and the likes, right? True, but that may take time and the toughest part for them (particularly their guardians) is to come up with the payments that need to be made during the initial registration, which may range from between RM800 to RM1.5K. For some people, that amount may be considered affordable, but bear in mind, the recipients of our Education Sponsorship program are the poor PLHIV families. We wouldn't have arranged for sponsors if they weren't poor in the first place.
Without assistance, some of these families may consider turning down the offers from higher learning institutions because they can't afford to come up with the RM800 to RM1.5K. No doubt people can tell them that they can apply for PTPTN and all, but when you're poor, and you read the offer letter saying that a certain amount needs to be paid during registration, the first question that will probably come up in your mind is, "where on earth am I going to get that amount of money?"
Which is why, although Buddies do not cover for educational expenses after the children complete their SPM or STPM, I personally do make an effort to get help for them if the need arises. What a pity it would be if these children turn down offers to further their education or to get vocational training simply because they couldn't afford the initial expenses.
So how do I get help for them? Use the social media. In my case, I'd just update my FB status that so and so needs help for his/her education, and so far, my friends never fail me. In fact, the original sponsors of the children (from the education sponsorship program) are usually more than willing to help especially if the child in need is their sponsored child. I've even had sponsors paying for brand new laptops for the child to use in higher learning institutions.
We already have quite a number of these sponsored children in universities, polytechnics or private colleges. In fact, a few who did diploma courses or vocational training, are already working, and in the process, helping their families lead a better life.
To me personally, the satisfaction of seeing these children succeed in life is priceless. Despite the few dropouts, I'm still nonetheless happy with the success stories. Every time any of my clients tell me their sons/daughters got offers from any colleges or universities, I'd get excited for them. We already have certificate and diploma holders among the children. I am so looking forward to hearing the news of the first of the sponsored children to obtain a university degree (for the moment we already have 2 in local universities, and 4 more currently waiting for the results of their UPU application). Hopefully I will still be around then.