Imagine a boy brushing past you on the street. In your haste, you don’t notice how faded his uniform looks. He drags his feet to school nearly 5 kilometres away. The last meal he has eaten is yesterday’s dinner. When he reaches the classroom, he will be too distracted by his rumbling stomach to listen to the teacher. He plops his head on the desk and sleeps, trying to forget the hunger.
If you don’t know this boy, perhaps it is because you don’t recognize him. He is never the face of poverty. He is just one of the many urban poor children that so often go unseen and unheard.
Poverty doesn’t discriminate
When we think of poverty-stricken children in Malaysia, rarely do we think of those living in big cities, surrounded by amenities. But the burden of poverty affects children all the same.
The Budimas Charitable Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping underprivileged and orphaned children in Malaysia, knows this to be true after spending years working with children. Poverty affects children quite similarly, whether they live in an underdeveloped kampong or the middle of the affluent Kuala Lumpur.
“It will most definitely affect the development of a child,” said a Budimas spokesperson. “Child poverty is not only about getting by in life with less. In extreme situations, poverty can even affect the vital design of the brain. Children in poverty tend to fall behind their peers early in life.”
This gap between privileged and underprivileged children will only widen as they grow older. “Children in poverty also have a higher tendency to drop out of school before or while in secondary school,” she added.
The rural poor children, she said, might just opt out of school altogether. But poor children living in cities and attending well-funded public schools aren’t much better off. Even something as simple as sending children to classes hungry and distracted can hurt their chances of staying in school.
A good school day starts with a Budimas breakfast
The solution Budimas offers is so simple that it is almost laughable if it doesn’t make so much sense: breakfast.
Breakfast, something that we so often take for granted, can make a profound difference in shaping the future of our children. When children are well-fed, they can focus better in class and learn more quickly. More children who pay attention in class means more children who stay in school, graduate, and break the cycle of poverty through opportunities that education brings.
This is the driving force behind Budimas Food Charity Fund, a breakfast program that addresses two of the most vital needs of children: food and education. Every school morning, children whose families earn less than RM1,000 (the minimum salary in Peninsular Malaysia) are served a hot and nutritious breakfast. As of this year, over 6,200 children in 107 rural and urban schools enjoy breakfast packed in Budimas’ signature yellow lunchboxes.
Budimas works with school teachers to identify children who need their help most, but this can be quite a challenge since the effects of poverty are not always so apparent. Fortunately, Budimas has a plan for it: public power. “We continue to find ways to spread awareness about our cause so more people will know about us and inform us should there be any cases that need our attention,” said the Budimas spokesperson.
“Our programme truly works in helping underprivileged children. We believe more children are in need of help and we are working to expand our reach.” The main goal for Budimas this year is expanding their programmes, especially the Budimas Food Charity Fund. That is why the school breakfast programme is given the honours at their annual Night of a Thousand Blessings and selected to receive the funds raised that night.
Third time’s a charm
Over 400 corporate and private guests attended the third edition of their Night of a Thousand Blessings on April 19 at the Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur. After a powerful speech by Budimas chairman Tunku Datuk Yaacob Khyra, guests were treated to delightful performances ― a traditional dance by the girls of Siddhartan Home, electone pieces by award-winning pianist Yap Yi Zhe of Child Aid Asia, a folk dance by the Orang Asli children of Kampung Tanjung Sepat, and some jazz cheer by Vanessa and Band.
The charity auction, hosted by a delightfully funny Jiggee Jon, had all the guests playfully bidding against each other. The paintings were produced by children from the Budimas Orion Home under the guidance of Anna Karina Jardin, a Filipina entrepreneur, social activist, and artist. She was also there to charm the guests with anecdotes about each painting.
We at SG also joined the fun and won the bid for two paintings, Belly Bird by 11-year-old Fadhil and I’m Thinking by 11-year-old Siti.
Funds from the night would be channelled into the Budimas Food Charity Fund, where Budimas aims to feed an additional 800 school children. The expansion will help the school breakfast program venture into Perlis and Johor, in addition to its existing presence in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Penang, Kedah, and Perak.
To learn more about Budimas and its two other programmes, visit their website here.