Accessible education is key to ending generational poverty, says Buku Jalanan Chow Kit

Buku Jalanan Chow Kit wants education to be prioritised as the wealth gap gets wider.

What started as a street-side library, evolved into an education centre serving the underprivileged. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

As the wealth gap gets wider in the country, it is important to make education accessible to all children, argues non-government organisation Buku Jalanan Chow Kit.

One of its founders, Siti Rahayu Baharin says that is important for children from low income families to break the cycle of poverty through education.

An observation she shared recently, was the experience of meeting 12-year-old school dropouts in Kuala Lumpur’s Kampung Datuk Keramat area.

“This is happening in Keramat, where it’s a rising development. It shows that the rich is very rich, and the poor is very poor,” she says.

“So I believe every community needs a space for children to have access to education.”

Buku Jalanan Chow Kit started just a little over five years ago, after its founders had gone through some volunteering work for Chow Kit area soup kitchens. They had noticed many children in line, and decided to provide activities, quickly realising that educational activities garnered the most interest.

The team then decided to regularly conduct sessions in the back alley close to the soup kitchen, bringing boxes of books. They slowly added portable tables and more teaching materials as they got more resources, and they found that the children were showing high levels of commitment.

“They would come night after night, even if it was raining. The only roof that we had at that time was the sky. But the children would attend the classes,” says Siti Rahayu.

“It was motivation for us to get a more permanent space for Buku Jalanan Chow Kit.”

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Siti Rahayu Baharin was among the three co-founders of Buku Jalanan Chow Kit. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

They now operate out of the upstairs of a shop lot on Lorong Haji Taib 1, not too far from the back alley they started from.

Buku Jalanan Chow Kit is actually only one of many other Buku Jalanan initiatives in this nationwide movement aiming to make books and knowledge more accessible by bringing it to public spaces. The first Buku Jalanan was held in 2011 in Shah Alam and still runs today by its original founders.

Up until 2017, there had been 93 Buku Jalanan chapters established, which includes international chapters Buku Jalanan Beijing, Buku Jalanan Melbourne, Buku Jalanan Jordan, and Buku Jalanan Perancis among others.

A Buku Jalanan chapter is open for anyone to set up in their locality, and is bound to four core principles; to provide a diverse range of reading materials for all, to be mobilised independently and autonomously, to be committed to creating a culture of knowledge based on B.A.C.A. (books, arts, culture, activism), and to celebrate the public space as a space for knowledge sharing.

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There are 40 registered students at Buku Jalanan Chow Kit, but an estimated 60 more children from around Chow Kit also utilise the space. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

The flexible nature of the movement allows each chapter to evolve to better suit the needs of their community.

Buku Jalanan Chow Kit for example, has grown from being a space for reading, to also serving the children of Chow Kit as a space for actual education.

There are currently 40 students registered with Buku Jalanan Chow Kit, and Siti Rahayu estimates another 60 unregistered children actually utilise the space on top of that. Of the 40 students registered, 20 are undocumented children, the reason for which vary.

Buku Jalanan Chow Kit’s space was specifically set up to be an open space that doesn’t separate learning from play. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

Buku Jalanan Chow Kit has even taken on an advocacy role in trying to pressure the education ministry to make education accessible to all including those who are undocumented. Siti Rahayu explains that they have a list of five requests; to provide equal education opportunities for all children, to recognise education centres that are teaching the needy, to allow all children to sit for public exams and get certificates, for all children to eventually be afforded the right to participate in tertiary education, and be allowed to eventually compete in the workforce.

“We’re working on a pilot project to get 100 students from Kuala Lumpur, 100 students from Johor, and 100 from Sabah, and we coordinate with all the education centres to make one identity card for the children,” Siti Rahayu says.

“We want to show that we can have this form of identification for undocumented children, because one of the major excuses for refusing them from taking public exams is that they don’t have identification.”

One of the core Buku Jalanan principles is to bring knowledge and reading to public spaces and making it accessible. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

It would be a major win for Buku Jalanan Chow Kit to accomplish this, as most centres struggle to even be recognised, Siti Rahayu explains.

She adds that it is also a more realistic target compared to expecting public schools to accept undocumented children, but believes that is a gap that centres like Buku Jalanan Chow Kit can fill.

“The idea is to return the space back to the children later on,” she says.

“The main objective is to break the cycle of poverty. And perhaps they can give back to their communities either in the same Buku Jalanan they learned in, or starting a Buku Jalanan in another community elsewhere.”

For more information on Buku Jalanan Chow Kit and to stay up to date with their activities, check out the Buku Jalanan Chow Kit Facebook Page.

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