Friday, June 14, 2013

Some Smiles Can Break Hearts

This is Amira, a 9 year-old girl who couldn't read or write. On the first day of school this year, this girl had almost succeeded in shattering down my fortress of patience with her naivety. She asks the silliest of questions and always at the wrong time - when I had just finished explaining the very answer to the question. But I put up with her, I know she couldn't read, so she is probably a bit slow. I know that it's a good thing that despite her disability, she still wants to learn. Most kids like her just give up trying. Even though she couldn't read, she would do all the homework that I gave and would be the first to tell me that she has finished it. I know that there is something different about this kid.,but what I did not know then was that, it was Amira's first day of school, ever. She did not go to school until she is 9. That explains why she can't read or write. 

It has been years since Amira last saw her father. He abandoned the family and left Amira's mother to support their seven children. When I asked about him, her voice was shaken a little when she answered, "Kite dah lame tak jumpe ayah kite. Tak tahu ayah pegi mane." (I have not seen my father for a long time. Don't know where he went.) I never ask again, but sometimes she would tell me stories of how her father used to buy her ice-creams. She misses him.

I took pity on this little girl's fate. So, one day I asked her. "Amira, nak tak belajar baca?" (Amira, do you want to learn how to read?). "Nak!" (Yes, I want to), she said eagerly. So that day I made a promise to myself that no matter how insanely busy I get, I will spend some time to teach this girl something. Starting from the next day, I spent every afternoon after school teaching Amira how to read and write.

One day, while she was doing one of the exercises I gave her, Amira asked me, "Teacher, boleh tak ajar kite solat? Kite tak tahu solat. Ustazah tanya, tapi kite tak tahu." (Teacher, can you teach me how to perform solat? I don't know how to. My ustazah asked, but I don't know.) I was surprised by this. So I asked her back, "Ibu tak ajar solat ke?" (Didn't your mother teach you how to perform solat?) to which she shook her head. I didn't know what to say, so I told her "Nanti balik, mintak la ibu ajar." (When you go back home, ask your mother to teach you.) and she nodded.

After my Master's classes started, I could only spend a few hours after school every Friday to teach her how to read and write. She looks forward to this and would wait in the staffroom until I finish my class. Sometimes she would fall asleep on the sofa out of tiredness, but she still wants to learn. One day, Amira came to me with her finger bleeding and her school uniform stained with blood. I took a look at the injury and asked what happened. She told me her fingers had been very itchy, so she scratched them. It looked like scabies, so I asked her,"Dah pegi klinik ke?" (Have you been to a clinic?). She shook her head. "Ibu kerja. Ibu takde masa." (Mother is working. She doesn't have time). "Takpe, lepas ni teacher bawak jumpa doktor, nak?" (It's okay, I will bring you to see a doctor after this.). I was cursing the mother in my heart. How could she let her child suffer like this and say she doesn't have time? If something/somebody is important to you, you will make time for it/him/her. I was being judgmental. So I took her to a clinic to see a doctor. It was scabies. The doctor gave her some medications and I SMSed the instructions to her mother. So since then, once every few weeks, I took her to the clinic to get the meds. Altogether, I have paid more than RM150 for this, but I'm glad I did because her scabies has disappeared and she is no longer suffering.

I've been teaching Amira for half a year already and I see progress in her. She can read now, but slowly. Today she told me she got bored staying at home for 2 weeks during the school break. She didn't have any homework to do. So I gave her a book to practice reading in her free times. She said coming to school is far more fun. She wants to learn. She wants to be able to read and write. I was so happy to hear this and after our lesson, I took her to lunch at a KFC. She was very happy. In fact she finished the whole meal. I bought another for her 11-year old brother because I know he too has not eaten anything much since morning. When I sent Amira back home, her brother came running from their 4th floor flat house just to say "Thank you".

They were smiling to their ears and it breaks my heart, somehow.


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