When Che Rozi Azrul Che Aziz was studying for his diploma in mechanical engineering, he would pretend to pack a suitcase every Hari Raya.

“My friends would leave the dorm to go home to their families, and I always pretended that I was leaving too, telling them my family would be picking me up later,” said Azrul.

But when everyone else was gone, Azrul would be left behind to spend the festive season alone. When the security guards asked why he hadn’t left, he’d tell them he was from East Malaysia and couldn’t afford the plane ticket home.

The truth is, Azrul is an orphan. All his life he’s known that he would someday have to face life all alone. When he turned 18 and it was time for him to leave his orphanage in Kuantan, Pahang, all he had was an SPM certificate.

Determined to make a better life for himself, he worked at a fast food restaurant, saved money on his own and signed himself up for a technical course.

For the few years after that, Azrul would work a number of odd jobs to make ends meet while he was studying, all the while keeping to himself that he was an orphan in the dorm.

Now at 27, Azrul is currently employed as a senior technician at a factory in Shah Alam, but his mind has never stopped wondering what happened to the other youth who left the orphanage.

“In 2010, I attended a reunion at my orphanage and only five of us turned up. I decided I had to do something to find out where everyone else was, and how they were doing.”

What Azrul discovered was that only a handful of them had “made it” – the rest were all struggling to find decent employment and integrate themselves into society.

With the support of the Welfare Department, Azrul set up J’KEB Malaysia, a network providing life support for young people who used to live in shelter homes.

“The aim of this network is to assist youth who were formerly placed under the care of the Welfare Department, that includes those who grew up in orphanages, development centres for displaced youths and child protection homes.”

Azrul and a few others have been visiting shelters and welfare homes to get the young people there to sign up with J’KEB. Once they’ve signed up, they are given a link to a private Facebook group, where members are informed about the latest awareness events, training programmes, and counselling sessions.

“We often hear cases where these young people get duped by their employers. They don’t know who to turn to for help because they think no one cares about them. So we help them by explaining their civil rights and we try to fix them up with employment elsewhere,” said Azrul.

Challenges ahead
To understand the struggles displaced youth would face when they leave their welfare homes, R.AGE visited the Pusat Jagaan Kanak-Kanak Sayang care centre in Petaling Jaya.

Themoli, 17, arrived at the home three months ago. The facilitiy currently houses 23 children aged three to 17, and four disabled individuals.

According to co-director Muthuletchumi Annare, Themoli’s previous shelter had somehow overlooked her education.

“As a result of their neglect, Themoli can’t read or write,” said Muthulethumi, or Madhu, as the children here affectionaly call her.

Madhu is now taking baby steps to help Themoli learn to read and write.

“She’s already 17, so she’s not eligible for government secondary school. We home-school her here at the centre.”

The most important thing now, Madhu says, is that Themoli feels at ease in her new home. When asked how she feels being in the care centre, all the shy teenager could do was smile.

A managing staff from another shelter home, the Pure Life Society in Puchong, Selangor, said the biggest challenge in assisting the young people at these homes is “changing their mindset”.

“Due to their troubled past and perhaps not having any support systems previously to guide them in their young life, some youths have trouble adapting to life at shelters,” said staff member, who declined to be named.

As a result, he added that some of them fail to make the most out of the opportunities given to them to make the difference in their lives.

According to Shelter Home for Children general manager Cheok Hoong Poh, “jobs are aplenty”, and not exclusive to anyone. Cheok manages Shelter 1 in Petaling Jaya, where abused, neglected, at-risk or abandoned children are cared for.

“For the youth at our shelter, it’s not easy for them to decide right away how they are going to sustain a living out there.”

Madhu said Themoli currently doesn’t show much interest in her education.

“We always emphasise on education as a way to secure the children’s future. However, with Themoli’s past at her previous shelter, it is going to take some time for her to understand the importance of basic fundamental knowledge.”

Reaching out
Azrul said there are plans to expand the J’KEB network to reach out to more former shelter home children.

“At the moment, we’re doing what we can within our own means to help. We need a solid foundation first before we can extend the network to more people.”

He added plans are currently under way to set up a halfway home.

“We want this halfway home to be a place for these young people – when they’re around 18-21 – to get the necessary education, skills and awareness before they set out on their own.”

For now, J’KEB will remain as a platform for displaced youth to let someone know they are alive.

“A lot of them utillise the Facebook group to vent their frustrations, or provide each other moral support during tough times. It has become a support group for people like us.”

Cheok admitted that the young people who leave such shelters are often never heard from again.

“We see some of them return to the shelter to work as staff members. But when we don’t hear from them again, we’re inclined to expect the worst. What we would like them to know is that they can always come back to us.”

Tell us what you think!

Go top