By Hema Balasundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, 14 November 2011 – Since mid-2010, 14-year-old Esther Vishvani has lived with her parents and three siblings in a rented low-cost flat in Kuala Lumpur. It is one of the 1,896 units in the complex, a high-rise project that is part of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government’s initiative to provide low-cost housing for households with a monthly income of less than $478. The family moved there after they lost their previous low-cost flat to foreclosure.
|VIDEO: Esther Vishvani (14) lives with her parents and three siblings in a rented low cost flat in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Despite the challenges faced by Esther and her family, they are determined to build a better future for themselves, reports Hema Balasundram for International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.|
The foreclosure was the result of years of financial hardship that started when Esther’s father, Ramakrishnan, was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2001. The illness forced him to stop working for extended periods, but he has recently taken on a job as a security guard, working 12-hour overnight shifts. His wife Josephine has been working two jobs as a cleaner to support the family.
Esther is happy with their current home, where she shares a small bedroom with her two sisters. “It’s easy for me to make friends, I have a lot of friends here,” she said about her housing complex.
At her previous home she was faced with constant challenges. “It was so difficult to run our normal life, there was no electricity, we can’t study and do any work; if there’s no water, we can’t bathe,” she explained.
|© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/Balasundaram|
|Siblings Esther ,14, Ruth, 18, and Ezra, 14 stand outside their family’s low-cost flat in Kuala Lumpur. "My challenges are to be a good student, and to be a good daughter for my family," said Esther.|
Futures at stake
For many children experiencing poverty could have long-term effects. “Poverty is not just about income,” stressed UNICEF Representative to Malaysia Hans Olsen. “It deprives children of their basic needs and affects them not just materially, but emotionally and spiritually as well.”
Malaysia has done well in reducing the overall poverty rate, but it is estimated that over 720,000 children under 15 are subjected to the multiple deprivations of poverty, according to the Malaysia Millennium Development Goals Report 2010.
“UNICEF has partnered with the Malaysian Government to address child poverty and is proposing the development of a set of child well-being indicators that will allow for policy-makers to better understand multidimensional child poverty,” said Mr. Olsen. “These indicators will help with monitoring socio-economic progress and targets that are set out in the 10th Malaysia Plan, and identifying critical action.”
|© UNICEF Malaysia/2011/Balasundaram|
|Esther’s mother, Josephine, has been working two jobs as a cleaner to support the family. She wants her children’s lives to be different from hers. “They must be well educated and get good jobs.”|
For her part, Esther takes it all in stride. “When I ask my mum and she says, ‘I don’t have money now,’ I just leave it,” she said resignedly. “I will just accept it. That’s my policy.”
Despite multiple disadvantages – of income, education, health and housing – many individual families can and do overcome the odds. Josephine and Ramakrishnan did not obtain any education beyond the primary level, but have high hopes for their children and take the effort to nurture their children’s potential.
“My life and my mother’s, they’re the same - her life was hard and so is mine,” she said.
Her children’s lives, she insists, must be different. “They must be well educated and get good jobs,” she stated emphatically.
That determination seems to be paying off, as Esther and her siblings are all doing well both academically and in extra-curricular activities.
Child poverty is complex, but the goal in addressing it is clear: to ensure all children, including those living in circumstances like Esther’s, develop to their full potential and chart their own futures.