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Two teens find their voices through Mentoring Malaysia

© UNICEF Malaysia/2007/Nadchatram
Playing big brother, Choo Kok Wui began his own journey of discovery while helping his fourteen year old protégé, Dinesh cope with the challenges of adolescence.

By Dina Zaman and Indra Nadchatram

KUALA LUMPUR, 16 July 2007 – It has been a journey of hope, fear and dreams for Choo Kok Wui, a 19 year old student at HELP University College and fourteen year old Dinesh from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Jinjang. 
For Kok Wui, a middle class teen who has not wanted for anything and comes from a happy family, meeting with students at SMK Jinjang has been an eye-opener in view of the area’s historical reputation of being ruled by bad influences. Both Kok Wui and Dinesh came together under the Mentoring Malaysia Program, an initiative by UNICEF and the HELP University College Asian Research Centre for Child and Adolescents Development (ARCCADE).

Mentoring Malaysia provides alternative ways of helping school-going children cope with the stresses of 21st century life. The program trains and matches college students to vulnerable school-going teens helping the latter enjoy the positive influences of older students. Already six months into the program, the pilot project involving three schools in Kuala Lumpur has garnered nothing but praise from the mentors, students and school authorities.

Mentoring the teens

Kok Wui studies psychology and hopes to join the corporate sector when he graduates. He admits that the ample amount of free time he had was the main reason he became a mentor. Additionally, the program was the only activity he was attracted to in college.

“I didn’t realise that it was this big of an event,” he reminisces. At first, the thought of him having to present and mentor form two students was daunting but he took a step back and reflected on himself. “I was a good student, but I would always question my teachers and didn’t conform much to the expectations of others. I remembered what it was like to be 14.”

© UNICEF Malaysia/2007/Nadchatram
Principal Tan Sun Seng welcomes Mentoring Malaysia’s ‘Big Brothers and Sisters’ as he believes that the program will help his students settle and mature emotionally as they enter their late teens.

Most of the challenges were in the mentors’ minds, as they prepared themselves for the program. Once the program took off, the mentors began to revel in their roles as they play-roled with their fourteen year old “mentees”. With little encouragement, the big brothers and sisters began their own new journey of discovery while helping younger teens cope with the challenges and discoveries of adolescence.

Role models for younger teens

Kok Wui believes that it is important to become a good role model for younger teens. At the moment, many lack positive influences looking up to older students with unacceptable social behaviours like smoking and truancy. And he is prepared to encourage his peers to participate in the program but only if they are interested and passionate about making a positive impact on young lives.

Dinesh, who is all of 14, is today a bright and cheerful student with an engaging grin. He is one of 80 students from SMK Jinjang benefiting from Mentoring Malaysia. “I was not aware of the program. In fact, my friend signed me up without me realising it! So when I attended the first session, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

According to the young teen, the program taught him to share his knowledge and socialise with others. “I learned how to act and I became more confident of myself. My parents enjoyed seeing me rehearse, and encouraged me. I love acting! It makes me feel good about myself, and popular with others. I was scared at first, and then when I got up on stage, I felt different.”

Dinesh, who was initially shy, is one of Kok Wui’s protégés. Under his guidance, support and mentoring, Dinesh has blossomed. The concert they staged was well received and Dinesh and his friends are clamouring for another one. The fourteen year old aspiring actor plans to continue with the program as he feels that he has greatly benefited from it.

Support from the top

But what good would any program do to a school and its students if it is not encouraged by a supportive team of teachers? SMK Jinjang’s principal, Mr. Tan Sun Seng, is positive that Mentoring Malaysia will only do the school a world of good.

When he first became the school’s principal, the educationist of 34 years realised that there would be a set of problems as students came from different backgrounds including some from low income and dysfunctional families. Principal Tan began looking earnestly for programs that would help his school cope with the emotional issues faced by these students.

“I have 120 staff to cope with 2,700 students. I searched for help. I needed it. It so happened that HELP University College held a talk for teachers and counsellors. I was quite attracted to the ideas tabled and asked to be included in the project,” he explains.

Grooming future mentors

Principal Tan feels that 13 and 14 year old students are at a critical stage of their lives. As such, he believes that the program will help teenagers settle and mature emotionally as they enter their late teens. The visionary principal also hopes that his previously mentored students will in return mentor younger students once they become fourth and fifth formers.

Principal Tan welcomes the ‘Big Brothers and Sisters’ and hopes the program will continue to be successful. “When a problem is ‘nipped in the bud’ so to speak, the students would be able to face challenges in a more positive way, hence the need to instil values at a young age.”

He observes that the mentored students are not as shy as before, and now approach him to talk about their activities. “They talk to me, which shows they have gained in confidence now,” he says. Parents are also delighted with the positive changes in their children, and tell the school so.

It is still early days yet, but at SMK Jinjang, it looks like a good beginning has arrived with Mentoring Malaysia.





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