• Text By: Lucas Kua
  • Photo By: Lim Seng Jueh

Lighting Up Lives

"Parents were pulling kids out of school because they wanted the kids to work..."

In the late 2004, a tsunami swept Jason Goh to the village of Baan Nam Kem in Thailand. What began as any other immediate relief mission soon transformed into the spark for what The New Light Foundation is today.

When most relief organisations had come and gone after tending to the pressing wounds of tsunami victims, Jason decided to tend to the deeper wounds of the village for the longer term.

So in April 2006, the New Light Community Development Centre (CDC) officially opened at the centre of Baan Nam Kem, promoting the value of education and providing the means to receive it.

It has since operated a school specially for students unable to attend the country’s public educational institutions, focusing on the kids of migrant families. It also recognises the needs of families unable to care for their children while at work, and offers the After School Care programme (ASC) as an avenue for kids to spend their time constructively.

The foundation offers an After School Care programme so that kids can spend their time constructively.

The CDC hopes to provide its youths with a brighter future in the form of a wide range of career choices. Its Youth Potential Development programme (y-POD) aims to equip the teenagers of Baan Nam Kem with a myriad of developing skills – exposing the village youths to musical studies, sports, education and leadership development.

However, things are not as smooth as they seem. Jason and his team are sometimes faced with frustrating odds.

“As the school progressed, we realised that the dropout rate was quite high. So we did home visits and spoke to parents. We found out that there is an outstanding need (for their children) to provide in terms of money… food on the table. Parents were pulling kids out of school because they wanted the kids to work,” Jason explains, understanding the plight of many families, yet disheartened that the children “lost the opportunity to have the most basic right of (a) child.”

A Shining Example
But in order to understand CDC’s true impact, one needs only to take a look at the youths already touched by its light.

Rose is one of them. She grew up in tsunami-ravaged Baan Nam Kem, and having been nurtured by the CDC, now seeks to teach sewing to fellow youths, besides becoming a social entrepreneur herself. “I want to help the girls in Myanmar. I want to teach sewing to these girls who don’t have families,” she elaborates.

Rose is currently the teacher-in-charge of the CDC’s sewing project, educating potential entrepreneurs and pursuing the profession of a seamstress herself.

Admirable and encouraging, she is an example of relief organisation assistance at its finest. Volunteers who arrive to support the community are always welcome, and it is no surprise that the longer they stay, the larger their impact. The best form of help is a permanent one and Rose is exactly that – a full member of the community who is dedicated to the support of its people and self-sustenance in the long run.

Rose is one of the children helped by the foundation. She is now giving back to society by teaching her fellow youths how to sew.

Back For More
Another volunteer touched by the good work done by The New Light Foundation is Eugene Lur. As of May this year, he has returned to Baan Nam Kem a total of seven times, testament to his commitment to the community. So what motivates the social sciences undergraduate at Singapore Management University (SMU) to keep going back every year?

“If I wanted to do what was right, then I could easily write a cheque to donate from home. Not to say that I cannot or don’t do that, but really, it is the love for the children that drives me,” Eugene explains. “We know them by name, and we see them grow alongside us.”

Shwe Yamin Aye – or Yams, as she is affectionately called – agrees. The 22-year-old SMU business student recounts how when students in her batch found out that she was Burmese and could therefore speak the villagers’ language, kept requesting that she translate phrases such as, “Very good!” and “Good job!”

Though it may seem like such a small gesture, Yams believes that it is proof that the volunteers do indeed care for the children they support, and selfish desires of simply fulfilling school requirements are far from their minds.

Since 2006, The New Light Foundation has been joined by a multitude of short-term volunteers who assist with teaching English and other vocational subjects, as well as helping with manual labour. In the bright – and hopefully near future – it aspires to maximise Baan Nam Kem’s potential as a self-sufficient community, and lift the youths of the village towards an educated and prosperous life.

The New Light Foundation hopes to maximise Baan Nam Kem’s potential as a self-sufficient community.

To watch our original documentaries on Lighting Up Lives, click here and here.

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