By Mahdar Tahir
In today’s world, capitalism, globalization, and social expectations have negatively impacted communities across the world, especially in Malaysia. Due to this compounding combination, many Malaysian communities find themselves disenfranchised and forced into extreme poverty. The most vulnerable are the youth in these underserved communities. Because of these factors, youth in communities such as Kota Damansara’s Program Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) poor housing scheme have developed negative habits and behaviors which in turn have negatively impacted the community itself. Program Perumahan Rakyat (PPR) in section 8, Kota Damansara houses citizens who have the lowest income and most impoverished status in Malaysia. Due to heavy exposure to poverty and other aspects such as dysfunctional home lives, marginalized youth in Malaysia from the urban poor communities find themselves often at risk of falling into social vices, making them lack self-confidence which in turn can lead to difficulties in their academics and increases the chances that they will be unable to take part in society as Malaysian citizens.
In order to address this issue, Crescent Collective, in partnership with GoodKids, incorporated the “GoodKids Drumming program” into the PRYDE program in an effort to help at-risk youth build self-confidence using performing arts. As co-founder of Crescent Collective, fellow exchange alumni Koggelavani Muniandy and myself led the implementation of this collaborative program. The project was funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State, which was awarded after I attended a seminar on the topic of “Strengthening Environments for Civic Participation and Public Engagement” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Through a combination of performing arts and counseling, we created a space for alternative learning for the PPR youth and an opportunity for them to express themselves and rediscover their identities, ultimately enabling them to be effective, contributing members of society.
Using the performing arts to develop self-confidence combined with counseling is a new methodology that GoodKids Malaysia has endorsed and used over the past four years, concentrating their efforts on children that have behavioral and learning problems and are from lower income families. Their module consists of confidence and character building and understanding social responsibility that they teach through using the performing arts such as acting, playing on bucket drums, and body percussion. The PRYDE project used this module to reach out to PPR children who are often school dropouts and are from the lowest income families.
The PRYDE project focused on the urban poor youth of Kota Damansara, which is a high density, low-cost apartment complex in Klang Valley. We worked with a local organization, Community Transformation Initiative (CTI) who provided free counseling and academic assistance to the youth in the community. It was necessary that we engaged them in the project in order to ensure that the beneficiaries of the project had total ownership of the mission, aligning with one of the lessons learned from the Alumni TIES seminar that one should only facilitate and provide the necessary tools as “ownership belongs to the community.”
We worked with 30 urban poor youth of Kota Damansara to build self-confidence using the performing arts and counseling to create an alternative learning platform for them to express themselves and learn the necessary skills to become contributing members of society. Most youth in the program were students who were considered potential school dropouts, had already dropped out, did poorly academically, or already had disciplinary records. The program was run from February 2019 to August 2019 with weekly classes that taught them how to make musical instruments from recycled items, develop their performing arts abilities, and build their self-confidence. Additionally, we brought in several artists and community influencers to speak and work with the group. At the end, the project culminated with “The GoodKids Showcase,” where the students had the opportunity to showcase their performance to the community.
During the weekly classes, the GoodKids trainers recorded observational changes in the students where most of them initially displayed lack of confidence, highly disruptive behavior, inability to focus, and inability to follow instructions. Upon completion of the program, the same students displayed higher confidence levels by being able to speak up in front of others and perform in a play for an audience. By the end of the project, the students were more attentive and listened to instructions; some of the students even led some of the activities. The students also learned the importance of expressing their emotions and accepting themselves for who they are. They were equipped with an alternative space where they might feel vulnerable and accepted instead of seeking similar validation from groups that promoted vices. We are confident that due to this program’s success the school dropout rate and number of youth involved in social vices such alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and gang life will decrease and allow them to more successfully engage in civil society in the long run. We are hopeful that these accomplishments will produce youth who have confidence in themselves and are aware of their rights and responsibilities to their community, as individuals, and to a greater Malaysian society.
PRYDE also achieved indirect benefits to the community. For instance, the general community of PPR Kota Damansara now have an increased level of social consciousness and involvement in community empowerment work among the youth. Additional benefits stemmed from the collaborative work with Community Transformation Initiative (CTI), whose volunteers received training to facilitate the PRYDE program. Now, they can use these new skills to continue to improve the program and build a better and closer relationship with participating students and parents.
Due to the success of the pilot program PRYDE/GoodKids, we received another year of funding from a local arts foundation in 2020 and will be able to continue this important work in the community.
PRYDE: PPR Youth Development Project is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.