When Katherine Puar quit her job in 2012 to join her church’s community service outreach, she treated it as another 9-to-5. As head of the Bless ministry – under Sidang Injil Borneo, Kuala Lumpur (SIBKL) – Puar acted as coordinator, working with Chin refugees from Myanmar who live in the Klang Valley.
The ministry started with one school in KL, providing meals, educational books (focusing on English) and stationery for the refugee children.
“Many of them don’t have breakfast and some are malnourished. I would go to the schools, meet the teachers, and monitor the food’s nutritional value,” says Puar, 53, about her role.
The ex-shopping mall manager admits she regarded her work merely as a job at first, and didn’t care or ask much about the kids. Then something happened four years ago that changed her.
“I had gone to one school and a student, aged 14, came in late. He just walked into the room as I was talking to the teacher. Something about him made me want to find out more. I found out from the teacher that he was very rebellious and always came late to school,” she recalls.
Puar, a mother of two (aged 18 and 22), asked to talk to teenager and learnt that he was having problems with his mother. He was unhappy she had remarried after his father died. Puar tried to explain that maybe his mother needed a husband or possibly wanted a father figure for her son.
Puar did not keep in touch with him after that. Then one day, she received a call from the teacher telling her that the boy had died. He had been hit by a car, and that he might have been intoxicated at that time too.
“That changed my whole perspective about my role,” says Puar, getting emotional. “Every life matters, and I realised I couldn’t take my job lightly.”
Since then, whenever she visits a school and sees a classroom without a teacher, she steps in. “The youths are the next generation. They play an important role in the future. My heart is with them,” she stresses.
The Bless ministry currently supports 12 schools that accommodate 800 children in total.
“Every registered school is run by different ethnic groups. The head teacher will come from the respective ethnic group. The ministry helps to recruit teachers, made up of Malaysian or expat volunteers, and community-based teachers who are mainly from the Chin and Karen tribes,” Puar explains.
“The children really encourage me. They have nothing much (of material possession) but they do not complain.”
Puar is currently working with a training group to teach a leadership course at three schools. “Wherever they resettle, they will benefit from this course, which will help them in looking for a job. Education is a big problem for them. After 15, many of them need to go out to work,” she says.
“Ultimately, I hope these children will be able to pursue a higher education and realise their dreams.”