The Bukit Harapan "gang"
All the children and young people at Bukit Harapan.
When planning our trip, we were keen to do something other than pass through the places we visited. Looking for volunteering opportunities abroad can be a daunting prospect. Thankfully, Ben’s mum is still in contact with “Borneo Anne” Keyworth, who set up a children’s home in Kota Kinabalu (the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah), almost 25 years ago.
Bukit Harapan (Hill of Hope) is home to 44 children and young adults who’ve suffered abandonment, neglect or abuse. Many have physical or mental impairments. But all are loved and cared for by Anne, her daughter Audra with husband Jerry, and their dedicated multi-talented team.
There we arrived, not knowing quite what to expect. Certainly, we didn’t anticipate gaining a whole new family, and extending our stay to well over a month. As soon as we stepped out of the car, however, we had a taste of what was in store. We were immediately surrounded by excited faces and felt little hands tugging at our arms and clothes, eager for us to join their family.
Within a few days we had unwittingly assumed the names Sister Mina and Uncle Ben. It took us a while longer to learn
Performing for the guests
The residents sing a few songs for guests over Chinese New Year (CNY). Brothers Along and Didi on lead vocals.
everyone’s names and discover their unique characters. We had a taste of the peculiarity of celebrity life, with a little fan club often waiting at our door in the morning, and rushing to meet us whenever we returned from outside Bukit Harapan.
Schooling takes place inside and outside of Bukit Harapan, depending on the child’s abilities, and also, their legal status. Sadly, some very capable children are prevented from attending mainstream school because one of their parents entered Malaysia illegally, and failed to correctly register their own marriage or child’s birth.
Unlike the rest of the efficiently run Bukit Harapan, we didn’t have a daily schedule of duties. We busied ourselves by helping in the classroom, playing and creating games with the children and establishing a library/playroom in what had previously been something of a junk room. One bizarre item we unearthed was a guide to conducting business in Finland. Not the most useful donation; it should defintely make everyone think twice when next giving something to the charity shop.
More welcome gifts came with the Chinese New Year, which fell during our visit. More so than in previous years, the daily routine of Bukit Harapan was
frequently interrupted by visiting lion dances and the distribution of money-filled red envelopes, called "Ang Pao", from some of Sabah’s large Chinese community. We also accompanied the residents on trips to benefactors’ new year parties, with more lion dances, some dragon dances, occasional people dances, and lots of beer and food. Amazingly the Chinese manage to make the celebrations last 15 days. We were a little weary of lion dances by the end.
Even without these welcome distractions, there is always fun and laughter at Bukit Harapan. So when the time eventually came to leave, it was not without a heavy heart and teary eyes. We were sad to be leaving a place we had quickly begun to think of as our home. Away from our friends, particularly the help and companionship of Audra and Jerry, we’d have to fend for ourselves again as we hit the road once more. This trip was not about the destination but the people who made it a life changing experience.
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