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Home-grown project gets global volunteers to teach kids to read via Skype

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by March 29, 2016 General
Distance is no obstacle: Yans helping student Arunitha Elanggo, 11, log in for a Skype reading session with a volunteer.

Distance is no obstacle: Yans helping student Arunitha Elanggo, 11, log in for a Skype reading session with a volunteer.

KUALA LUMPUR: It is a humble home-grown literacy programme that aims to educate poor children in the suburbs of Taman Tun Dr Ismail here. But a few things set the Right to Learn Project (RTLP) apart.

It has drawn not just Malaysians but international volunteers too. They conduct reading sessions for the centre’s children remotely via Skype and free books available online.

So far, the educational non-profit body, which operates in the Amma Foundation office there, has volunteers reading from Britain, the Philippines and Singapore.

“The reading sessions supplement core work by the in-house volunteers and a couple of permanent teachers,” said former corporate trainer Yans Ganghadaran, who started the initiative in 2007.

Children from low-income families and Trinity Children’s Home attend various classes, including Maths, Science and English.

For now, the project caters to 45 students aged between six and 16.

Yans came up with the idea for the 30-minute Skype reading sessions because getting enough volunteers was an ongoing challenge.

The children choose the books and the time frame suits their attention span.

For the volunteers, the sessions allow them to work around time zones and personal schedules.

Irish-born teacher and writer Fergal Bell, 41, is based in the Philippines and has been volunteering to read for 14 months.

When he first heard about RTLP, two things impressed him: what they had achieved with limited resources and how the project was utilising the Internet to overcome cost and distance issues.

“It’s a great example of the sharing economy and how those with skills can be matched with those in need,” he said.

He added that seeing the children progress and knowing that the classes were improving their life chances was highly motivating.

Another volunteer, Rachel Heah, 23, is a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Liverpool.

She starts her day with a reading session at about 7.15am (local time) before heading off to classes.

Heah signed up for the project three years ago.

“It felt like the perfect way of sharing my passion with somebody back in Malaysia,” she said.

Singaporean logistics specialist Teo Keng Guan, 55, has been a volunteer since July 2015.

“I speak to my assigned student like I would a friend. I did the same with my own two sons when they were young,” he said.

Malaysians outside the Klang Valley have also been drawn to volunteer for the project.

Universiti Sains Malaysia student Hema Sekaran, 26, has been a volunteer for two years.

She thinks the use of technology is added encouragement for the children to read.

Yans dreams of working with children in similar situations in other parts of South-East Asia via volunteer exchange programmes or teacher training.

“And of course, I would like to bring the Skype project to them too.”

To volunteer or find out more, e-mail yans1962@gmail.com.

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