This Malaysian community has no geographic borders.
Story by Jack Brockley
Photos by Curtis Billue
Quiet, please! Alfi’s concentrating.
There are a lot of distractions today. A circle of visitors have filled the room. Everyone is watching him, evaluating every answer. Seated facing him, his teacher smiles and holds up a plastic blue locomotive. “Find the word, Alfi,” she says.
He studies the toy’s cheery yellow face and bends over his desktop, scanning a grid of six word cards laid before him. His left hand hovers over the choices, moving quickly from GRAPES to BISCUIT and GOAT. Next is T R A I N. He rechecks the object in his teacher’s hand. He looks back at those five letters: T R A I N. Grasping the toy, he places it above the word train and glances at his teacher for her affirmation, “Well done, Alfi.”
His audience applauds.
It is very well done. Alfi Zuhri bin Adam Ronny is mastering word recognition at the age of six at the Kiwanis Down Syndrome Centre in Klang, Malaysia. With an enrollment of more than 40 children, this Kiwanis center is at the very heart of the nation’s Down syndrome “community.” It could be said that Kiwanis was instrumental in the development of the DS community of Malaysia.
The word community has been tied to Kiwanis from its very beginning, and it is the foundation for our future. Our 91-year-old Kiwanis Objects direct us to “provide, through Kiwanis clubs, a practical means … to build better communities.” Our 10-year-old defining statement says we’re “dedicated to improving the world … one community at a time.” The Kiwanis I-Plan—adopted in 2015—uses the word community repeatedly as it sets Kiwanis’ strategy for a rich second century of service and fellowship.
Kiwanis communities are not always defined by geographic boundaries but by causes. Many Kiwanis clubs, through their involvement with Service Leadership Programs, have established their reputations in local education communities. In Canada, Kiwanis is recognized in the music and senior-care communities.
In seven Malaysian cities, the Kiwanis name is firmly attached to the Down syndrome community.
“Twenty-five years ago, there was no such place as Kiwanis Down Syndrome Centre,” says Angie Heng, administrative director of the Kiwanis Down Syndrome Foundation. “There were very limited organizations to educate people with learning disabilities. “As a result, adults who are about 40 years old today, they didn’t have any of this learning; so, they are not independent. Their family members find it difficult to look after them and need to send them to a home somewhere.
“Once we knew our son was a DS child, the doctor told us, ‘Look for Kiwanis; they can help you.”
“Now, our centers are helping children so they can enroll in special education programs at government schools. Parents are becoming more and more aware of our program. They’re coming earlier and earlier. We currently have 140 children enrolled at the national center in Petaling Jaya, and about half that number are babies. The parents are sending them here the minute they know their newborns are Down syndrome.”
Nicole Chan is one of those parents.
“Once we knew our son was a DS child, the doctor told us, ‘Look for Kiwanis; they can help you,’” says Chan, mother of six-year-old Chin Sen Qin, who enrolled in the National Centre at five months of age. “My son could walk at 16 months. I think that is very good results.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the April/May, 2016 issue of Kiwanis magazine.