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Suseela Arulanantham

In an ideal world, every child has the right to receive an education regardless of what his or her ethnicity or skin colour is. But is the reality right now reflective of this ideal concept we have?

When she was an upper secondary school student, Suseela Arulanantham and her peers had to transfer to another school as her current school did not offer a science stream. However, she felt that the principal at their new school focused on students of other races and paid less attention to her and her friends. This made them feel left out and unwelcomed in an institution where education should be an equal opportunity for all, not a privilege.

Now a retired accountant, Suseela spends her time reaching out to Indian students who feel left out and lacked confidence due to the separation and polarisation of race in current school systems. As somebody who had first-hand experience of feeling like she did not belong, Suseela emphatises with the students in her community. She spends a lot of time reading self-help and personal development books and passes her knowledge on to them, motivating them to be better people.

Suseela runs a voluntary organisation, heading a programme called Anbum AaTharavum (AAa), which means Love and Support. The outreach programme for primary and secondary Tamil school students is done in collaboration with Hindu temples and a Catholic church.

For primary schools, the Read for Life programme involving reading and conversation activities is carried out in all 18 Tamil schools in JB, Kulai, and Pasir Gudang for Standards 1, 2, and 3. T-shirts and certificates are given out upon completion of the popular children’s English book series by Ladybird, Peter and Jane – Level 8.

In secondary schools, Suseela and her team of volunteers step in with a more hands-on programme designed to provide support to motivate students. They do this through sporting activities, team building camps, and community service. Suseela ensures that the activities are fun yet has rules in place. The success of this programme is evident from the increasing participation rate year on year. Teachers have even reported truancy rates decreasing and that students are more disciplined.

‘Structure’ is Suseela’s secret to building good rapport in her community. She is an early riser and plans her day well – ensuring her team knows the next step. External goals are not everything to her, though. She wants to spend more time introspecting and dreams of creating something bigger to reduce negative feelings students have from being polarised in schools.

“Schools are as important as homes in a child’s development,” she said.

If Suseela could, she would find a way to undo what she feels is propaganda of race and religion amongst communities. She wants to design projects to foster unity so everyone can feel a sense of belonging. Suseela reminisces her time in the 1960s where she felt the true spirit of being friends with everybody, and a part of a community.

“I feel sorry for the younger generation who have not experienced the beautiful spirit of unity we once had,” she said solemnly.