What is it like to live in Malaysia as a poor Malaysian?

Yes, I grew up in a poor family.

I lived in a rural area in the state of Kelantan. I never went to kindergarten. I only learnt ABC in the 1st grade.

Then things started to get worse.

My father died on the way to his workplace in 1992. I was 9 years old at that time. My mom was nearly 9 months pregnant with our youngest sister (she was born 2 weeks later). I have 8 siblings and the oldest is 17. She was preparing for SPM. In order to support the family’s financial, my mom worked as a tailor at home. Sometimes people do not pay her even until today, there are people who still have debts. Hence, the income is quite unstable, but for some reasons, we have enough of everything even though everything is quite tight and being frugal became a habit for me. My mom never remarried because she told me, my father is her first and the best man she ever met.

At home.

We have no TV, if we wanted to watch one, we can always visit the neighbor, only during the day. My father was an avid reader, so we have a rack of books in our home which I’ve read those for several times since there is nothing to do if we weren’t playing the paddy field. Sometimes, I made my own toys that I saw from books in the school library.

Chicken was very expensive. But sometimes my mom bought a leg quarter for 9 of us to share. Eating rice with budu (anchovy sauce) was common, well sometimes with kicap (soy sauce). We weren’t allowed to eat instant noodle or any junk food.

New dress was once a year, during Hari Raya, and it was only one for each person. We bought the cloth using our saved school allowance and my mom would tailor it for us. As for daily clothes, we sometimes received used shirts and pants from my aunts who lived in Perlis.

At school.

My daily allowance is 50 cents during elementary and RM 1.50 in middle school. I only spent if I’m really hungry besides there’s always RMT (rancangan makanan tambahan) given in the morning. In elementary school, I walked to school with my little brothers for 1.5 miles, and if we got lucky other kind parents will pick us up to school. Then in middle school, the bus ride costed 50 cents one way. Hence, on average, I still have 50 cents in my pocket which is not enough to buy food at the middle school canteen (they tend to charge higher price compared to elementary school). After some times, I asked to stay in the dormitory which was granted so my mom had to pay only RM 30 per month to the school. It did save a lot of money because those 30 ringgits covered all food expenses. (The students were allowed to go home every two weeks). At this time, we were all in school (2 in universities and 4 in high school and 2 in elementary school). So my mom needed to save more money. I never went to cram school (Tuition Center) to get higher results, but thank God, I did outperform others.

After school and getting out of my kampong.

I received scholarship after SPM to study either in Japan or in the U.S, I chose U.S. because I’m already familiar with English. Then, I continued my study till doctorate. I managed to get out of poverty and brought my mom out of our old place. My other siblings are doing good as well.

I remember my mom saying, we might not have money but we must have knowledge to change ourselves.

Adiyy A

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