No more like sardines in a can

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August 27, 2013 | The Star | Zora Chan |

KUCHING: Eleven-year-old Ang Lee Ling from SJK Chung Hua Buntal near here knows how it feels to be like sardines in a can.

For four years, she had to eat her meals provided under the government’s Rancangan Makanan Tambahan (Supplementary Food Programme) or RMT during recess in an old and stuffy classroom with nearly 50 other students.

But today she can enjoy her meals in a proper canteen with a dose of fresh air and a scenic view of the legendary Mount Santubong.

This is made possible by Yayasan 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Bhd) and Sime Darby Foundation under their education-based social corporate responsibility initiative in Sarawak.

The initiative, RMT Canteen Project, in partnership with the state Education Department, is to construct new canteens to replace those in dilapidated condition or build new ones for schools without.

The project aims at promoting healthy eating habits in hygienic conditions, and supporting existing school health initiatives by the Education Ministry.

RMT is for pupils from the low income group with household earning of less than RM590 a month.

Speaking to reporters during a media familiarisation trip to the school yesterday, Ang said she really enjoyed having her meals in the new canteen.

“In the old classroom, it was too crowded and we could hardly walk without knocking into each other. Now we have a big space and it’s very nice,” said the Primary Five pupil.

The school’s headmaster Choo Chin Moi said 49 out of 116 pupils were eligible for the RMT this year.

She said all the while the school did not have a canteen and RMT recipients had to squeeze into an old classroom like sardines in a can.

“Since we don’t have a kitchen, we have to order the food from a seafood restaurant nearby. All food are packed in plastic containers with pupils’ names. Some restaurants also donated their used plastic chairs to be used in the old classroom,” she said.

Choo said everyone in the school was very happy when 1MDB, Sime Darby Foundation and the Education Department decided to build a canteen for them.

“The canteen was completed last month. Pupils who are not eligible for the RMT are also allowed to have their meals at the canteen with the rest.

“Now that we have a canteen complete with a kitchen, we plan to ask the caterer to prepare the food here,” she said.

She said the canteen would also come in handy as a venue to hold school assembly during rainy days and indoor games, adding that a conducive schooling environment was important in pupils’ academic progress.

At SK Pajar Sejingkat, Maryline Karin, 11, said before having a new canteen, she and 227 RMT beneficiaries had to eat their meals along the corridors and sometimes by the drains.

“We’re scattered everywhere but now we gather under one roof. The new canteen is spacious and comfortable,” she said.

The school’s headmaster Mansor Hassan said it was important to teach pupils good eating habits so that they would grow up to be cultured people.

“They have a place to queue up for their food, and before their meals, they are also taught to say thanksgiving prayer,” he said.

“We do not have chairs and benches at the canteen yet but I was informed by the department that we’ll be getting them soon,” he said.

He added that the old RMT canteen had been closed down a few weeks ago after the new facility was completed.

Corporate social responsibility senior vice-president of 1MDB, Azura Aini Annuar, said the project would benefit 48 schools in Sarawak, out of which, 19 are located in Kuching, Simunjan and Padawan or Zone 1, and 29 in Mirik Kapit, Kanowit and Lubok Antu or Zone 2.

The schools were selected by the Education Department based on the condition of existing canteens and that the total cost for this project amounted to RM9mil, she said.

Each canteen cost between RM100,000 and RM200,000 depending on school location and pupil population, she said.

“After visiting some canteens, especially those in Padawan and Simunjan, it’s sad to see that the facilities are in poor condition. The infrastructure is not up to the required standard,” Azura said.

She said once completed some 17,000 school children in 48 schools would benefit from the new canteens.

The canteens would enable schools to implement RMT successfully and other health-related programmes such as obessity monitoring and nutrition awareness.

Construction of canteens in Zone 1 started in March and were completed by early August, while for Zone 2, the contract was awarded in May and construction is expected to be completed by end of next month.

The project is funded by Sime Darby Foundation, with management and implementation by Yayasan 1MDB.

  • Excerpt reproduced with the permission of The Star, Malaysia