There’s a smiling man in an apron selling chilli-rotisserie chicken outside of a small wrought iron gate. The gate is activated by the use of an electronic key card and from the top of the stairs faces smile down inquisitively wondering what we’re doing here. A group of us, older guys with cameras, mount the stairs talking in various foreign accents about which lenses are best for the job at hand. The wall beside us is painted yellow, with black lettering on it and a silhouette of Nelson Mandela. The lettering reads “A winner is a dreamer that never gives up”. At the top of the stairs is a large room slowly filling with students, who trickle in to watch the final preparations for the dance which is to come. Today we’re getting shots of the student’s performances, which they’ve been practicing as part of the ‘Science of Life’ element of class work.
This is the SOLS Academy of Innovation (SOLS.ai). Another of the many projects SOLS 24/7 has set up in order to engage with the local communities and promote economic growth in Malaysia. The students here are dropouts, who gave up on highschool due to financial pressures. It’s hard to resist the temptation to start working from the moment you’re able to here. How do you explain to your family that an education improves your long term prospects, when your baby brother keeps crying from hunger? Once you’ve dropped out in the Malaysian school system, it’s tough to make it back to class. Especially if you want to make it to post-secondary schools after graduation. SOLS.ai provides these people with a second chance. There is no fee for this program, it’s hard enough to convince the local communities that an education is worth anything in the first place.
The teachers here are well-versed in a wide variety of topics. They have to be. This is an initiative to combat both climate change and economic instability in the area. Half-gutted computer circuits lay strewn about the classrooms, as students are taught to recycle waste components and to lengthen the lifespan of electronics. Harnesses and piles of solar panels are on the sun-drenched roof, where classes are taught to install and maintain these generators of crystal-clean energy. During breaks from the technology, the students learn the fundamentals of English, which is the international language of business and a sign of class in the area, while simultaneously being taught psychological strategies to break the defeatist mindset of poverty. Every student here will make a difference in their communities. Every student here is taught to realize how infinite their potential really is.
But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and the psychology of poverty can’t be defeated without the resilience built by laughter. A group of corporate investors joins us to watch as these students laugh, smile, and perform the dances they’ve been preparing for us. The child of the school’s principal wanders around in her bright yellow SOLS 24/7 shirt, eyes wide looking up from most of the student’s knee-cap level. As each ethnic group demonstrates their cultural dances there is a thunder of applause and cheering which greets the triumphant dancers.
These communities may be struggling to rid themselves of the inequality which has trapped them, but there’s no telling how far they will go once the humid heat of the sun is transformed into capital. Wherever that wave takes these students, they’ll be comfortable, riding the crest of it.
Written by Marcomms Intern, Jack Seaberry.