MALAYSIANS KINI | Many years ago, child beggars used to crowd around the St Anne's Church in Bukit Mertajam during the patron saint's feast day. Some did not take kindly to them but for K Sudhagaran Stanley, it didn't just raise his concern but also his curiosity.
"I visited many of these families and had a personal relationship with them, trying to understand their needs," Stanley said. Upon investigation, he discovered that they were refugees, most of whom were Rohingya.
"I was concerned that these children were not going to school as they were not allowed into Malaysian public schools. They were very poor and living in deplorable conditions. They were easy targets of criminal gang recruits and human trafficking syndicates," he said.
Stanley (photo), who in 2009 was a staff at the Penang Office for Human Development (POHD), an organisation under the Catholic Church, had initiated various welfare aids for the families.
But beyond the welfare, Stanley had a "burning desire" to start a school as there were none for refugees in Penang at that time.
However, POHD could not take up the project, having already had its finances strained due to many other programmes, such as food for the poor, a children's learning centre, as well as an orphanage.
Stanley then decided to embark on the project on his own.
"I made a few visits to Kuala Lumpur to visit the refugee schools that were already in operation to learn from them.
"The visit boosted my confidence that I could do this without POHD," he said.
In 2010, Stanley met with three like-minded people from the Church circle, namely Melanie Hurlbut, Pastor Albert Tan and Meng Eng and the plan for a refugee school began to take shape. A new member, Tsyh Yong, later joined the group.
Finally, two years after his encounter with the child beggars, they founded the Life Bridge School with less than 50 children...