“They reminded us to chase our dreams and not feel down because there’s always someone to help us. When I felt demotivated, I would think about how there’s always someone willing to help me no matter what happens, and I would feel like I needed to try harder because I had support. I don’t know if I believed in myself, but they believed in me more and this really helped me move forward.”The Maharani Learning Lab was set up in Sungai Siput, Perak by RYTHM Foundation in 2015 to provide a haven to disadvantaged adolescent girls from nearby communities. It aims to improve their lives through academic support and classes that impart life skills. From baking and art classes to handicraft and cultural performance classes like Bharatanatyam, the learning lab has been empowering these girls with the tools to carry them through life’s challenges. A case in point is the fact that Elavarasi and her schoolmates, Priya and Deepthi unanimously agree that the programme benefitted them immensely in several ways. For Elavarasi who joined the Maharani Learning Lab when she was 14, the academic classes benefitted her so much that she managed to score straight As in her Form Three exams. Her family could not afford tuition classes, but the lessons at the learning lab proved to be adequate support. Elavarasi finds joy in the classical dance lessons she has been attending at the Maharani Learning Lab since 2017 In addition to that, the dance classes at the learning lab gave Elavarasi, the daughter of a plantation worker, the opportunity to nurture her passion for Bharatanatyam after having to discontinue lessons when she was in primary school due to financial constraints. She enjoyed the dance classes at Maharani so much that she even convinced her three younger sisters to enrol in them.
“On weekdays, especially in Form Five, I would be so stressed out from rushing to classes and studying, but when I went for dance class, I felt so relaxed. Those two hours in dance class were precious to me because I didn’t think about school,” she shares.Elavarasi also feels that the Maharani Learning Lab as well as the camps held there taught her survival skills and gave her tools to shape her to be a bold woman ready to embrace the future. These sentiments are echoed by Priya, whose father is also a worker in an oil palm plantation.
She shares, “I used to be so scared to speak publicly, but at the camps they taught us how to build our confidence for any situation. I feel braver to present anything in front of a group of people now and I really appreciate Maharani for teaching me this.”Priya, pictured here with her family, is more confident thanks to the lessons learned at the Maharani Learning Lab Deepthi also expressed, “Maharani taught me that as women, we should have our own passion and professions. We need to be strong, and we shouldn’t be dependent on others. I also learned to discipline myself and manage myself there.” These skills that they acquired from the learning lab prepared them for the SPM exams. As the first batch of students unexpectedly thrown into a world of virtual learning in a COVID-19 era, these students faced a multitude of challenges in online learning. Learning in a virtual classroom was tough for Priya who was thankful that the exams were postponed because it gave her more time to study, while Elavarasi found the science subjects particularly hard to comprehend without face-to-face time with her teachers.
Deepthi who is the daughter of a cement factory employee also reveals, “Studying online during the pandemic was very difficult. In school, teachers could answer our questions immediately, but online it takes them more time because of time constraints and because our teachers have other classes to conduct.”However, there was a silver lining for Deepthi who confessed that she preferred studying alone without distractions from other classmates. “I liked studying online because I could concentrate when the teacher was teaching. I definitely studied harder during the pandemic because I had time at home to do my own revision. I was also happy that I got to wear what I wanted and be comfortable at home instead of wearing the same old uniform every day!” Deepthi Nair D/O Perabagaran who scored 7As in the SPM Exams did not expect to be one of her school’s top students Also looking on the bright side despite not scoring as well as she had hoped, Elavarasi says, “If there had been no pandemic at all, I am certain I would have gotten 8As, but I feel proud because even though we faced so many problems, in the end we got good results.” While the pandemic has certainly impacted and delayed plans for their tertiary education, these emboldened Maharani students refuse to let that get them down. All three young ladies have big plans for their future. The self-proclaimed talkative Deepthi has ambitions of becoming a lawyer, while Elavarasi has dreams of studying psychology and becoming a university lecturer someday after completing Form Six. Meanwhile, Priya, who wants to be an accountant, has applied for matriculation programmes at polytechnic schools. As they move on to the next phase of their lives, we can be sure that their experience at the Maharani Learning Lab has bred resilience in these three young ladies which will help them excel in their future.