G. Manickam Govindaraju
School of Media and Communication,
Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus
CHILDHOOD is a crucial stage in one’s life. Though it is the beginning, that time is considered fundamental in shaping a person’s values, beliefs, principles, and most importantly attitude. The environment a child grows up also determines the level of confidence, security, trust, and love.
I grew up in a beautiful ‘kampung’ in Butterworth, Penang and have had the privilege to spend my childhood surrounded with mostly Malay families, an Indian family and one Chinese family whose house was right in front of ours. My friends and I were regulars to this Chinese aunty’s house and helped her with folding prayer papers (Joss papers). She was selling them. She never asked us to help her. We got excited after watching her folding these papers and amazed at her speed that we insisted that she taught us. I suppose she could not resist our charms. After some time, we became quite skillful at folding those papers. In return, the aunty would give us some ‘Huat kueh’ or fruits. She always welcomed us with open arms. She was never indifferent to us. Our race neither mattered to her nor my friends’ families, who were mostly Malays. No one stopped us from frequenting the aunty’s house, folding the Joss papers, and eating in her house.
My siblings and I would spend the whole day running around the ‘kampung’ with friends and come home only when we got hungry. Our parents never stopped us from going out to play with friends but somehow, they always knew about our activities and whereabouts though we do not tell them. We would be stupefied when our father finds us and give the stern look when we failed to return home on time. “Strange. How did appa find us?” we wondered. Amazingly, this psychic ability was not limited to my father only. All our friends’ parents seemed to have acquired the same. How? We marveled. Finally, we concluded that all the parents had ‘secret moles’ planted in our ‘kampung’. These secret agents respond to the parents call for information on their children’s’ whereabouts. We were not able to discover who these ‘agents’ were. However, we suspected a few, the ‘nosy makcik’ and ‘pakcik’, as we labelled them.
Reminiscing those days brings smile to my face now and I am grateful for those experience and to the ‘makcik’ and ‘pakcik’ for being ‘nosy’ and took time to bother about us. They never judged us based on ethnicity. To them, we were just children who needed to be under their watchful eyes. They never interfered in our activities but kept a close watch over so that we were safe. That ‘safety net’ we had as children allowed us to experience childhood to the fullest and built our confidence and respect towards everyone.
As a mother, now I realise that those ‘makcik’ and ‘pakcik’ were indeed our guardian angels that our parents relied on in ensuring our safety. I am grateful to them now for keeping an eye on us and kept us away from troubles by alerting our parents. That was the most needed safety net for us, as children at that time.
The safety net referred to is compassion and consideration from society. Currently, people are too busy to find out about one’s well-being anymore, let alone keeping a watch over another. Individualism is on the rise in a country where we once prided on collectivism. Unlike not too long ago, the lifestyle now does not give importance to neighbours to the extent that many among us hardly knows the person who lives next door.
There is a famous African proverb: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ which is said to have originated from the Nigerian Igbo culture and there is so much of truth to it. When a society works together in looking over a child as their own, there is a sense of responsibility on everyone to ensure that the child grows up with good virtues and values as the child is the representative of the community that raised him/her.
This commitment, compassion and care for each other’s children prevailed over centuries in many African villages. This simple tradition allowed each generation to be raised with values, skills, knowledge, and wisdom to survive and prosper as the child is raised not by one but many parents. This culture gives confidence to the child that he/she has a place to turn to in times of need.
Perhaps it is time for us to reflect on our priorities and look for ways to provide that ‘safety net’ to our children. In this way, the children can rely on the parents, grandparents, teachers, uncles, and aunties in times of difficulties and seek advice. The realization in the children that they have many ‘guardian angels’ who have accepted them and give the space and confidence to confide may allow the children to grow with more gratitude, self-confidence, love, and respect for each other. This might also provide an avenue to reduce stress among the children, which is on the rise, especially during this pandemic. End of the day, it does take a village to raise a child, after all!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of TVS.
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