ABIM, the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement, is one of the oldest and strongest Islamic NGOs in Malaysia today. Founded in 1972, ABIM is influential on the national stage in lobbying for Islamic policies. It is the leading component organization in PEMBELA, an Islamic affairs pressure group. But its most recognizable effort on the ground is the Taski ABIM, a preschool and kindergarten operation with hundreds of locations around the country. Here in Kuching, ABIM runs five different branches offering morning and afternoon classes for 4,5 and 6-year-old children. All branches teach a standard curriculum of maths, science, Bahasa Malaysia, English, Arabic, Jawi, and Fardhul Ain (and recently, Mandarin!). Many branches also offer an accelerated Tahfiz program. At RM70/month for the standard session, Taski ABIM is among the most affordable early-childhood education programs in town.
Although the classrooms are rather spartan, the teaching quality is consistently high, due in part to the high morale of the teachers. Thus far, five of my children have attended Taski ABIM. For the last two years, I had been sending two of my girls to a higher-priced pre-school around the corner from my house, out of convenience. It was bright, overflowing with nice toys and books, but the teachers constantly turned over, seemingly from bad to worse each time. In January when I moved my children back to ABIM, I was surprised to find half my daughter’s class had moved along with us, and there in KakYang’s class was the same teacher who had taught KakNgah three years ago.
Every two years, Taski ABIM organizes a sports day, where the six-year-olds from all the branches around the city come together to compete in a morning of races. KakYang is my biggest and most athletic daughter, going toe-to-toe with her older brother for pillow fights and other monkey business, so she was super excited that morning when she suited up in her gym-day reds. KakNgah, the proud alumna, and KakUda and Andak, the two younger preschoolers, all came along for the event.
The morning started off with high ceremony. Each branch sent their kids around the gym carrying banners before lining up in tight formation. Then a short stout little girl came out of ranks to face the atheletes, barked orders to stand at attention and we all sang the national anthem and the state anthem (Sarawak Ibu Pertiwiku – Sarawak My Motherland. I always hear it as Sarawak Ibu Tiriku – Sarawak My Stepmother – but that’s neither here nor there), followed by the Student’s Pledge. After the generalissima had them stand at ease, there was a dua and fatihah, and finally, the Taski ABIM fight song! Berjayalah TASKIKU! Berjayalah TASKIKU! Vic-to-ry! TO MY KINDY! Vic-to-ry! TO MY KINDY! Very rousing indeed.
The games began, with squads of boys and girls from each class taking turns in various relay races. The format for all the races was very similar – race down the court, retrieve/place/solve some thingamajig, race back to tag your partner. After the last relay, the whole squad storms back down the court, and the first team fully across the line wins. As a spectator sport, it left a little to be desired: dozens of little kids dashing back and forth in barely contained chaos. KakYang’s eyes were on the prize though. One girl was absent from her squad, so KakYang was picked to run twice. She also had Aishah on her squad, the biggest girl in class and normally her nemesis but for today they were teammates. They won first place!
Zahidah had the last race, so in the meantime, I wandered around the stadium. It was a large crowd, with people from all around the city and every walk of life. I recognized some coworkers, shopkeepers, neighbors and even a little slavo-malayan girl, granddaughter of a good friend and a future Taski ABIM student I’m sure. Everywhere there were people chatting up acquaintances, cousins, and friends. The average family is around four children, and so there were lots of older sisters and brothers come to watch as well. Salihah ran into a half dozen grade-school friends who had an adik in the Taski.
When all the races had been run, the squads lined up for their awards. Zahidah was carrying a little tag to indicate the medal she should get, which she proudly flashed me from across the court. “Look Dad, dash place!” The judge passed his baby girl over to a young lady nearby while he assumed his official duties.
Each child “salamed” the judge before collecting his award, bowing to kiss his hand, perhaps the most endearing custom of Malay children. There were gift baskets to dole out still, but I figured those were for the teachers and ustazahs who organized the show, and so we quietly ducked out early. I’ll be back in two years for Uji’s turn, after all.
[Taski ABIM Sports Day full photo set]