Leaving the circle of PPR flats

A view of Kuala Lumpur. (pic by Muhammad Haiqal Mohd Hazrari)

KUALA LUMPUR: Muhammad Haiqal Mohd Hazrari’s family has lived in a low-cost flat at the Seri Semarak People’s Housing Project (PPR) here since he was four.

Now 16, Haiqal worries that if he does not take the initiative, he will be trapped in the “PPR mindset” with no opportunity to achieve anything beyond the flat compound.

He said his parents, especially his father who once worked in New Zealand, had told him of how different life was there.

Muhammad Haiqal Mohd Hazrari.

“But I never saw for myself past the walls of the PPR flat I live in,” he added.

He said many of his friends in the PPR flats were unwilling to leave their comfort zones and would rather stay put than move away from “old habits”.

“My parents taught me how to speak English when I was very little,” he told FMT, adding that he had also been sent to a Chinese primary school.

“I can still understand English when people speak it to me, but I am not confident enough to speak because none of my friends are interested in conversing in English.

“That was when I decided that I needed to distance myself from them and make friends from outside the PPR circle.”

For Haiqal, the break from the cycle came in the form of a youth photography course organised by the Obscura Festival of Photography in collaboration with DM Analytics and Unicef.

The workshop, held in December last year, saw 15 students from low-cost flats including Haiqal deployed to document life in PPR areas.

Their work was featured at a forum in conjunction with International Day for the Eradication of Poverty at Sasana Kijang.

Haiqal said he was told about the course by his friends.

“I didn’t think much about it then, but I like photography and the workshop was a real eye-opener.

“I now have more motivation to work towards my interests and ambitions. Now I know that if I find the right doors, I could become a professional photographer one day.”

Photo taken by Muhammad Haiqal Mohd Hazrari.

Aside from photography, Haiqal has a strong interest in horses. He told FMT he believes it runs in the family as his father had been a horse jockey in New Zealand.

“Now he works at the equestrian club in Bukit Kiara, training horses. My father’s cousin was a blacksmith who made horseshoes.

“I think I inherited (the interest) and I dream about becoming a professional polo player.”

For now, though, he is concentrating on improving his mechanical skills in his workplace at a Honda service centre.

“I discovered that I have a liking for vocational-oriented subjects in school, which is why I took up a part-time job at a car service centre in June.

“So far things are going well, and I hope that when I graduate from high school, I can continue to work with Honda while looking for further study options.”

Photo taken by Muhammad Haiqal Mohd Hazrari.

Haiqal acknowledged that there was truth to many of the stories about PPR flats being a breeding ground for social problems.

“A lot of it stems from how their parents brought them up. Most children are left on their own with no proper guidance, including in hygiene.

“The mindset of how you should be as a person is passed down through the generations – they don’t have any other way of thinking except for what they inherited from their parents.

“For me,” he said, “the only way to break out of this mindset was to get out of this circle, which I did. I really hope more organisations like Unicef can reach out to the children in these PPR flats.

“I made a choice to break away, even temporarily, because I felt that I would never be able to chase after my dreams if I remained where I was.”