PETALING JAYA: Rachel Avella Lee misses going to school and longs to see her friends, but the 13-year-old may have to remain at her home in a village in Sabah when schools reopen after being closed for three months.
For the past year, a small smartphone and an erratic internet connection have been the only means of education for Rachel, a situation that looks unlikely to change.
Rachel requires regular blood transfusions because she is stricken with thalassemia and her family struggles with financial problems.
At 35, her mother, Rina Alan, has already lost her husband.
“I’ve been a single mother for 11 years,” she told FMT, adding that she had been struggling to put food on the table for Rachel, whom she calls Ting Ting, and her 11-year-old son, Maxwell Leo. Her second child, Roze Adellin, died last year after an illness.
The family lives with Rina’s elderly parents in Kampung Penopok, Membakut, nearly two hours’ drive from Kota Kinabalu.
Rina taps rubber for a living and earns an average of RM200 a month. Sometimes, if the weather is kind, she can earn another RM100. She gets an additional RM300 a month in welfare support.
“Ting Ting attended secondary school only for a few months,” she said. “She had to drop out because of the need to travel frequently to the city for blood transfusions and also because of the lack of transport.”
Rachel has also been diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome. In 2018, she spent a month in the Likas Hospital in Kota Kinabalu.
Since she has to care for Rachel and take her for transfusions two or three times a month, a steadier job is out of the question for Rina.
“My income is uncertain, and we always have problems finding money to travel to the hospital,” she said. She spends about RM100 for each trip for taxi fare and food.
But her chief concern is her children, especially Ting Ting, who has given up her dream of becoming a teacher.
“Now she wants to make YouTube videos and start a blog about living with thalassemia, to raise awareness on the disease,” she said.
“But it’s difficult to get a connection here. The signal is strongest on top of the hill. For now, she’s writing her thoughts down in an exercise book.”
She added that Rachel was also keen on learning how to cook and bake.
“I really hope to earn enough money so that I can find a way for Ting Ting to continue her studies,” she said. “I don’t want her to be left behind.”
Rina said she would like to attend an agricultural or handicraft course so that she can earn more money.
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