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Home Feature Stories Al-Ashriyyah Nurul Iman Islamic Boarding School A Confluence of Love from Allah and the Buddha - School doubles as home

A Confluence of Love from Allah and the Buddha - School doubles as home

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A Confluence of Love from Allah and the Buddha
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School doubles as home
Whether parentless or born dirt-poor, students can grow and learn in peace, protected in this stable and nurturing environment without worrying about food and shelter.

Students live on campus year-round, except for the holy month of Ramadan. During this special season, students are allowed to stay home—if they have one. The fact is, most children at the School are either orphans or from very poor families. Therefore, the School is more than a school for them—it is a home, too. “When they stay at the School, I will not let them go hungry,” Elder Habib explained with compassion in his voice.

What if a child becomes homesick? Gamar said that new students are especially prone to homesickness, and that is why companions are so important. Gamar pays special attention to how the new children are adapting and helps those who seem to be having a hard time.

Once a week, the Al-Ashriyyah Nurul Iman Islamic Boarding School livens up. Each Sunday is family day, when families are allowed to come and visit their children. This Sunday, we watched as one student, Nurlela, welcomed her father, grandmother, younger sister, and even a neighbor. They brought food that Nurlela’s mother had made especially for her.

“Her mother came last time, so it’s my turn today,” said her father, Yunus, with a smile. He feels that his daughter has matured and become more sensible by attending this school. Therefore, even though it is hard for him to leave her here, he feels that the separation has been well worthwhile.

We witnessed another reunion, that of a young girl, Nining, and her mother Sunartun. Nining had been at the school for just over a week, and she apparently had had a rough time adjusting to her new surroundings. Only 12 years old, her little face was devoid of any smile as she waited for her mother. When her mother greeted her, she almost burst into tears. Sunartun was really worried about her.

Sunartun told me some of Nining’s background. When the girl was in the third grade, her birth mother passed away. A few months later, her birth father was killed in an accident. Taking pity on this little orphan girl, Sunartun’s father, who lived in the same village, asked Sunartun to adopt her.

When they first met, Nining was dressed in threadbare clothes and holding a small, ragged knapsack containing an old book, a few coins, and a can of seasoning powder. Sunartun explained, “When the child was hungry, she ate that seasoning powder.”

This little girl had nobody to turn to, so even though Sunartun’s own family was not wealthy, they decided to adopt the little girl. As quickly as she had lost her first family, Nining gained a new family with a loving mom and dad. She was also blessed with an elder brother with whom she got along very well. Four years have passed since that time.

Her mother told us about the day that Nining decided she wanted to attend the School. “One day, out of the blue, Nining told me that she wanted to attend the Al-Ashriyyah Nurul Iman Islamic Boarding School. She had already packed her stuff.” Sunartun suspected that Nining was doing this because she did not want to burden her parents, who were working very hard to support the family. The girl’s mind was made up, and Sunartun could only go along with her request.

Nining had never been a talkative or outgoing girl, but she was even more sullen now. Sunartun was saddened by her countenance. “Although she asked to enroll in the School herself, I still can’t bear to see her act like this.”

Nining asked her mother to bring some oranges on her next visit. At this request, Sunartun left the school and went straight to the market. She immediately returned to the School with oranges, much to Nining’s delight. Although Nining is adopted, Sunartun loves and treats Nining as her own daughter.

In a maternal voice, Sunartun told us, “I would have loved for her to stay with us at home. Without her, our home is too quiet, almost cheerless. But we really hope that she can have a brighter future by being here.”

* * *

As we toured the campus on a sunny afternoon, we saw a few girls washing clothes by hand in a sink. Because the younger ones were not strong enough to wring out the wet clothes, the older girls helped the younger ones hang the clothes up to drip-dry in the sun.

Gamar told me that girls, regardless of their age, must learn to wash their own clothes and do chores around the campus. The younger students might not be able to do the chores as well as the older students at first, so the older students in their living unit take care and cover for younger ones. About 100 students live in the same unit, so everybody eats, lives, and works together. The process seems to work well, and the younger ones learn quickly as they grow up.

“The School not only teaches the type of knowledge found in books, but it also provides an ideal environment for students to learn how to live and deal properly with people,” commented Gamar.

Elder Habib added, “The Koran says that one must be tested with all sorts of challenges before one can really grow up.”

Sunartun told me during her Sunday visitation that she would take Nining home if her daughter were unable to adapt to living away from home. “After all, she is my child and I cannot bear to see her suffer.” However, she wanted Nining to give the School and herself a little more time. As a faithful Muslim, Sunartun knows well that Allah will give everyone a challenge here and there, and this is exactly the kind of hurdle that Nining must learn to jump.

At the same time that Sunartun and Nining were preparing to part, another family was saying farewell to their child. The parents were showing the ambivalent emotions of sadness and hope: sadness at parting, and hope for a brighter future for their child, as bright as the afternoon sun overhead.


Translated by Tang Yau-yang
Photos by Lin Yan-huang
Source: Tzu Chi Monthly No. 466


 

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