A story about developing a culture of sharing and acceptance from a young age.
Written by Bryan Koh
“I have a saying that goes, as much as I can I will. As long as I can, I will.”
— Jacquita Gonzales
As a mother of four and grandmother of two, our interviewee this week is no stranger to early childhood. Founder and Principal of Taska Oranges & Lemons, Malaysia, Jacquita Gonzales prides herself in emphasising the importance of equality in her classroom.
In this interview, Jacquita tells us stories that make us laugh, go “aww,” and inspire us to be better individuals.
With only one centre located in the heart of Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Taska Oranges & Lemons has made a name for itself. Aside from having a beautiful campus and a team of motherly teachers, this school has perfected the art of a warm welcome!
Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside from the video? Well, prepare to fall in love with this school because upcoming is a heartwarming interview with the founder of the school!
Tell us about Taska Oranges & Lemons!
When we first opened, we only had fifteen children enrolled for the entire year. Now, twenty-two years in the future, we have more than ninety children in Taska Oranges & Lemons. People often ask me why I don’t open more centres. The reason is that I like to form a personal relationship with every family and its children.
“Taska Oranges & Lemons is not just a school. It is an extended family.”
I prioritise social and emotional growth in my school. If the children are not happy, then the school is not successful. Children are meant to come to school with a smile on their faces.
Taska Oranges & Lemons is not just a school. It is an extended family. My daughters(pictured above) are teachers in this school, with their own classes to manage. Parents are friends with each other. And everyone gets along with one another here.
We also enrol children from orphanages and aboriginal communities. We take in students of various backgrounds and economic statuses, which contributes to the unique social landscape of our school. We teach our children that we are all equal — that everyone deserves the same love and care.
What inspired you to give back?
My grandmother used to run a welfare home where I would spend my afternoons after school, helping to look after the community there. She once told me, “If we pay close attention, we will see children hiding in the streets.”
“As much as I can, I will. As long as I can, I will.”
It saddens me that any child has to go through a difficult life. At this stage of life, they are merely starting to discover the world. As adults, we have to use our power to pave the way for them. We need to display the good habit of giving back to our communities so that our future generation mirrors this when they grow up. We have a responsibility to our little ones to see them through life.
I have an important saying that goes, “As much as I can, I will. As long as I can, I will.”
How do you teach these values to your children?
I constantly tell my children that they are all equal. No one is better than the other person, and everyone gets their fair share in school. We ingrain these values into our daily classes as well.
Parents play a big role in teaching the children as well! The parents at our centre often help each other out by providing stationery and uniforms to children who need it. When we organise field trips for the children, we understand that not all parents can afford it. I will never tell parents that just because they can’t pay for the trip, their child can’t attend. I always try to top up whatever they are able to pay, and many times, fellow parents will eagerly chip in! When children watch their parents show compassion to each other, they learn to act the same way with their classmates.
Have you faced any challenges throughout the years?
One of the challenges we face every year is capacity. As much as we’d like to accept everyone, we can’t compromise quality for quantity. We also need to think about sustaining the school.
Some families can’t afford to send both or all their children to school. What do you do then? Well, I ask them how much they can afford and I compromise. A family here could be paying a price of one for two children. It’s very sad to see someone in dire need so we offer what we can. Whether they are paying the full price or not, these children deserve an equal amount of care.
One piece of advice for aspiring teachers?
The most important advice I can offer is to teach with passion. You must be passionate about teaching and you have love for the children.
I like to call the children my vitamins. Whenever I need a boost, I just talk to them. And I don’t like thinking, “I’m the teacher, you are the student.” I try to be on the same wavelength as the child. Most importantly, every child who walks into your centre should be treated like your own.
At the end of the day, when a child comes to you and says they love you, you know you’ve done your job right.