45-year-old engineer, Mikhail Jaya, fondly known as Mika, grew up in poverty and had to hit the ground running as early as he can remember. Through grit, hustle, and support from his community, he overcame many obstacles in life. Now, he is on a mission to give back to the community by teaching music to underprivileged kids at his music and dance academy, Prodigy Studio.
Having been through various hardships, he hopes to keep children who are the most vulnerable members of society away from vice and crime by giving them something to be passionate about and spend their time focusing on.
Apart from the music academy, the father of two from Kajang also runs two companies, one dealing with lab equipment and another designing websites. An avid photographer, Mika is also a self-proclaimed “metalhead” who frequently performs in make-shift bands with his friends whenever possible.
We managed to catch up with Mica for an exclusive interview.
1. Describe your childhood. What were the hardships or experiences you have encountered that shaped you into the person you are today?
My mum worked at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital (HKL) as an attendant and my dad was a goldsmith. Life was not exactly hard growing up but I wouldn’t say I was privileged either. I am who I am today because of the hardships I had to endure. Although we never starved, we couldn’t afford a lot of things. Eventually, like every other teen in the area, I became a menace to society just to get by.
My mum was essentially the sole breadwinner of the family. My dad used all his earnings for personal expenses and his drinking habit. My mother was left with no other option and borrowed money on a regular basis to support the family. Money loaned to her was at a high interest rate and by the time she paid the debt, she would have to borrow more money. It was a vicious cycle but it taught us the value of money at a young age.
2. What do you mean by “menace to society”?
Gangs, drugs and violence. I realised very early in life that involvement in crime messes you up even more and it only causes your loved ones misery. Slowly, I managed to get out of that kind of life and I went from hustling on the streets to working hard to develop my business.
3. Did you eventually get an education?
There was a hierarchy where I grew up. The “elders”, the seniors in my area, looked out for me in their own way. When I got expelled from school at the age of 16, they beat me up and sponsored me to go to a private school. I eventually managed to further my studies in America but the main person sponsoring my expense had passed away. When I had no money, I came back and finished Biomedical Engineering in Universiti Putra Malaysia. I am also one of the few people in Southeast Asia with professional qualification from San Antonio.
4. What do you do for a living now?
I run a small company dealing with BSL3 Laboratories design, build, and maintenance. We also manufacture custom-designed lab equipment. I also started a website and app designing company two years ago. At Prodigy Studio, aside from music and dance lessons, we also sell our own musical instruments.
5. What inspired you to start a dance and music academy?
Music changed me and always had a positive influence in my life. Before Prodigy, I managed venues for indie and underground bands. Coping with my marital breakdown was a dark phase in my life and I decided that once I felt better, I would start a music school for underprivileged children to prove to them that there are always other options in life.
6. Why music? How does it help children from a troubled background?
Music encourages them to think. If you are brought up in a neighbourhood filled with hardships, music can change your outlook and give you a better perspective in life. Gangsterism and crime is, in a way, adopted by kids in low-income neighbourhoods because they look up to the wrong individuals as role models. All they see are gangsters with cars, money, and women as role models as those are the only examples of success they are familiar with. They get more attention from such individuals compared to their parents who are forced to work extra hours and are always stressed about money.
Although Prodigy Studio is a business, we do our level best to give back to society through heavily discounted rates and even fully sponsoring underprivileged students. These students are usually vouched for by our close friends or customers. We are also one of the few schools that cater to kids with autism and ADHD.
7. In your opinion, what measures can be taken to protect young children and teenagers from a life of crime?
I believe the onus is on the parents. Poverty is a vicious cycle but kids need to have positive role models and be shown that in life we always have to make choices. A good way is to ensure parents give their children proper education.
*Featured image sourced from Facebook/Mika Mikhail
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