ECM Libra Foundation is no stranger to the plight of the marginalised Orang Asli in Malaysia, and a recent recce to the state of Pahang has spurred us to look for more and better ways to help bring education to the children of the indigenous communities.
When Foundation chairman Dato’ Seri Kalimullah Hassan first heard from photojournalist SC Shekar of Orang Asli children scavenging at a landfill in Muadzam Shah town, a quick meeting was called and a team was assembled to visit the site on February 3. At the same time, Executive Trustee Lim Beng Choon reached out to NGO Global Peace Foundation Malaysia (GPFM) to gather more facts about the situation on the ground. GPFM has been working in Pekan and Rompin over the last four years, and has documented some 90 splinter villages in the two state districts.
What we saw and heard from Orang Asli community leaders matched the information provided by GPFM CEO Dr Teh Su Thye – that many Orang Asli communities live in abject poverty, their makeshift homes do not have piped water or electricity, and most of their children do not attend schools. Dr Teh estimates eight out of 10 children from these communities don’t attend school because of poverty, distance to school and ignorance of the parents.
Since returning from the eye-opening trip on February 3, the Foundation has decided to double its efforts to find ways of bringing education opportunities to the Orang Asli children as we believe that education is necessary to create a brighter future.
In early March, we disbursed funds to support GPFM’s project to initiate a mobile school, which is set to take off in April this year. Dubbed the OA Mobile School, the project aims to make education accessible to the underserved communities by bringing out-of-classroom learning to four villages in Pahang state. The children will be taught functional literacy, numeracy and life skills. GPFM aims to reach about 50 OA children aged between five and 15 in the pilot programme.
Apart from that, our team has also visited two education programmes for OA children in Melaka and Pahang, with the aim of supporting their efforts through grants.
In Melaka, the Light of Shalom Society runs a hostel and educational facilities for indigenous children aged between six and 17 from the states of Pahang and Kelantan. The younger children attend early childhood education sessions while older children who go to neighbouring public schools are supported with in-house tuition.
According to Hostel Director Pastor Joseph Boon Chai, as many as 60 children are on the waitlist, and as such, the Society has asked for funds to expand its hostel facilities to accommodate another 30 more children.
Meanwhile, Pahang-based NGO Persatuan Jaringan Shalom Kuantan (PJSK) had also opened a learning centre in a splinter village in Muadzam Shah. The learning centre located in Kampung Patah Pisau currently accommodates 19 children from the village, but it plans to expand the facilities so that they can take in more children from neighbouring villages.
Apart from the learning centre in Kampung Patah Pisau, PJSK also has plans to set up a skill-building centre at Sungai Lembing. According to PJSK coordinator Katherine Ong, OA youths can learn baking, sewing and computer skills so that they can make a living or find jobs. “Due to the proximity to town centre, we will be able to get teachers to come to this centre,” Ms Ong said. Sungai Lembing is just 10 minutes away from Kuantan town centre by car, while getting to Kampung Patah Pisau requires a 1.5-hour drive.
We are currently waiting for PJSK’s request for funds, and we welcome those with projects related to education for the OA community to reach out to us with the view of future collaboration.