Thursday, February 28, 2013

Trek for a Cause : Helping the poorest of the poor

In about 2 weeks, the Monyets and Yaks team (MY team) will depart for Katmandu to start our Trek for a Cause on the Annapurna Circuit (details here). The team will trek for 12 consecutive days, covering almost 100 km and climbing to a height of 17,760 ft. As many of you already know, one of our objectives is to raise awareness and funds for educating under-privileged children in Malaysia.

First of all, let me thank all those of you who have contributed generously. I won’t list the names – but you know who you are. And those of you who have pledged, I am going to come around collecting my dues soon hehehehe. Once again, thank you very much.

As I have explained earlier, the money will be used to help educate under-privileged children in Malaysia including cildren from poor Orang Asli families, refugee children and children from poor coastal communities in Sabah.

It is the last group (children from the Bajau Laut community) that are in a bad shape and really need help. They are, what I would consider, the poorest of the poor – in many ways.

The Bajau Lauts are sea farers. They are also known as the sea gypsies. Traditionally the Bajau Laut people have traversed the Sulu and Celebes seas. They were free spirits. It is estimated that there are about 50,000 of them in Sabah. Now many of them are stateless (they do not have any documents). Because they are stateless, they do not get any support or help from the government. Most of them earn a living by fishing. They live in wooden shacks built on water and the poorer among them, just live on boats.

We will be working with Muslim Aid Malaysia on three islands namely Mabul, Denawan and Kulapuan of Semporna in Sabah – each island has its own set of challenges. Our focus is to provide basic education for these children.

In Mabul, there is a government school and a religious school – both of which do not allow the stateless Bajau Laut children. There used to be a privately-run School of Hope (run by one of the homestay operators) which provided education of these stateless children but that has now shut down, mainly to due silly bureaucracy. So now several hundred children on Mabul get no education at all. The plan is either to try to restart the School of Hope or to use the religious school building to teach the children after hours (i.e. when the religious classes are not on). The focus will be on 4 subjects – English, BM, Maths and Science. Remember – these children get no education at all now – so 4 subjects are better than nothing. Money is needed to pay for teachers (which provides employment to youth on the island), books and nutrition for the children. Even then, we can only cater for perhaps 25% of the children on the island. Things are made worse by the fact that there is little land on the island, most of the land on the island belongs to resorts.

None of these children go to school

The Bajau Laut village on the island of Mabul, just next to multi-million ringgit resorts.

On the island of Denawan, there is a government school which has 35 students and has plenty of room to cater for more. There are about 500 – 600 stateless children on the island who cannot go to this school because they have no documents. So the kids spend their days loitering on the island, gambling and at times begging from tourists on boats. As you can see from the photos, most of these kids are malnourished. The plan here is to establish a learning centre (the Department of Education will not allow it to be called “school”). This entails putting up a little building, paying for teachers, books and nutrition for the children. The advantage on Denawan is that there is land available and several villagers have volunteered to allow their land/house to be used as classrooms. Even with this programme, we can perhaps help 30% of the children only.

Since there is no school, let's gamble. Bingo anyone?

No school today, no school tomorrow. They have never been to school

When human being do not have enough to eat, dogs have eat coconuts

The island of Kulapuan is worst of the lot. There is no infrastructure on the island. No piped water, no electricity, no roads, no schools, no nothing. The population on the island is about 1100 with perhaps about 400 children in need of education. The kids spend their days loitering on the island and gambling. There are teenagers who cannot read and write. The plan here is just like in Denawan - to establish a learning centre. This entails putting up a little building, paying for teachers, books and nutrition for the children. There is land available.

No school today. Let's go on a begging expedition

This is what their houses look like

If we do not help, these kids will never go to school

Of course, to solve all the problems on all the islands off Sabah will require a great deal of resources. We don’t pretend that we can solve all the problems. Muslim Aid Malaysia and MY team can only try to help in a small way. The money raised by the Trek for a Cause alone will not be enough. Muslim Aid Malaysia has continuously looking for sponsors to fund these projects.

If you think being poor is bad, try being poor and stateless. Governments will pretend you do not exist. Most NGOs will stay away because of the “sensitivities”. The public is often reluctant to help because “we don’t know if they are our people”. The fact remains that there are thousands of these children in our country who do not get any education and who are severe malnourished. They live here. They will grow up here.

Mahatma Gandhi once said “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.  On that note, our nation’s greatness can also be judged by the way we treat the poor, the homeless, the destitute and the voiceless (including the animals).

Monyet King adds
We are still short of funds. If you can contribute, details are here.

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