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Giving hope to stateless pre-schoolers

2nd December, 2019


TELIPOK: To witness their child graduate is an unforgettable moment for parents of 21 stateless preschoolers of Harvest Learning Centre at its 4th Graduation Ceremony on Saturday.

Scenes at the Grand Merdeka Mall were filled with voices of jubilant pupils singing their hearts out to the national and state anthems, ‘Negaraku’ and ‘Sabah Tanahairku’ in the presence of proud parents and teachers at the event.

Head teacher, Dharma Lingam who runs the learning center, believes in giving a chance to undocumented children to get an education which would help them to build a better future for themselves and their families.

“Every child deserves the right to education, it’s no different to children who are stateless because without education, the future of a child is destroyed,” he told New Sabah Times at the event which was held in conjunction with Christmas celebrations.

He said the learning centre is also a refuge and ‘safe school’ for many migrant children who don’t have that security in their own communities due to greater exposure to social abuses, as well as high incidences of child marriage.

The learning centre has a total of 70 students and a capacity of 100 pupils, with each class limited to 20 students. There are four class sessions in the morning while five in the evening.

“The whole idea of education is to give the younger generation a sense of purpose, and we believe they should be allowed to explore their potential at schools, to learn and acquire skills,” said Dharma, who is also the Project Director of Harvest Center Borneo, which is part of an affinity outreach network for marginalized children.

According to class teacher, Rosalina Binti Angging @Nordin, pupils are grouped based on their learning ability, noting there are 14-year olds who cannot read that are accepted to the learning centre.

This may come as a surprise to many that Rosalina is only 18 years old but is actively teaching Mathematics and Bahasa Malaysia, and is also the recipient of the learning centre’s top student award.

“I enjoy teaching since I prefer doing something beneficial rather than staying at home, although we can’t work because we don’t have any SPM papers. I’m thankful that headmaster, Dharma has offered us this job to teach at his school,” she said.

Children without any birth documents or legal status have been broadly classified as stateless, and are usually the offspring of migrant workers from the Philippines and Indonesia, although there have been numerous cases of one parent being Malaysian.

They are called ‘invisible children’ said Dharma, since stateless kids are without identity or birth certificates, and are only known by their names.

Due to their legal status, they are unable to attend school and end up loitering in the streets, exposing themselves to negative elements while those in estates end up working without ever attending school.

But during the programme, young pupils were well behaved, dressed in their little uniforms and staged a wonderful performance full of talent and heart, singing patriotic songs and performing drama as well as various dances.

Many of them had surprisingly good command of English and are eager to learn – testament to the success of the learning centre’s education programme.

Among them was Nor Fatin Ezati, a bright and modest 11-year-old pupil who has set her sights on becoming a teacher.

“I would like to become a teacher and teach English since it’s my favourite subject,” said Nor Fatin, who is also the eldest daughter of four siblings.

Another student with big dreams was 9 year-old Mohamad Ikram, who wants to study hard to achieve his ambition to become a cop.

“For first timers who has never schooled before, they get used to the idea of formal lessons after a while, and are showing great enthusiasm to learn more. In terms of academic performance, they are doing good and improving,” said the centre’s 17-year-old English teacher, Nurul Hafizah Bte Gamar.

Dharma said most of the teachers at the learning centre consists of those from undocumented peoples, and given training and courses needed to allow them to play their role as teachers to help other children from their own communities.

He further noted the centre has new initiatives next year, among them include an agreement with Dignity For Children Foundation, an internationally-recognised institution providing education and care for underprivileged children.

With 20 years of establishment, the school is the largest and most comprehensive learning centre for the underprivileged, as well as refugees, having received the Sharjah International Award for Refugee Advocacy and Support in 2018.

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