Su Li from ECM Libra Foundation (ECM Libra Foundation provides funds for the allowances for the pre-school teachers) and Lin from Mari Kita Membaca made a visit to Kg Chang Lama and Kg. Sungai Bil in Perak, along with learning centre coordinator and preschool teacher at Sg. Bil, Nora.
At Kg. Chang Lama we met up with SPNS founder, Tijah Yok Chopil. I had long wanted to visit Kg. Chang Lama and I told Tijah I have heard so much of the village. She laughed and said, ” Yes, this looks like any ordinary village, but this is where much of the Orang Asli activism work for this region started”. Kg. Chang Lama is the base for the first Orang Asli grassroots NGO, SPNS. Tijah started by first addressing the education needs of the children in her village. She established a learning centre right out from her own home and taught the children in the village how to read and write. She also taught the children to be proud to be Orang Asli and to value their traditional heritage. Often her lessons were conducted outside the classrooms. She gave an example: On a day they were learning the letter ‘S’, they would spent the day at the ‘S’ungai (river) and they would talk about what they can find in the river, the water condition, even discussing the problem of pollution and its causes littering and logging. Tijah also held overnight camps for the children where they stayed in the traditional village house and listened to traditional stories narrated by the village elders. Her approach was holistic and made connection between learning one’s ABCs and community awareness and empowerment. Tijah eventually trained other teachers and have since gone on to focus Orang Asli land rights issues. You can read more about Tijah’s work here:http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2008/9/28/lifefocus/2075609&sec=lifefocus
While we were in the learning centre having a discussion with Tijah, we noticed women and small children were constantly walking back and forth from behind the schoolhouse. They were transporting water from the only water source in the village (a pipe from a gravity-feed system, build by the villagers themselves. This may be shocking to many, but as many half of all the Orang Asli villages in Peninsular Malaysia do not have access to treated water. Fifty percent of Orang Asli villages also do not have access to electricity.
In Kg. Sg. Bil we arrived when the learning centre was in session and kids were busy doing their artwork for the day. After tea break the children dug into the new books that we brought with us.
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