(This is the second instalment of DayakDaily’s exclusive feature on Destiny for Children, Sibu. Click here for Part One.)
Pauline Roger Jaban, a Bidayuh from Kuching, wanted to make a difference when she decided to be the principal of Destiny for Children, Sibu (Destiny).
A former teacher working in Kuala Lumpur, Pauline might only have been the principal of Destiny for less than a year, but her understanding of the children and their needs has driven her to get more involved than she initially thought she would be.
“Destiny gives our children a place, or an alternative, to what other children have which our children don’t have. It is a place of hope.
“Children need to belong somewhere socially. And for the children of Destiny, who are so-called rejects and dropouts from the formal education system, who have no place to go, they can find a sense of belonging and their identity as a student here.
“The sense of belonging is important because it makes them feel significant — that they are part of a school, that they can contribute to something in some ways.
“Remember, these are kids who people try to avoid and who no one will give a second look. They are (considered a) nuisance to many of us. There is no place for them in the society,” Pauline told DayakDaily.
Pauline did not just have a profound understanding on the needs of these children, she also recognised the lack of courage in many of us, who try to avoid ‘problems’.
“We avoid them because once we open our lives to them, they will ‘invade’ our lives,” she pointed out.
Pauline narrated her own experience.
“Only after I joined the school then I realised I had met some of these children before. I tried to recall. Then I remembered I had seen them at the construction site opposite my house.
“And lo and behold, these very kids who stayed opposite my house, were right in front of me (in the school),” said Pauline.
Unlike many of us who prefer to classify these children — comprising schools dropouts and stateless children — as the responsibility of others or the government, Pauline decided to stay on, for the simple reason of hoping ‘to make a difference’.
“Their parents are construction workers. These children move from place to place, following their parents. And when the place their parents are working at is far from school, they stop going to school. In the long run, when they fail to catch up, they naturally become school dropouts,” she said.
Destiny is a school run by a non-profit organisation, catering for those who have been refused entry to or dropped out from the Malaysian school system due to various reasons.
Some are at Destiny because their parents are city nomads, moving from place to place, resulting in these children being unable to keep up with the schoolwork required by the Malaysian education system. Gradually, they drop out of the system altogether.
Others are at Destiny simply because they have no choice － they have been rejected by the formal school system because they are undocumented or stateless children.
There are presently 85 students at Destiny and 51 or 60 per cent of them fall into the category of stateless children while six are Indonesians. The remaining 29 children are Malaysians, who are mainly Ibans.
The school started at a rented house at Tiong Hua Road area which is a residential area within the four roads of Hua Kiew Road, Ho Peng Road, Oya Road and Jalan Kampung Nyabor Road. It was one of the earliest settlement areas due to its close vicinity to town which provided much convenience for its residents.
Due to its swampy peat soil, many houses are sinking or have even started to collapse. Those who can afford it move out while those who can’t stay put. The place has become a slum area in Sibu, catering for urban poor or hardcore poor.
It is a common sight to see school-age children loitering along the roads or fishing in the drains. It was this sight that led to Destiny being set up in the first place.
Starting from a rented house, the school has moved to a building at 42, Jalan Brooke Drive, which is a place shared and owned by a few charitable associations including Sibu Life Care Society.
The stories of these children do not end at Destiny. Like their parents, Destiny chairman Chris Tang, 64, knows that the problem goes beyond the school.
“Where do we go from here? At the moment, we can only cater for these children until Level 5 (equivalent to Primary Six). After that, where do they go?”
For an average student, by the time these children finish Level 5, they are only 12 or 13, or perhaps a bit older.
Where will these children go after they complete Level 5? Back to the streets again? Or forced to start working as child labour?
“We have tried so hard to keep them out of the streets. Do we let them go into the streets again after they complete Level 5? Or do we keep them? If we were to keep them, what can we offer them?
“It is just too young to stop education at the age of 13, 14 or 15. If it is possible, we hope they can continue to receive education.
“We hope they can receive education until they are older or old enough to make sensible decisions or reach the age where they can start work without being exploited,” Tang said.
It is an uphill task to keep the school running. The school depends on support from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private companies, churches and personal sponsorship with no financial support at all from the government.
Still for the sake of the children, Tang wants to do something more for them.
“It is quite a far-fetched dream but I hope we can do it. I hope to get Destiny’s certificate to be recognised so that these children may go to a secondary school after graduating from here. If that is impossible, perhaps, with the help from all quarters, we may start a secondary school syllabus in Destiny. These are the only two ways out.
“We have brought these children thus far. We cannot hang them out to dry after Level 5, not when they are still young and vulnerable and easily exploited. We must do something,” Tang emphasised.
(Click here for Part One of DayakDaily’s exclusive feature on Destiny for Children, Sibu)