March 11, 2019, by Lee Mei Kee
Celebrating International Women’s Day: Balance for Better
In August 2014, a team of volunteers from the University of Nottingham (#water4life) went to the interior of Baram, Sarawak to build a gravity feed water system for a remote village of a Penan community in Long Itam. During the same trip, we helped built and equipped a pre-school in the village and little did we know that our work in this community continues until today. In 2015, Prof Ting Kang Nee initiated the “Climb for Life 2” an expedition to climb a peak higher than 5,000m to raise awareness of the plights faced by the Penan community.
The Penan Children’s plight
There are many issues and challenges faced by the Penans such as defending their rights (legal and land), other important issues concerning health, education, basic infrastructures etc. One specific problem is the common drop-out at primary school level. These young Penan children have to leave home at 6 years old to live in a boarding school without knowing the national language Bahasa Malaysia or English. Many of these children are not able to keep up, thus leading to punishment at school. Before long, these students are isolated in an education system that is least catered to students from the Penan community in remote areas. These young Penan children entering the national educational system also face other social, cultural, economic and other multiple issues. Since 2011, two preschools (Long Item and Long Kawi) have been started by Saccess (an NGO which looks into the plights of the Penan community in Sarawak). In recent years, there are lesser reports of drop outs and positive feedback is received from the headmaster and teachers of a local primary school where these children go to for their primary education.
Penan teachers and their inspirational story
Amelia Balan, a preschool teacher from Long Item, who is now a student in Nottingham, has recently been nominated for inspiration contribution to The University of Nottingham to celebrate International Women’s day 2019 #Balanceforbetter.
Amelia came to Nottingham in Feb 2016. When I asked of her motivation at Nottingham this is what she shared “I come to a place (Nottingham Campus) far from my village and family because I want to continue my studies so that I could gain a deeper knowledge and experience to help my hometown and people. Despite being away from my community, I also have to familiarize myself with people I did not know who come from different countries. This life changing event is very difficult for me but I am willing to face the challenges in order to help my community.”
Another nearby village to Long Item is Long Kawi, where another pre-school is currently being rebuilt with the financial support of the university. Wanna Jeffry was the lead teacher in Long Kawi but she too decided to start her educational journey to help her village. She shared her loneliness staying away from her family for a long period of time. She said “through my struggle in life right now it makes me a more mature person. So in future when I face with problems I will be ready to face and solve them.”
Both students have matured over the years at Nottingham and they have touched many lives through their stories and aspiration to improve the lives of their community in Sarawak. “I’m very impressed with Wanna and Amelia, who persevere on even though they faced many challenges, especially language barrier in order to continue their education at University of Nottingham. Despite being here, they make effort to support their preschool teachers and students whenever they are back for semester breaks. They are a great inspiration to me, proving that being a woman is not a barrier to bring impact to a community” commented Dr Then Sue-Mian, who is a mentor to the two Penan teachers at Nottingham.
Article by: Prof. Ting Kang Nee (Head of School of Pharmacy)