Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Life's a chicken coop for Penan with kids in school

  • Ahmad Fadli KC
  • 8:19AM Oct 24, 2012
EXCLUSIVE For the sake of their children's education, a group of Penan parents have decided to hang up their hunting tools and set up home in an abandoned chicken coop.

These Penan parents made their heart-wrenching decision to move away from their longhouse in the interior of Murum in the Belaga district of Sarawak's Kapit division, because there is no primary or secondary school there.

NONELabang Paneh, 35, said he initially made the daily two-and-a-half hour journey with his children to the school in Kapit dvision's sub-district of Sungai Asap, but the travel proved to be too much.

Met by Malaysiakini at Sungai Asap earlier this month, Labang (right) said he then decided quit as a hunter-gatherer in the Murum forest and moved to Sungai Asap, where he took up odd jobs to support his family.

Three of his children now attend SK Batu Keling and SMK Bakun, a kilometre walk from their new home. Two others are in residential schools in Kuching.

Labang's family is one of 22 families living in a re-configured chicken coop, believed to belong to former Belaga assemblyperson Tajang Laing.

Tajang is said to have allowed the families to stay after realising their steely resolve to secure their children's future.

"When SMK Bakun (was built) we asked to stay here even though it was a chicken coop. It's difficult, but we cannot just leave our children here. They won't be here if their parents aren't," Labang said.

NONENow, 106 people share the re-configured coop, where flimsy plywood riddled with holes separate each family's living quarters, and they all share a common bathroom.

Their new home stands on stilts and from inside, one can see the ground through the inch-wide gaps between the floor planks. The planks are also about an inch wide.

"It's is a chicken coop but we don't mind. We are thankful to God for blessing us with shelter," said Labang, one of the first to move there back in January 2006.

Sunday school teachers
The day before, Malaysiakini witnessed children at the Long Jaik longhouse, about two hour's drive by 4WD, studying with the help of volunteer teachers from a church.

The teachers are from Sibu, and said they travelled about two hours by 4WD to reach Long Jaik, a longhouse in Murum that is home to 50 families.

NONEThe classes, held in the common area, last four hours until noon and are attended by about 15 children aged 12 years and below.

Classes begin with songs in English and Bahasa Malaysia, with some parents also spotted, furtively trying to learn as well from the back of the 'classroom'.

According to the Murum Dam Social and Environmental Impact Assessment report, only two percent of the Penan population were receiving formal education in 2009.

This makes up 33 children, out of the 1,500-strong Penan population there, all of whom lived in the Long Wat longhouse before moving to Sungai Asap to enrol their children in school.

The distance to the school, transportation costs and the absence of any support have stopped 593 Penan children from receiving formal education, the report notes.

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