Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A bit of cheery news about Penan students

Sim Kwang Yang
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 04:43

Whenever we hear about the Penans in Sarawak, it is almost always bad news. The Penans lost their ancestral land to loggers and plantation companies, Penan school girls get raped, and Penans who protested against logging get arrested at their blockades. It seems that no news about the Penans is good news.

Finally, we hear something heart-warming about the Penan community in Sarawak at last. A 19-year-old Penan girl named Damans Panais who was rejected for admission into teacher training college had been given a scholarship to study for a diploma in accountancy in a private college.

The Borneo Post in Sarawak reported her story just days ago, and speculated that the reason for her rejection by the teacher training college is that she still does not have her Mykad.

In an interview with the paper, she said: “I applied for MyKad four times since I was in Primary 6 when the National Registration Department officers visited our village. But my application failed each time and I was asked to re-apply, which I did.”

She said her other four siblings already had their MyKad. Her school, SMK Marudi, had to issue her a temporary identification document when she sat for her SPM last year.

Many do not have MyKad

Damans’ story has opened up deep wounds in the hearts of many rural Sarawakians. Many of them still do not have their Mykad and miss out on enjoying the benefits and rights of their citizen status.

Many of the rural communities live in far flung villages in the vast state of Sarawak where transportation and communication remain primitive in most places. In Damans’ area, they depend heavily on four-wheel drives to travel from point A to point B for many long bumpy hours on muddy timber tracks.

When mothers deliver babies in their remote village, they do not always have the means to make the long journey to the nearest hospital to report the new births, and register those births at the nearest national registration office, which is inevitably located in towns.

A similar situation exists in Sabah, where the problem is worse, because of the apparent ease with which illegal immigrants can procure Mykad while real Sabah natives are reduced to stateless aliens!

The procedure for granting Mykad in cases of late registration is infamously cumbersome in Sarawak. The whole process is mired in a bureaucratic black hole that will swallow up many supporting documents and evidence that goes to prove the authenticity of the identity of the applicant. Approval sometimes can take many years, if ever.

The whole process must be simplified for Sarawak’s rural communities to suit their unique circumstances. Teams of registration officers must be sent out to all rural corners of Sarawak to register all rightful Sarawakians. If money is needed, then the federal government must make the allocation available, in return for the massive financial contribution made by Sarawak to the federal coffer in terms of oil and gas.

In the case of Damans Panais, the party that came to her rescue by awarding her a scholarship is the Interhill group of companies.

Interhill is one of the largest logging concerns in Sarawak, and for decades has been attacked by NGOs and Penan support groups as the culprits behind the destruction of the Penans’ ancestral land in the Baram area. Their employees have been alleged to have raped and sexually harassed Penan school girls.

By awarding a scholarship to Damans, Interhill would have ploughed back some PR capital, in showing that they also care fore the welfare of the Penan children.

One overwhelming problem for rural native students in Sarawak in seeking higher education is that for most of them, their poor farmer parents simply cannot find the financial means to put them through college.

Education - most important factor

It is disappointing therefore to see that the huge corporations in the private sector and the government-linked companies in Sarawak which have reaped astronomical profits out of Sarawak and her people have not been falling over one another in setting up special scholarships and bursaries for deserving and needy rural students from Sarawak’s rural poor to pursue tertiary education.

Another way is for the state government to impose a special tax on all timber logged and exported for the specific purpose of setting up a trust fund to award scholarships to Penan and other native students to further their study in universities and colleges, both local and abroad.

Access to education – especially to tertiary education – is arguably the most critical factor in alleviating rural poverty in Sarawak. At the end of the day, education still affords the most efficient path towards upward social mobility.

Rural graduates who succeed in finding their niche in the working world will not only serve as role models for other parents and children back in the kampong, they may also decide to work for the future of their rural communities through public engagement and social activism.

For once, it is nice to hear a bit of happy news about the Penans. There is more. The Borneo Post also has this to share with us:

“Nine Penan students namely Wendy Ului and Esther Philip from Long Nen, Baram; Jennifer Kawas, Salyndra Anyta, Cecilia Balan, Susan Goro and Joanita Aren John from Long Tepen, Pelutan; Forlin Malang from Long Beluk, Baram; and Beatcsy Geoffery from Long Kerong, Selungoh who are pursuing the diploma in nursing at Segi College received the study incentives.

“Samson Tio from Long Iman in Tutoh, Baram who is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in education at Universiti Tun Abdul Razak also received an incentive.”

They have a bright future ahead of them. I wish them luck in their academic endeavour and pray for their success in life.

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