One of my favourite assignments, when I was a little girl, was writing about what I wanted to be when I grew up. The career choices we found in typical Asian classrooms were around 40% doctor, and the other 60% was a policeman or a pilot for boys, and a nurse or a teacher for girls. It didn’t seem to matter at the time whether we would grow up to be what we said, because there would always be school tomorrow and we eventually would go somewhere and be someone. Unfortunately, that was not the reality for the undocumented children whom C asean crew had the opportunity to visit. The best career advancement for these kids is to wait tables for a boy and wed to a non-abusive husband for a girl.
Around 1,900 kilometres away from Kuala Lumpur, lies one of the most beautiful islands in the pacific ocean: the Borneo. This time we travelled to Semporna, a town in the state of Sabah, Malaysia to meet with a group of dedicated young teachers who determined to teach these undocumented or stateless children to read, to laugh, and to say "NO" to an inappropriate touch against their will.
“There are about 2,635 undocumented children who are in schools nationwide, and 1,184 of those are in Sabah.” Said the Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik to the local reporters in October 2019.
While there is no reliable data for the real numbers of these children, UNICEF has estimated the number in their Children Out of School Report 2019 that there are approximately 100,000 children not in primary school and another 250,000 children not in secondary school. The study has shown further that one in six children who are out-of-school children is most likely non-citizens.
“When I first arrived I asked these children about their birthday but none of them can answer me. It was so shocking and so sad at the same time.” Mohd Asyraf Bin ABD Hamid (Appy), YSEALI Alumni from 2019 summit mentioned this during our visit at Borneo Komrad Semporna, one of the alternative schools for these children.
“According to the Education Minister, undocumented children are welcome in every public school across Malaysia. However, this government initiative is still in the trial stage and for the children to get in, an identification document, which is exactly what these kids nor their parents have, is required”. Said Appy, a Primary Teacher at SK Sungai Bedaun, WP. Labuan.
Why were these children undocumented?
Since the end of the 1980s, an unprecedented influx of migrants from Indonesia and the Philippines arrived in Sabah through unregulated points of access. Political and economic instability was the prime driving force for the inflow of immigrants. According to the UNICEF report, these following 6 factors are the reason for citizenship disqualification, which has resulted to no access to fundamental services and protection, such as healthcare, education, minimum wage, etc.
The only chance of education is The Alternative Schools
Alternative Learning Centres (ALCs), offered by NGOs, community, and charitable individuals are the only educational opportunity for these children. “Identify Identify” is working with Borneo Komrad, the youth movement that operates six schools in five cities across Malaysia: one in Kuala Lumpur, two in Semporna, and the rest are in Rumah Pangi, Tawau, and Teluk Layang
Introduce" Identify Identify"
Why: Because Education is power
How: Set up schools for underprivileged children
What: Provide lessons about human right, English, sex education, and basic hygiene skills
“We always start our morning by having every child brush his/ her teeth as we want to emphasize the importance of hygiene to them”. Appy explained before we entered school. Sekolah di air Impian di Gunung is the name of this school, which means “school on the water, dreams on the mountain”, a highly appropriate name for a school that floats on the murky-looking sea with the view of mountain silhouettes in distance.
Through the 3E’s approach: Expose, Enhance, and Empower
EXPOSE by making them aware and assertive of their rights, the importance of taking care of our mother nature and sexuality education
ENHANCE their living skills such as sewing, dual language mastery and cooking to generate income towards a sustainable livelihood
EMPOWER the students with leadership qualities
The program has offered a 3-week boot camp to teach the kids about recycling and the importance of environment; English and other vocational skills such as cooking and sewing for more choices of income; puberty, protection, and sexual violence for sex education.
“I knocked door to door when we first started the school”. Said Mukmin Nantang the school headmaster “We want to teach them more than the ABC. That was why we added human rights, sanitation, environment, and entertainment to our curriculum. The feedback from the parents was great, their behaviours had improved. They listened to their parents more, took better care of themselves, and stopped trashing the sea”.
“Most of them will end up poor and marry young unless there’s a significant change in identity registration, we want them to know that even with limited options for the future, they have the right to extend their dreams”. Added Appy a proud Malaysian and the future leader of ASEAN.
For further support and cooperation, please feel free to contact Appy at
Mohd Asyraf bin Abd Hamid (Appy Hamid)
Identify Identity Project Coordinator