LIghting up young minds with Long Lamam’s kindy project
By Patricia Hului
In the interior part of Baram, there is a Penan village called Long Lamam made up of 240 residents from 60 families.
The village has elevated timber houses, church, paddy field, fruit trees, plantations and a kindergarten.
The Tadika Pawah kindergarten came into existence thanks to the effort of founder Lim Siok Hong from Persatuan Perkembangan Pendidikan (PPP) Orang Pribumi.
Speaking at the launching programme of ‘The Kindy Project at Long Lamam’ at tHe Spring on Dec 21, Lim shared her story behind this charitable effort.
“I’m very grateful to Barefoot Mercy for their initiative to set up this building so that I can do what I was called to do which is to teach and train teachers,” Lim said.
A retired secondary school teacher herself, she said Tadika Pawah was one of the five kindergartens PPP Orang Pribumi had set up.
Lim first went to Long Lamam back in November 2011 with her husband, sisters and some youths from Blessed Church Kuching.
“We arrived in the dark, pouring rain, soaked to the skin, but there was a welcome meal for us and we were grateful for what was just rice and tapioca leaves,” she recalled.
There was no electricity so they had to eat in candle light.
Their initial findings were that the adults were illiterate, the young people were mostly school dropouts and there were lots of little children.
“So we thought this was a good place to set up a kindergarten,” she said.
They returned to Long Lamam in 2012 and set up a camp to identify some people to be trained as kindergarten teachers but they could not find anyone.
“Finally in 2013, my sister and I thought if there were no teachers, we would be the teachers.
“We wanted to show them what kind of kindy we would set up for them if they were willing to help us.”
Lim and her sister spent two months in the village, teaching a class of more than 20 with students comprising young children, primary and secondary dropouts and even young adults.
Their oldest pupil was 21 years old.
“We really had to try our best to cope but it was fun,” Lim said. “Because of our stay there for two months, I think the villagers were touched so they were very open to the idea of opening up a kindergarten.”
But then came the questions of who should they train as teachers?
They managed to get four young people, all of whom had stopped attending school at various levels of study: Form Five(1), Form Four (1) and Form One (2).
They also took them to Kuching for training under Rusa (Rural Sarawak) Pre-school Training programme organised by Kuching Minister Fellowship.
“That was how we started the kindergarten in 2014,” Lim said. “We began with 13 pupils, and then the number grew to 16. This year, we have 32 pupils.”
She shared some of the development of the students, the 5-year-olds, for example, had learned how to read their alphabet, learned to count and recognise numerals.
“And they can read certain amounts of English and Malay words.”
Lim also could see some progress within the village itself
“When we first came, it was quite dirty with a lot of flies but it is a lot cleaner now,” she said.
She added that the parents were taking education more seriously.
Still, they had some problems with attendance because Penan parents tend to take their children with them into the jungle in search of food or medicine.
“Hence, the idea of boarding school came up. If we provide boarding facilities, then the parents can leave their children behind.”
The other reason was to train the children because when they go into Primary One, they have to stay in a boarding house.
According to Lim, the community is very supportive of this boarding kindergarten idea.
“It is a community-based project, we are not just doing kindergarten in isolation but we want to help the whole community, bring positive change so that the people can have better livelihood and the children will have a better future.
“We do pre-school education because that is where it starts. Laying a good foundation itself is important.”
The kindergarten in Long Lamam is currently housed in a temporary premise which is not fit for its intended purpose.
This is where Barefoot Mercy comes in to lend a hands raising funds and where architect William Khoo of DNA with his team of designers brainstorm on the design of the kindergarten.
The target amount of RM250,000 will go towards a building fund to provide a permanent home on a proposed site already identified by the community with construction aimed for 2016.
Tadika Pawah also has a child sponsorship programme which covers the annual expenses of a child in pre-school for RM2,400.
The cost covers uniforms, books, and stationary as well as school meals.