Looking for some exciting mission adventures? Welcome to Sabah, The Land below the Wind – a beautiful state blessed with the highest mountain in Malaysia and many unspoiled islands. My two-months stay took me to places which are both beautiful and off the beaten track.
What stood out in all these three learning centres is the enthusiasm of the children for education despite the less comfortable classrooms and surroundings. At the same time, the loving intention of the community teachers in the creative use of available resources to bring their lessons across to their students effectively.
Once upon a time, the houses of teachers which doubled up as learning centres in this locality were packed with over a hundred children. Unfortunately, this community was given the marching orders to vacate the place by the landowner early this year. All the houses were demolished and the community dispersed. When the dust settled, the community teachers ‘returned’ in response to the pleas of the children eager to resume classes. So as not to attract any unnecessary attention, these teachers returned and built temporary ‘houses’ in the interior of the place they once called home and resumed classes, fully aware of the temporal situation but pressed on with determination.
Within this mangrove swamp is a learning centre for students from six to about fourteen years old. This open space is set up with long wooden tables and benches and each classroom is separated only by cloth curtains. With no electricity supply to this community, their source of ventilation is the natural breeze that blows through. At other times, the rising tide of the sea can reach up to the ankles of the teachers and the calves of the students. However, there is sometimes a surprise catch of crabs after the tide subsided!
At the end of each day, the students will stack the benches and tables to one end, the curtains unhooked, and the earthen floor swept clean of rubbish. This community is currently on a clean environment campaign where plastic bottles are collected and sold to the recycling collection centre. Interestingly, it is common to see biawaks or big monitor lizards lounging in the mangrove swamp or scavenging through the garbage bins. At times, they can even be as uninvited guests to the homes of this community.
The furthest and most exciting to reach – this learning centre is smacked beside the river. One has to either walk bravely across ‘bridges’ formed from logs or narrow foot-wide planks or even by boats. I took the safest route, which is a 20-minute boat ride, skillfully maneuvered through the river using oars, courtesy of one of the students.
This learning centre has about forty students. Due to its proximity to the river, this centre constantly faces the inconvenience of high tides when classrooms on the ground floor have to move and merge with the one on the higher floor. This disrupts the flow of lessons of the respective classes. However, the spirit of the students to learn and the teachers to impart knowledge is never waned.
Contributed by Chan Bee Leng