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How I got involved in Penan pre-schools

November 2015 | by Lim Siok Hong

‘What do you want me to do, Lord?’ I wept, as I knelt before the Lord. I had just read the front page report, for 11 September 2009, in The Star, a Malaysian newspaper.

It was about the rape of Penan schoolgirls and women by timber company workers in the Baram District of Sarawak. Seeking the Lord, the overwhelming impression upon my heart was that I had to do something. I had to go to interior Sarawak and do whatever I could to help the Penan.

Hearing that the Sarawak Women for Women Society was organising a team to go and teach the Penan women how to protect themselves, I tried to get in the team but was not accepted.

Burden

On seeking the Lord further, I was led to form an NGO in 2010 with the objective of helping the indigenous peoples of Sarawak in the area of education. There are many indigenous groups in Sarawak and the most marginalised is the Penan. Our priority then was the Penan.

Our beginning was very humble: a small group of women going to villages holding children’s Bible camps. The first village we ministered at was an Iban village called Long Lenei, about two hours by timber road from the town of Marudi.

Later trips covered Penan villages in the Baram District, such as Long Lunyim, Long Lamai, Batu Bungan, Long Iman, Long Lamam and Long Ajeng. Around this time, there was increasing awareness of the government’s aggressive effort to islamise pre-school children.

We began to consider setting up Christian pre-schools and, wherever possible, we included pre-school teacher training on our trips. In January 2012, we set up our first Penan pre-school in Long Lamai, with about 20 pupils.

Four women from the village agreed to be the teachers, using whatever teaching aids and books we were able to supply. The back portion of the church was used as the classroom. There was no furniture but, thank God, at the end of the year, it was provided through a Singaporean Christian.

As we served faithfully, Christian individuals and churches began to support our work. This enabled us to make more trips and bring Penan teachers to Kuching for training. Kuching Ministers’ Fellowship extended to us invaluable help through their Rural Sarawak Early Childhood Care and Education training programme.

Growth

To date, we have set up four Penan pre-schools. They are located in Long Lamai, Batu Bungan, Long Lamam and Long Ajeng. All these are church-based and the teaching of the Word of God is part of the curriculum.

To ensure that they develop into quality schools, regular supervision is carried out. This is done mainly by Siok Hong and Siok Yam, who visit the schools at least three times a year.

Each visit may last from two weeks to a month, during which the teachers receive guidance in daily lesson planning and execution, as well as have daily devotions with the supervisor.

Apart from setting up pre-schools, we also try to help the Penan improve their livelihood, when manpower, resources and funds are available. In Long Lamam, we started a chicken rearing project, so that we can provide better food for the pupils. In Long Ajeng, we are currently helping to provide piped water to the villagers.

‘What is that in your hand?’ the Lord asked Moses, when commissioning him to go and deliver the Israelites from Egypt. On that basis, I started the work. What are my skills and experience? I started with those; I am responsible only for what I can do. God is responsible for what I cannot do — including miracles!

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Malaysia