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One School Uniform

19/09: One school uniform for a whole week

Category: General

Posted by: Raja Petra

Borneo Post

Penan student lives with bare necessities at boarding school; some stop studying due to ‘hurtful’ teasing

KUCHING: Every school day, 13-year-old Wendy Musa wears the same uniform which she washes once a week.

Even if it smells, she still has to wear it till Friday afternoon before she can do her laundry.

This is because she has no spare and her single mother cannot afford to buy her another.

This Penan girl from Ba’ Abang, Ulu Baram, Miri Division, aspires to be a teacher but is uncertain of her future because she doesn’t know how long her mother can continue supporting her in secondary school.

This teenager is the eldest in a family of six siblings and her mother has no other source of income to support the family except self-sufficient farming.

“My mum is jobless and had to ask my uncle for some money to meet my schooling needs early this year.

“My uncle is not working too, so I don’t know how he manages,” she told The Borneo Post recently near her school – SMK Temenggong Datuk Lawai Jau – in Long San, Ulu Baram.

Long San, a Kenyah village is about 240km from Miri and accessible through logging tracks by four-wheel drive vehicles over a six-hour journey.

Some 20 Kenyah, Kayan and Penan villages along the

River depend on Long San – which has a health clinic, primary and secondary schools, coffeeshops and grocery stores, public telephones and two churches – for their survival.

Wendy lost her father in an accident at a timber camp where he worked in 2005.

Her village Ba’ Abang is about six hours on foot – plus another four-wheel-drive through logging tracks – to Long San where her boarding school is located.

“I don’t have mattress to sleep on because I’m orphaned,” she said.

“My mum can’t afford to buy me one. I just sleep on the wooden bed,” she claimed.

According to Wendy, all boarding students have to bring their own mattresses, pillows and blankets and buy their own uniforms and shoes. Their hostel provides only double-decker beds.

“My mum can afford to buy me only one set of uniform, a pair of socks and shoes and a school bag. Only those who have money can sleep on mattresses and have pillows and extra things. Thank goodness, the hostel provides us with meals,” she added.

Wendy was embarrassed to admit she only washed her uniform once a week as she had no spare should she do her laundry everyday.

She also has only one school T-shirt, a pair of tracksuits for physical education which also serves as her after-school casual wear and pyjamas, and a pair of slippers.

“I have neither pencil nor pen. I lost them recently. So I have to borrow from my friend to do my schoolwork,” she said.

Wendy has to make do with whatever she has at the moment. Since she does have money to buy toothpaste, she just brushes her teeth without it.

On Sundays, she attends the church and wears her only white school uniform shirt, a pair of tracksuit and slippers.

Wendy is not alone. Her schoolmate Resening Son is also being raised by her single mother. Her parents divorced a few years ago.

This 15-year-old Penan girl is from Long Ajeng, three hours through logging tracks and another hour by longboat to Long San.

“On foot, it will take me weeks to go to Long San from my village,” she said.

Resening admitted she had been quite fortunate in that her mother bought her a mattress and a pillow as rewards for doing well in school last year.

“I don’t have a blanket yet. It can be quite cold some nights but I’m used to it, I guess. Our hostel has double decker beds.”

Her mother plants padi and gathers rattan to make handcrafts to be sold at Long San to support the family. Resening has two younger siblings.

“There is a fund of RM30 a year to help Penan students. But I don’t think it’s enough because our school T-shirt alone costs RM18,” she said.

Like Wendy, she too has one set of uniform, one school T-shirt, a pair of tracksuit, a pair of shoes, socks and slippers.

“Only the better off can afford two sets of uniform,” she said.

Resening added that the school provided free text books but students had to buy their own exercise books and stationery.

Besides their limited schooling essentials, Resening pointed out that Penan students were often teased or looked down by other students.

“Some tease us for being illiterate (tak kenal bahasa), not developed and all kinds of things. Sometimes, these cause some of us to fight back.

“But some of us are so used of these hurtful words that we just ignore them.”

She said some Penan students stopped going to school because they could not stand the teasing.

“I used to skip schools because of the teasing and sometimes I just missed my home. But I’ve not skipped school this year.

Resening will be sitting for her Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) soon and is determined to prove she is literate and can do better than those who tease her.

She hopes to score two As for her favourite subjects – Geography and History – and Bs for the rest of the subjects.

“I hope to be a teacher too – a geography teacher – because I like maps,” she said.


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