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Protect And Support A Safe Educational Space For Vulnerable Stateless Children At Pulau Omadal – CSO Platform for Reform

The CSO Platform for Reform says action must be taken to protect and support alternative and safe education spaces for all children, especially for stateless, marginalised children when government facilities are not yet accessible for all children.

Photo from Liga Rakyat Demokratik Facebook post dated December 7, 2023.

In response to a Facebook posting that surfaced on December 20, 2023, objecting to the establishment of Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal on Pulau Omadal, the CSO Platform for Reform (Sabah Chapter) and Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal are calling on the Madani government to stay true to its commitments to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that every child in Malaysia should never be left behind and have a right to education.

Action must be taken to protect and support alternative and safe education spaces for all children, especially for stateless, marginalised children when government facilities are not yet accessible for all children.

This joint statement aims to clear misconceptions that are dangerous and harmful to the organisation and the local community.

Iskul, contrary to some claims, is not established without permission; it has garnered support from the authorities and obtained permission to operate from then-JKKK (Jawatankuasa Kemajuan dan Keselamatan Kampung) of Omadal, Haji Jimlan and the then-District Officer of Semporna, Dr Chaco Hj Bulah.

The 2017 letter of support was further copied to relevant authorities such as the Education Department, Unit Pemimpin Pembangunan Masyarakat, police, marine police and state assembly-persons.

Iskul was co-founded with the participation of the local community, specifically the children and women, in 2015.

Iskul’s mission extends beyond providing education to stateless children of the Bajau Laut community; it is committed to advocating education for all children, including the children of Pulau Omadal.

It is important to note that Iskul was co-founded along the local community with a community participatory approach, particularly with the residents of Semporna from Pulau Omadal Hujung where the young residents themselves were the first teachers, mainly children from the community in Omadal who laid the first foundations of Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal.

Iskul later engaged Cikgu Jefry and other teachers at the request of its young teacher and co-founder, a resident of Omadal, to join the school to teach and guide them.

In addition to basic education, Iskul organises diverse community-based programmes such as aktiviti sukaneka (sports activities), pesta kebudayaan (cultural activities), content creation, first aid services, medical checkups, and gotong royong (communal activities) that also involve the local residents of Pulau Omadal where positive impact on the community and the environment has been commended.

The current Iskul staff consists of eight individuals who are residents of Omadal. In ensuring that decisions are made in consultation with the resident community, Iskul actively engages with various community issues.

These range from waste management and community beach clean-ups to providing food baskets to the locals and stateless individuals during challenging times, such as the pandemic.

Iskul’s establishment of a community health centre is also centred around making healthcare accessible to all without discrimination, offering free health check-ups to both local residents and the Bajau Laut community.

Furthermore, the historical context of Semporna and the Sulu Sea must be recognised where the Bajau Laut community has existed for a long time, living as sea nomads. 

The Sulu sea and its surrounding islands have been their home tracing back to almost a thousand years, historically only coming ashore for trading purposes or to shelter from storms.

CSO Platform for Reform entrusts the government in their wisdom to resolve the issue of their statelessness, and firmly calls for authorities and individuals to stop intimidating and harassing the teachers of Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal who believe that every child deserves a safe space, access to basic education regardless of their background, and rejects any form of discrimination to access basic human rights.

 Therefore, we call on the government to:

  • Protect and support alternative and safe education spaces for all children, particularly stateless children.
  • Intervene and ensure Iskul’s safe operation along with the safety of its teachers.
  • Prioritise dialogues and understanding over intimidation and threats. Offer collaborative alternative solutions with Iskul instead of fully denying and rejecting without understanding.

We stand united in urging the government to protect Iskul Sama DiLaut Omadal and acknowledge them for their efforts in nurturing children that have been marginalised and denied basic human rights without discrimination.

This statement is endorsed by 38 local residents of Pulau Omadal Hujung, 67 CSOs, and 20 individuals.

CSO Platform for Reform is a coalition of more than 60 community service organisations (CSOs) focusing on Institutional Reform in Malaysia.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Ova.

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