Danish-directed NGO Opens New Schools for Sea Gypsies in Borneo

By Rikke Bruntse-Dahl

Wednesday 23 March 2011 saw the official opening of two new Borneo Child Aid Society schools for children of the stateless Bajau Laut people in the Semporna area in Borneo.

A delegation, which included the Danish director of Borneo Child Aid Society Torben Venning, the German ambassador to Malaysia Dr. Guenter Grueber, and representatives from HSBC Malaysia and the German company Knorr-Bremse, braved the incessant rain to travel across the remote island, Pantau Pantau, to cut the ribbon to a new school for Bajau Laut – sea gypsy – children. The event also marked the opening of Borneo Child Aid Society’s new boat school.

The Borneo Child Aid Society is an independent non-profit NGO, based in Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. The organisation is providing education for over 9,000 children, who have no access to school because of poverty, distance or legal status. These are mainly children of Indonesian and Philippine palm oil plantation workers and now also children of the Bajau Laut communities around Semporna.

Torben Venning, the Danish director of the Borneo Child Aid Agency, said:
“We believe that all children have the right to basic education, wherever they come from and whatever their situation is. If it wasn’t for these new learning centres, the children here today would be selling plastic bags or fish in the market – they wouldn’t be in school. They deserve the opportunity to learn so, if they wish, they can study further and to participate in the wider society in which they live.”

The Bajau Laut are indigenous people who traditionally have not enrolled their children in school due to their nomadic lifestyle and stateless status. The majority live on their boats between Mindanao, Sabah and Sulawesi, while thousands have settled and live in stilt houses on remote islands. Most Bajau Laut children have no birth registration, which means they cannot enrol in Malaysian state schools.
The new school in Pantau Pantau and the boat school, which is based around the Bajau Laut island of Halo will provide education for around 350 of these children.

HSBC Malaysia and German Knorr-Bremse have supported Borneo Child Aid Society through sponsorships, which include covering costs of teaching staff, teaching materials and the construction of these two schools as well a third one, which is yet to be built.

To find out more, visit www.borneochildaid.org/

Photographer: Rikke Bruntse-Dahl

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