I have been asked many times to explain what are the Etania schools of Sabah.
Etania means the power or greatness of God. The Etania schools of Sabah come under Matakana Educational Society which was set up to help the stateless and marginalised children of Sabah get an education.
Sabah is a Malaysian state located on the northern tip of the big island of Borneo. The Etania schools are located all over this state mainly on plantations or in small towns.
Many migrant workers come to Sabah to work in the plantations or small towns so they can earn enough to give their families a decent living. Sabah also needs these workers as there are not enough local workers. The children of migrant labourers often born in Sabah are nonpersons for they cannot get any birth certificate from Malaysia nor from the nation of origin due to the fact they have no documents. No one acknowledges many of these children and so they fall into spaces of nonexistence.
In Sabah, there are many thousands of stateless children who have become marginalised due to their status. These are mainly the innocent children of illegal or legal Indonesian migrant labourers who come to Sabah to seek an income on the plantations so they can have a decent life. The Etania schools are learning centres for the children of these migrant labourers who have no access to education until a school begins for them. They are not permitted by law to go to a local school.
Children with no documents and no papers live as non-persons and this alarming situation has been allowed to expand in Sabah. Children without access to education and health facilities must never happen. It is the right of the child to get an education among numerous other rights as set out by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Etania schools run a full school learning program 6 days a week with all the necessary curriculum subjects. In these learning centres children have safety, security and happiness enjoying their right to learn.
The programs are led by an educational consultant and we run many teachers training programs collectively for those teachers who have documents and can travel. For those who can't travel due lack of personal documents, they receive training in their school. Children cannot move around as they will be caught by authorities and put in a lock up before repatriation to a neighbouring country. These children often born in Sabah actually belong to no country and no one wants them. Many have no birth certificate hence belong to no nation.
They love to come to school to be with friends and to learn. Etania began in 2009 and now there are even students who have completed year 9 of education. Children come as illiterates at any age but they learn remarkably due to their incredible desire to be a part of the learning process. It is such an exciting experience to see these stateless children flourish and learn academic as well as living and life skills programs that are of benefit to them.
We also encourage teachers to implement programs such as sewing, cooking etc so that in the future should the children need to supplement their family income they always have some way to earn money. Children in one of the schools can already sew their school shirts/blouses.
Etania has more than 500 students under its care and all of these students and young people as you can see in the photos I post are happy and healthy under the schools system. We get donations from friends in my town and from people who are kind enough to donate pencils and exercise books and other school equipment. One school in Kota Kinabalu collects pencils that students no longer use and we pass them to our students. Recycled exercise books are needed all the time. Friends from as far away as NZ, Japan, Kuala Lumpur and Indonesia are also regular donors to our schools. The books they give us are a treasure.
If anyone in the world can donate new or used stationery to our schools we would be very grateful.
If we can achieve our goals of giving hope to our children preparing them for a useful and beneficial life ahead we feel happy that their future is brighter than perhaps that of their parents.
What we really need is a mini school bus so that we can bring into school many more students who cannot come to school due to the costs of transportation. Teachers can drive the bus in the morning going around the outlying villages picking up the little children and in the afternoon take them back to their homes.
Best wishes from all the children and teachers of the Etania schools of Sabah. And special thanks to all our kind donors.