Getting stateless kids off the streets and into school

Mission to mend: (From right) DFC chairperson Grace Yii, Lau and Jaban in one of the classrooms for stateless children.

SIBU: There were teary eyes as pupils at the Destiny for Children (DFC) Association Sibu cried while hugging their teachers when they departed for their semester break.

This has been a common scene as the children prefer not to have a holiday break.

DFC has become a second home to these stateless children. Due to their status, they have no access to a formal education.

Some of them are school dropouts while others are from broken families.

Excluded from the education system, the children are left without recognised credentials, social networks, mentors or peer support.

As they had nowhere to go, they ended up as street children, loitering around their neighbourhood slums.

At DFC, they get much love and care. Above all, they also get an education.

DFC acts as a school and shelter for these children and also serves as a place for them to find their footing.

Stateless children are welcome to attend until their parents can get their documentation done with the authorities.

As for the parents, DFC advises and counsels them on the importance of obtaining a birth certificate, returning to their home country or getting the child’s citizenship settled.

It all started in 2012 when a caring man brought them hope.

The late Chris Tang felt he had to do something to help stateless kids and school dropouts.

Together with some friends, he set up DFC – a non-profit organisation and also an NGO registered with the Registrar of Societies.

Their next task was to convince parents on the importance of an education for their children.

It was a task tougher than setting up a physical centre. Association treasurer Anne Lau recalled that Tang, who died in 2020, and his friends had to knock on every door to meet the parents.

Most parents were initially very apprehensive. Due to their lack of legal status, they felt that putting their kids at DFC would put them at risk of arrest and detention.

“These kids were living in the slum areas of Jalan Merlin, Jalan Tiong Hua, Jalan Punai, Belian Lane and surroundings,” said Lau.

“They found out that there were more stateless children than school dropouts.

“The kids were of primary school-going age but never even entered kindergarten. Some of them, like a 15-year-old girl, had never stepped into a school,” she added.

From the initial 20 pupils, the centre’s student body has swelled to 123 currently, making up a melting pot of closely-knit students aged between seven and 16 from various races, religions and nationalities.

Besides stateless children, the population includes foreign children whose parents are working as construction workers or general workers, school dropouts from national schools, and street children who never had the chance to go to school due to extreme poverty.

For dropouts, DFC provides a safer and easier environment for them to regain their confidence before returning to the national curriculum.

Principal Pauline Rogers Jaban said the children are taught subjects like mathematics, Bahasa Melayu, mandarin, moral, science, physical exercise and sports.

Every classroom is made up of children of mixed ages. Many of them now know how to read, write and count when they previously could not.

Upon completing their studies, they would receive a confirmation letter of attendance to affirm that they had studied at DFC.

“Our syllabus is based on the national primary school curriculum, but lessons are carefully tailored to meet the learning abilities and skills of the children.

“The medium of instruction here is Bahasa Malaysia, but we are progressing to using English fully soon,” said Jaban.

DFC receives contributions from some parents who can afford the RM25 school fee. Funds for the day-to-day running of the centre, Lau said, come from local community donations.

“We have a lot of Good Samaritans and donors who want to remain anonymous. Companies are also supporting us financially,” she added.

DFC’s staff includes a principal, 10 teachers and an administrator.

Lau said they will be moving to a new and bigger place soon that could accommodate up to 130 children.

It intends to set up a computer lab to expose the children to science and technology and encourage them to take STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects more seriously.

“We are appealing to the public to support us in our new venture. We welcome and appreciate monetary donations,” said Lau.

With additional funding, DFC will be able to set up a follow-up programme that tracks the performance of these children after they leave the centre.

It would also help them to tailor the curriculum accordingly, she added.

As for the future of the centre, Lau said: “When we no longer have undocumented children, only then can we consider that we have met our objectives. We hope to see this happen one day.”

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Human Interest , SGHA , Golden Hearts


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