PAITAN – Had it not been the selfless and tireless efforts of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC), many of the children of hard-core families in the remote sub-districts of Paitan-Beluran, Sonsogon Magandai-Kota Marudu and Pensiangan-Keningau would not be sent to school.
These are some of the remotest areas in Sabah with a high level of hard-core poor families. They are accessible by roads but some villages are only accessible by boats.
Schooling here is not a priority even though education is free. Parents would rather spend their meagre income on food and other necessities and avoid sending the children to schools because of the high transportation costs. The pupils at the FSIC-run kindergartens are transported by car or by boat from their riverine houses to the centres.
Assessing the situation induced by the poverty-stricken living conditions of families in these remote regions, and the plight of children being robbed of their right to education, the FSICs decided that here is a situation in which they could help to plant a seed of hope in these children with their pre-school education centres.
In 2005, Sisters Dorothy and Hilary Laudi were assigned to Paitan-Beluran.
Sr Dorothy, who has just completed studies in Early Childhood Education, saw the need to set up a kindergarten at Kg Dalamas Paitan because there were many children aged 4-6 not in school.
The first private kindergarten was set up in Kg Dalamas with 32 children. Within days, the news of it spread in and around Paitan that a kindergarten has been set up, and people from other villages also requested to have one at their respective villages.
In 2006, another six kindergartens were opened in Paitan at Kg Sulit, Kg Rakanan, Kg Lakang, Kg Tawanan, Kg Batangon Darat, and Kg Lubang Buaya.
Kg Sonsogon Magandai, the furthest outstation in Kota Marudu district, needed one and it was set up in 2009.
In 2016, another kindergarten was set up at Kg Koiboton in Paitan. In the same year, the Sisters set up a kindergarten at Kg Tinanduk Nabawan. Another one is slotted to be set up in Pensiangan Proper in the near future.
Through the help of the FSICs and their benefactors, some of these children have gone on to enrol at the nearest primary school in their respective areas.
In fact, the first batch of kindergarten pupils of Kg Dalamas Paitan have now registered for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (GCE ‘O’ level equivalent) examination in November 2017.
The kindergartners pay no school fees nor buy any books. All, including the basic food and drink during break time, are provided. It takes roughly RM30,000 a year to maintain each centre and more than RM300,000 yearly for all existing ten kindergartens.
The FSIC-run kindergartens, which are non-profit making and recognised by the Ministry of Education, are funded entirely by the generosity of kind-hearted individuals, corporates, and FSIC benefactors, though they have received a small grant from the Government in the past.
According to Sr Dorothy, in spite of these efforts, it is truly sad to see that there are still many more children who cannot continue their primary education because their parents cannot afford to pay for the car or river transportation costs. Their parents are earning barely enough for their daily subsistence working as labourers in the oil palm plantations owned by mega companies or farmers in their own land.
Sr Dorothy has identified more children living in the deeper remote areas of Sabah that should not be robbed of their right to education but for financial constraints. She urges all government and private organisations, as well as donors to join forces to ensure that all children receive their right to education.
Those who wish to know more about the FSIC kindergarten mission and would like to lend a helping hand can contact Sister Dorothy @ 013 547 7525, Sister Grace Deosing @ 013 875 3713, or the FSIC Office, Loreto Convent @ 088 711991 (Sr Francisca Wong), or to write to firstname.lastname@example.org. – exclusive interview with sr dorothy laudi by catholic sabah