The global economy is slashing and burning its way into Borneo’s rainforests with the expansion of logging, mono-crop plantations, and large hydro dams onto indigenous lands. The Penan, among the world’s last nomadic hunter-gathers, have been forced into settlements and left with few resources. They are organizing to save the remaining forests and educate their children to defend native lands and heritage.
From 2005 to 2015, the Borneo Project channeled financial and volunteer support for the early childhood education programs of Partners for Community Organizations (PACOS) of Sabah, thanks in large part to the generosity of Bay Area philanthropist Katherine Randolph. PACOS’s programs include community preschools, called Community Learning Centers, as well as teacher training, indigenous language educational materials, and networking programs for remote communities.
In 2007, the Borneo Project responded to requests from three Penan communities that were organizing to protect remaining forests and educate their children to defend their lands and cultural heritage. These communities wanted to establish local schools with bilingual teachers who could prepare their children for Malay-only elementary schools in the regional town centers.
With Borneo Project and PACOS support, the communities of Long Belok, Long Latei and Ba Abang renovated old buildings and created classrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, libraries, and playgrounds. Their schools now serve roughly one hundred Penan children who are taught in both Penan and Malay languages. Each village elects two teachers who receive basic training in early childhood education. PACOS also supplies teaching materials, art supplies, and daily food for the children. The Borneo Project and others also helped create innovative Penan language books for the children and their families.
In 2015, PACOS coordinated sufficient long-term funding for the schools so that Borneo Project support is no longer critical.
For more information, see PACOS’s web page on their Community Learning Centres.