PHL Embassy Led Opening of Alternative Learning Center for Filipino Children in Sabah, Committed to Filipino Community Welfare

22 February 2013 – The Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur is committed to and focused on uplifting the welfare of Filipinos in Sabah, said Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya during the grace opening of the Stairway to Hope (STH) Learning Center in Kota Kinabalu on February 16.

"The Philippines and Malaysia are neighboring countries, and have a shared neighborhood. This presents both opportunities as well as challenges, some of which are very complex and take time to resolve. There are also some challenges which are urgent and require attention now, such as the need to provide basic education for our children. The Embassy is working hard and is committed to addressing them and uplifting our community's welfare," he said.

Children of undocumented migrant families in Sabah have limited access to local public schools, including thousands of Filipino children.

In a statement issued on February 20, Senator Francis "Chiz" Escudero urged the Aquino administration to prioritize the welfare of Filipinos in Sabah amid the controversy arising from some 180 Filipino-Muslims, with armed escorts, in Lahad Datu.

Upon the Embassy's encouragement, Filipino-Malaysian community leaders led by STH Project Manager Marilou Chin and assistant chairperson Levi Bation undertook the initiative and provided RM6,000 (around US$2,000) as seed money to start the learning center.

What started as a simple area in a private home with 40 pupils in June 2012 has grown into a center with three classrooms, providing lessons on English, Mathematics, Malay, and good manners and right conduct to around 100 children, aged between six to 16 years old. It has four teachers and five alternate teachers, all working on a volunteer basis. The center also moved into a house around 500 meters from the original area, which was renovated through donations from the Filipino-Malaysian community and other individuals.

"The Embassy commends the teachers and staff of the STH center for their perseverance, tireless efforts and selfless desire to help our youngsters," the Ambassador said.

Other Filipino community members in other areas have similarly opened alternative learning centers, including the Stairways to Success learning center in Sandakan, led by Filipino community leader Vic Moran.

The Embassy has also entered into partnership with various nongovernmental organizations in accommodating more Filipino school-age children, notably the Humana Borneo Child Aid Society, headed by Danish Torben Venning, which operate some 120 school in Sabah's vast oil palm plantations, as well as with the Indonesian nongovernmental organization Yayasan Perduli Pendidikan Anak Indonesia (Indonesian Children Education Awareness Foundation), and with Persatuan Kabajikan Pendidikan Kanak-Kanak Miskin (Society for the Education of Needy Children), headed by Filipina-Muslim Rosalyn Dawila-Venning.

In October last year, a five-person team from the Department of Education and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas undertook a needs-assessment survey in Sabah and lined up support programs for the centers.

Through the joint efforts by the Embassy and the Filipino community, the STH was able to get support from other organizations based in Malaysia, as well as in the Philippines. For one, the Rotary Club of Cubao Sunrise provided desktop computers and learning software for use as teaching tools, and is looking into the possibility of conducting e-classes via Skype.

"The main achievement of the center is the impressive learning progress of its students. Parents and the teachers marveled at the progress made by the children since the soft opening of the STH in June last year," Ms. Chin said.

The Embassy is also working on initiatives to enable undocumented Filipinos to obtain Filipino birth certificates, notably on late registration basis.

"We have brought along the Philippines' National Statistics Office (NSO) during our consular missions in Sabah last November. In addition to providing passports and travel documents to our nationals, we are undertaking the civil registration process to provide proper documentation to our nationals," he stated.

During his visit to Kota Kinabalu, Ambassador Malaya also addressed the some 400 Filipino community leaders and members, and Malaysian guests at the first formal dinner hosted by the Federation of Filipino Associations in Malaysia (FFAM)-Sabah, the newly-formed umbrella organization of Filipino community associations in Malaysia. END