An Indigenous Learning Centre on the Rise

Published: 25 July 2014

Colin | COAC | 25 July 2014

The construction of the community learning centre at Kampung Ulu Tual is nearing completion – at least as far as the main structure is concerned. It is turning out to be one of the largest, if not the largest, community-initiated and community-built traditional structures that we have ever seen in Orang Asli communities.

The structure was deemed necessary after the community had decided to go along with the proposal by Jenita and Ewok to start an early childhood programme there (the next post will give this story).  Because the village did not have a decent ‘classroom’ to conduct the classes, or at least one where they had full control over, the community decided they would build one.

Community Consensus and Involvement

Several village-level discussions were held at the beginning of this year and one of the early consensus decisions was to incorporate the classroom into a multi-use community centre.  The community also wanted a place where they could have big gatherings, traditionalsewangs (or sings). That is, some kind of multi-purpose community hall-cum-Balai Adat.

Ewok, coming from a theatre and arts background, also suggested a ‘theaterette’. And because meals for the children need to be cooked, or in anticipation of kenduris, a kitchen and larder were also put into the plan. Plus a library and the teacher’s quarters. All these were inciorporated into the design.

The plan was drawn on paper to scale. The length of the building would be 120 feet (35m). It would also be 80 feet (25m) at its broadest. A 3D model of the building was made so that everyone could visualize what it would look like and give more suggestions.

Work teams

Once the final OK was given, they started organizing themselves. They had also decided that they would source their main building materials from their surroundings. Work teams were then set up for the sourcing of timber beams for the structural frame, bamboo slats and strips for the floor and walls, rattan vines for lashings and bindings, and also people to supervise the kitchen and the provision of meals (breakfast and lunch) during each of the work days.

 Somehow nobody bothered to find out where the money for the must-be-bought materials was going to come from. Spandex sheets for the roofs alone cost RM12,000.00. Then there was cement, sand, stones, nuts & bolts, nails, carpentry tools, diesel (for the chainsaws and generator), fuel for transport, rations and supplies for the meals and even rental fees for a bulldozer to prepare the ground.

It is the first project we were involved in where the project actually started without any firm funding. But we couldn’t stop them as the community was keen to start work (this was in February) and they wanted to complete the whole construction project by September.

Money matters

Fortunately a couple of organizations had approached COAC wanting to know of deserving projects to fund. This resulted in crucial seed money from (the leftover funds of) SOS Selangor and the Rotary Club of Shah Alam.  Friends who knew of the project then contributed too. We received donations in kind (food rations, loads of plates and cups) from friends at Gethsemani Friary. And our JOAS partner in Sabah, Tonibung, donated a 3kw diesel generator.

Even so, at this stage, the building project is RM31,000.00 in the red. But the project as a whole (i.e. including the education and community learning component) is about RM70,000.00 short of its budget for this year (see coming post for more details).

The community has received pledges from a few parties (for both the construction and the actual early education project). But it is not money in the hands, which they need now. So we have stepped up our sourcing for the needed funds.

Sze Ning, our fitness buff associate has gotten her gym to organize a fund-raising workout in early August. The DAP, through their ‘Impian Malaysia’ programme, has committed itself to paying for the cost of the construction of the 8 toilet-cum-bath units, together with ‘labour’ from their interns. 

Others have volunteered their professional time (architectural, electrical). We are helping to send out the community’s proposal and budget to potential donors and also to people who know of potential donors.

It is good that there is a lot of support from various peoples. The Ulu Tual community’s commitment to the project is very strong and they have not slackened in doing their part. And we certainly do not want to tell them to slow down because this and that has not been sourced yet.

More photos on the construction of the learning centre available at this link:

[Photography by Colin Nicholas, Ricklend Christopher, Ewok Perai, Jenita Engi & Han Poojah]