Kuching’s education centre strives to bring stateless kids out of the shadows


Tracy accompanies the children during breakfast.

IN the heart of Kuching, amidst the tranquil Swee Joo Park at Sky Garden Road, stands a sanctuary of hope and education – the Persatuan Pendidikan D’wira.

Founded in August 2009 by Jap Siew Moi, this non-profit Montessori education centre was established with a noble mission: to break the cycle of poverty through the provision of quality education.

Over the years, around 250 children have benefitted from this humble institution.

At D’wira, education is more than just academics; it is a lifeline for the current 68 children, aged four to 19, striving to break free from the shackles of poverty.

The majority of them come from families of daily-wage workers, but there is another challenge – 62 per cent of them are ‘stateless’.

Jap (standing, left) with fellow teachers: Dora, on her left, and (sitting, from left) Tracy, Theresa and Fuller.

Burdensome situation

The heart of their struggle lies in the bureaucratic labyrinth faced by their families – the fathers being Malaysian, and the mothers being either Indonesian or Filipino, many of whom are without proper documentation, resulting in stateless children.

“The mothers are either without documents, or they do possess passports but have overstayed, leading to failure to legitimately register their marriages in Malaysia.

“Consequently, the children are classified as stateless, despite having been born in this country,” says Jap, adding that there are three children who were born in Indonesia, but are now living in Kuching with their parents.

The process of overturning their stateless status, while possible, proves to be burdensome, due to certain major challenges such as time constraints, problem in transport to go to the relevant offices, and fear of dealing with the authorities.

Jap says that the centre does assist families in applying for birth certificates for the children, but adds that the once-straightforward process has now become more and more complicated.

“The resulting pink birth certificate, when they are issued, explicitly states the children’s non-citizen status, detailing only the information of the mothers; thus, classifying the children according to their mothers’ nationalities.

“The centre’s assistance involves facilitating the inclusion of information of the fathers, which used to be a relatively straightforward process and would conclude within a short period.

“Now, the applicants have to endure a six-month waiting period, undergo the mandatory DNA testing, which proves to be financially burdensome for the families, and go through a series of bureaucratic steps involving filling out the National Registration Department (JPN) forms, swearing-in ceremonies, and making repeated trips to the offices and departments.

“In certain cases, the mothers are required to return to their countries of origin to renew their passports and register their marriages before applying for the birth certificates for their children upon their return.

“This process is overwhelming, causing many families to just give up,” Jap explains.

Ray of light

The objective of D’wira’s establishment is to help children from low-income households that cannot afford tuition.

The centre later expanded its scope to include stateless children, irrespective of their financial status. Jap says the monthly fee is only RM20 per child, but the centre still goes out to accommodate children whose parents are unable to pay this amount.

Even with the recent ‘relaxation’ announced by the government that allows a child with one Malaysian parent to attend school, many challenges persist, says Jap.

She highlights the struggles faced in registering the children for regular schools, namely the requirements for them to provide additional documents such as the valid passports of their mothers and marriage certificates.

“In October last year, one of our students, a 16-year-old girl, got to enter Form 4 at a regular school, after her Malaysian aunt was granted legal guardianship of the child.

“This transition posed a considerable challenge for a 16-year-old girl, who was already burdened with the unfamiliarity of a regular schooling environment,” she adds.

Nonetheless, Jap says D’wira stays determined in easing the transitional process, by way of comprehensively preparing its students for entry into government schools.

The centre allocates a section as a reading corner for the children.

Jap prides over the centre’s achievements, sharing success stories of a number of students whom it has assisted in registering into the regular schools.

“These students have performed exceptionally well, some even better than those who have been in the mainstream education system for years.

“There was this time when a school principal called to inquire about D’wira’s unique approach.

“At D’wira, our primary and secondary education aligns with the government school’s syllabus. The personalised learning environment enables children to progress at their own pace, either individually or in small groups, ensuring that each child receives maximum attention.

“The centre has created customised workbooks to tailor the studies for the children, and also incorporated technology, such as PowerPoint, into their Mathematics lessons for a dynamic learning experience,” she says, adding that in the last six years, the centre has enrolled eight students into regular schools.

The centre incorporates technology into its lessons for a dynamic learning experience.

Photo shows the customised workbooks used for the lessons.

Initiatives and challenges

D’wira actively engages students in many activities such as educational trips, motivational camps, and also regular birthday celebrations, despite the limited budget, says Jap.

“Every year, we organise outings for our students. We do our best in providing what we can to give the best learning experiences to them.

“We hold combined birthday celebrations quarterly, though, because we cannot afford to have it every month,” she recalls.

However, there is another challenge – D’wira lacks specialised teachers to teach children with special needs.

Jap herself is a teacher at the centre, alongside four others: Theresa Tunung, Tracy Tukok, Fuller Kading and Dora Siban.

Outings are conducted regularly to give the children the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and broaden their perspectives beyond the classroom.

Operating from 7.30am to 11.30am for the morning class, and 12.45pm to 4.15pm in the afternoon, the centre goes out to ensure an environment conducive to learning and also one that is comfortable, with air-conditioned classrooms.

“We also have two vans to provide transportation to the students – a way to maintain regular attendance.

“The dedication extends to providing them with breakfast, as some children often arrive without first having any meal at home.

“The centre also supplies milk to all the children, as many of them had stopped drinking milk at a young age,” says Jap.

D’wira provides free transport for its students.

Community support

Jap says the centre is relying on donations to cover its monthly running cost, amounting to RM10,000.

“Last year, for the first time, we received a government grant of RM15,000,” she reveals.

Jap emphasises that the centre operates purely on charitable grounds, devoid of religious affiliations, as 40 per cent of the children at D’wira are from Muslim families.

In this respect, she says the centre has been receiving solid support from like-minded organisations such as Dignity for Children in Kuala Lumpur, Breakthrough Network in Kuching, and Hope Place Kuching.

“These allies provide D’wira with teaching resources, training and essential food items.

“Friends and organisations that share the same cause contribute additional funding, essentials in helping to cover our monthly running cost.”

Still, Jap says despite their impactful work, D’wira remains relatively unknown.

“We do rely on word of mouth to garner more support and awareness for D’wira to continue with its noble mission.”

Classes are being conducted at the Persatuan Pendidikan D’wira’s premises at Swee Joo Park, at Sky Garden Road in Kuching.

Looking ahead

Jap says it is her heartfelt wish for all the children to eventually attend regular schools, breaking the cycle of statelessness for future generations.

“If these children continued to be stateless, we would continue to have generations of stateless children coming in.

“It is a vicious cycle that must be broken.

“In this regard, D’wira stands as a testament to the transformative power of education.

“With strong support from the community, like-minded organisations and dedicated individuals, the centre remains a source of hope, helping to open a brighter future to children who would otherwise be left in the shadows of societal neglect,” says Jap.