We have the incredible privilege of living and working for a season in a beautiful and diverse country and up to this point we have spent remarkably little time exploring it. That is about to change with Steve’s new role which will actually involve working outside of the confines of a classroom. Yesterday we made the first of those exploratory forays into an area a few hours to the north of Kuala Lumpur with about thirty Taylors’ students involved in a CSI (Corporate Service Initiative).  The young people had planned a day of volunteering at the Orang Asli Education Center which is run by a not for profit organization called SEMOA committed to improving the livelihood of the orang asli children, through access to education.

There are eighteen aboriginal tribes in Peninsular Malaysia. Their lifestyle is much influenced by the culture of Malay people whom they frequently come into contact with. They tend to be labeled “primitive” and “backward” by the larger ethnic groups. They are traditionally gatherers and hunters who make their homes in the jungle. Many today are engaged in farming but some also work as labourers in urban areas. They believe in the existence of a spirit-filled world supernatural beings, ancestral spirits and demons. The school drop-out rates for these marginalized children is very high, predominantly due to the lack of peer and family support, and due to the lack of pre-school education to help the transition into primary education..

The Orang Asli Education Centre (OAEC) is built on a 6-acre piece of land and the hostel will accommodate up to fifty Orang Asli children from the interiors of Peninsular Malaysia, allowing them to attend local government schools. These children are cared for wholly by SEMOA staff, from daily meals, laundry, transportation and tuition. The plot of land on which the center is built also serves to raise some money through the farming and sale of durians and through raising fish to augment their food supply. SEMOA hopes that these efforts will ensure that students stay in school until they enter a tertiary education system. Educated Orang Asli’s will then be able to take leadership roles in the country and have a voice to advocate for their own rights, develop their communities and become contributing members of their country.

It was fun to see the Taylors students interact with the Orang Asli kids through games and crafts and sharing a special meal together of KFC.  This gave the students an opportunity to see firsthand a project that Taylors has raised funds to support over the past few years.