PETALING JAYA: Like most kids from her village, Nora Kantin dropped out of school because she was bullied for being an Orang Asli.
She is one of 18 women from around Malaysia who contributed to a new book, “Kami Pun Ada Hak Bersekolah: Wanita Orang Asli Bersuara” (We also have the right to attend school: Orang Asli women speak up).
The book describes these women’s experiences of bullying and discrimination while at school.
Nora, now 31, from the Temiar tribe in Kampung Lambok, Gua Musang, Kelantan, told FMT, “Other students would say things like they didn’t want to be friends with me because Orang Asli are smelly.”
A timid girl, she was upset by this and other recurring hurtful remarks.
Another contributor, Yaliyana Lenab, known as Yana, a Semelai tribeswoman from Kampung Batu Peti in Rompin, Negeri Sembilan, recalled how some of her schoolmates mocked her by saying Orang Asli eat frogs, monkeys and pigs.
“I used to get angry and answer them back, saying we wouldn’t insult them like that,” she said. “Eating these animals is our right.”
But it wasn’t only the children who bullied the Orang Asli students.
Yana, now 26, remembers a teacher in secondary school who always ignored her fellow Orang Asli classmates even if they were Muslim, and insulted non-Muslim Orang Asli.
That teacher was eventually sent for counselling and disciplined for being too one-sided.
Another co-author, Sylvia Ordina Othman, now a volunteer teacher at SK Segambut in Kuala Lumpur, didn’t personally face bullying like Yana and Nora.
But the problem of bullying is partly why she’s gone into education.
Sylvia, 22, from the Temiar tribe in Kampung Bal RPS in Gerik, Perak, said, “I think at least 50% of Orang Asli children today do not want to go to school.”
She blames this not only on bullying but also the long and arduous journeys to and from school.
The children have to wake up before sunrise to travel by bus, boat and four-wheel drive to get to their schools. Bad weather over the mountains and forests can make the journey even more difficult and exhausting than usual. Because of this, some choose to stay at boarding schools instead.
Sylvia told FMT, “I know of many instances when I was in secondary school where Orang Asli were not accepted by their fellow students, and many of them didn’t want to go to school anymore after that.”
Nora, now a mother of four, says nothing much has changed since her schooldays. Her kids get bullied and teased just like she did. One of her boys always has his shoes stolen at his boarding school.
“My other son is at secondary school. Bullies will try to cut his hair and rip his school shirts,” she said, adding that the culprits are Malay and Orang Asli students from other tribes.
The women’s book, published by the Freedom Film Network, was launched this week at Universiti Malaya.
They are hopeful it will prompt meaningful change and reduce the ongoing culture of bullying in schools for the Orang Asli.
They are optimistic and hopeful their stories will change things for the better.
If that results in just a few Orang Asli children having less stressful schooldays or dropping out altogether, they will feel they have achieved something positive.
The book will be available soon on freedomfilm.my for RM15. For more information, please email [email protected]