Who here has complained about going to school at some point in your youth? Admit it – that seemed like the hardest thing to do when you were young. You probably whined about having to wake up early, carrying heavy school bags, doing dreadful homework or even teachers who terrified you. Learning is one of the things we sometimes take for granted. But it’s not the only one.
To some people in other parts of the world, going to school is a luxury that not everyone can afford. Maybe these communities don’t have enough teachers to support the children, or perhaps they lack a proper classroom with basic necessities like tables, chairs and notebooks – stuff that we don’t think twice about purchasing.
In Batam, Indonesia, the number of free public schools are far and few between – the total number isn’t sufficient to support Batam’s population. The overcrowding of Batam’s schools affects the quality of education, and those at the greatest disadvantage often end up being those children living in slums or squatter compounds don’t always have access to proper education.
But one school is striving to make a difference in what seems like an impossible situation. Sekolah Misi Bagi Bangsa (MBB) originated in a squatter compound called Sri Binti Tanjung Uncang in July 2009. Founded by Principal Everly and his wife, Jeguelin, the school was conceptualised when the couple felt they had a life calling to help underprivileged children receive an education. Their aim was to support the government’s programme to raise national education standards and give parents an alternative to regular public schools.
School fees at MBB cost SGD$7 a month and is used for teachers’ salaries and class materials. This may seem like small sum to many of us, but in a place where much of the population still lives below the poverty line, some parents may still be unable to afford the fees. In order to ensure that kids from the poorest of families still can get an education, MBB allows parents who cannot afford the fees pay by instalments or by helping out at the school.
In the seven years since, MBB has come a long way from its humble roots – starting out with 22 children in 2009, the student population has grown into its current number of 550. Catering to kids from kindergarten level through to secondary school, the institution is now supported by a staff of 28 teachers and has even moved into a new home with two floors of dedicated classrooms.
Everly and Jeguelin are immensely proud of how far their school has come, but they’re not content to just provide a better education for the children; the school also looks after the children’s health and character development. With MBB’s expansion, the couple is now looking into creating jobs for the parents to further improve the locals’ quality of life.
They have plans to convert part of the old school compound into a small sewing enterprise for the parents. This includes setting up a sewing establishment where women can learn how to sew school uniforms, which can then be supplied to MBB and other local schools. The men will also have their part to play by taking charge of the packing and distribution side.
This initiative will give the local community complete ownership of the production process, from start to finish, and also help to foster stronger ties among the families. They say it takes a village to raise a child – in time, MBB hopes this modest community project will be able to raise a generation out of poverty.