Today, Pakatan Rakyat Governments of Selangor, represented by YAB Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Abdul Khalib bin Ibrahim, Dato’ Mentri Besar Selangor, and Selangor Executive Councillor Elizabeth Wong, Penang State Government representatives DAP Member of Parliament and Sarawak State Assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen, Member of Parliament and DAP National Publicity Chief Tony Pua, Member of Parliament and PKR National Vice Chairman Tian Chua, together with Sarawak PKR State chief and Penan Lawyer Mr. Baru Bian (Penan lawyer), Organising Committee Chairman, PKR Central Committee (MPP) Member and Penan Lawyer See Chee How, the Penan Support Group, community representatives and other party members celebrate the launching of the first ever Penan vehicle specifically for the benefit of deprived Penan school children.
It is a historical milestone in the struggle of Penans as one of the most marginalized communities in Malaysia. Today’s event is made possible with the money generously donated by the Governments of Selangor (RM50,000) and Penang (RM30,000) and organised through the office of Messrs Baru Bian Advocates and Solicitors and the Penan Support Group in direct partnership with the Penan communities.
We want to bring to the fore that ever since the Penans shared their stories with Malaysians and the international community of the rape and sexual exploitation of Penan women and girls in September 2008, there are still no structural changes by the government to ensure the people’s safety. Furthermore, some Penans have been targeted for collective punishment by logging companies which now deny transport to villagers in retaliation for making the rape reports.
This is a pilot project to be used to improve the desperate situation of the transportation needs of rural poor. The vehicle will be used to transport Penan students from as many communities targeted by the logging companies as possible. The project is starting with communities in the Middle Baram region. In addition, the vehicle will be available to transport Penan villagers in critical medical emergencies (examples include pregnancy-related emergencies, life-threatening accidents and the like) to the nearest clinic and the soon-to-be-completed Long Lama Hospital. They will be transported for free.
Recognising the vast areas of Baram, and the limitation of using only one vehicle, we call upon others and especially the Sarawak Government to be partners in ensuring that Penans and other similarly marginalized rural communities will not be denied proper schooling because of lack of transportation.
We call on others to come forward to donate better vehicles and to help organize/manage the project as the area to be covered is huge and there is great demand. We want to work with the School authorities, Sarawak Government, parents and communities to ensure that safe transport is systematically available to Penan children and that lack of transport will not be a reason for Penan children to drop out of school.
We further call upon the Sarawak Government to have the necessary hands-on approach instead of the present arrangement of pushing responsibilities onto School Principals to organise transport when the Principals and their staff are already burdened with so much more than their urban counterparts in ensuring rural students’ welfare and achievement at school work.
The above arrangement has resulted in very inadequate transportation, thus throwing into doubt the delivery of the Sarawak Government’s expenditure for transporting rural students.
While we recognize that Penans and other communities in remote regions of Sarawak face many daunting challenges in being equal partners to urban Malaysians, we thank the Selangor and Penang Pakatan Rakyat governments and their people for enabling the Penan communities to start having a systematic and community-based transportation to be available to students and the critically ill.
We look forward to working with the Penan communities in managing this transportation venture on their own as they are empowered through the training to be provided in managing the car.
By Penan Support Group, Sarawak