The School of Hope, Part I
MABUL ISLAND, Malaysia - On Mabul Island, Malaysia, the word “hope” is more than it implies; it is a state of mind where a battle against poverty and illiteracy is being challenged by a group of intrepid visionaries from all over the world. And Stanley Sie, founder of the School of Hope, leads by example.
Mabul is a small island off the southeastern coast of Sabah, Malaysia. Located 15 km from Sipadan, this 20-hectare island surfaces 5-10 meters above sea level and consists mostly of flat ground. Surrounding it are sandy beaches and it is perched on the northwest corner of a larger 2 square kilometer reef.
Thousands of children live in plantations and other remote areas often far from schools. These children, in the state of Sabah on the Island of Borneo, including Mabul, are without education because of how far they are from established educational centers. They often live in poverty and lack any legal status. Borneo Child Aid, a Malaysian nonprofit social NGO, is providing education for more than 9,000 underprivileged children in the state of Sabah. Without education, many of these children would be exposed to sweat shops as child laborers or confined to life as street children.
“Edutourism” was introduced to Mabul by Ernst van der Poll, a PADI course director at the Pavilion Dive Centre in Dubai. Van der Poll is also involved in similar projects in his native South Africa. To help the children of this island, he asked groups of divers from all over the globe to donate their time and some materials to these children. They obliged. Now, they spend time teaching Mabul’s children as part of their dive tour. In this way, Mabul is visited annually by scores of volunteers who make a difference.
The Jeonju National University of Education has invested time and effort, too, devising simple lesson plans for English, mathematics, sports and games, Korean traditional games, activities and environmental education. Sophomores from the Department of Social Sciences taking an elective English class presented by myself were introduced to the island community and once a sense of awareness was created, there was no hesitation from the students: “We want to help. Children are children, no matter where they are and they deserve the right to be educated,” said Jun Mun-hyeong.
It’s a sentiment echoed by classmate Lee Bo-ram, both students in the elective English class. This became the motivation to submit work of the highest standard. Lesson plans were prepared, revised and finally submitted as presentations by the class.
Students involved in the project use English extensively, including using technology, particularly the Internet and even Facebook, where they have set up their own group, Electrifying English. Connections between the group and the School of Hope have been made through this group and this seems to highlight that there are plenty of ways English learning can not only encourage Korean students to communicate with English speakers from all walks of life and from all over the world, exchanging culture and ideas; but at the same time helping people who need it.
On the other side of Jeonju, Tori Elliott led students from Geun Young Girls’ High School in a drive to donate English books, art materials, pens, pencils and clothing to the School of Hope. The successful drive resulted in eight crates of practical items being donated by the girls and their English teachers, which are now in the hands of Mabul’s students.
Parties of teachers and students interested in visiting the island to do much needed volunteer work can contact Ernst van der Poll at the Pavilion Dive Centre for more information regarding Edutourism on Mabul.
Outside of teachers and students, scuba divers are flocking to this scuba divers’ paradise. Companies like www.soscuba.com are also supporting the project with their Mabul Children Welfare Initiative, whereby all profits from Nov. 26 to Dec. 1 will be donated to Borneo Child Aid.
Just remember to bring a pencil or paintbrush.