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Children get a chance in Malaysia’s refugee-run schools

Refugee communities living in Malaysia have taken their children’s education into their own hands and set up their own schools in the cities and towns they live in. Some 10,000 of the 71,400 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the United Nations refugee agency in Malaysia, are school-age children. But none of them have access to a formal education.

One refugee community that has taken it upon itself to school its children is a group of Chin refugees from Myanmar, living in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. The school is basically a flat above a shop in the city centre, run by a refugee group called the Chin Students' Organization (CSO). Nearly 200 refugee children go there to learn English, maths, science and Chin cultural studies. They even play sports once a week. "CSO started this school because our children could not attend the public schools," said CSO coordinator Hup. "The children did not learn enough in Myanmar, so if they also have no education here, their lives in the future will be very hard," he told Reuters news service. Also, many of the children do not have enough to eat at home, so coming to school means they will have a full stomach each day. Refugee and Malaysian volunteers teach five days a week and the school which gets most of its funding from the monthly fee of about £3 paid by parents, and from donations from aid organizations.

The United Nations refugee agency chips in providing text books used in the Malaysian curriculum. Sisters Lidia, 12, and Sonia, six, both attend the school. "We came to Malaysia one year ago, and I began to attend this school immediately," said Lidia. "I like being in school and learning new things, but Sonia could not attend school at first. She was frightened of men, of police. She would not leave our flat." Attending school has helped her younger sister emerge from her shell, Lidia added. "It is so important for the children to attend school – not just for education," said Hup. "They learn team work, discipline, cleanliness and self confidence." For 14-year-old Sui, it’s clear she likes the games more than lessons. "I am very good at softball. I think I am better than the boys," she said. "It feels very good when I beat the boys – I feel like I can do anything." And the school gives her a chance to dream of a different future. "What do I hope for in my future?" asked Sui. "Peace. I just want a life of peace."

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children