Malaysian students set up refuge for stateless kids

Fronted by students who themselves came from impoverished families, the safe space began early this year to help other children in their community who were affected by glue-sniffing.


A chance at a better life: A volunteer having a session with the children at Sekolah Pemulihan Gam in Semporna, Sabah.

April 11, 2022

PETALING JAYA – A group of poor and marginalised students has started a “safe space” for stateless children who fell into glue-sniffing in the destitute water villages of Semporna, Sabah.

Sekolah Pemulihan Gam (SPG), fronted by students who themselves came from impoverished families, began early this year to help other children in their community who were affected by the social problem.

These volunteers were students aged between 14 and 19 from villages around Semporna, said SPG co-founder Mukmin Nantang, 28.

At present, SPG has about 20 to 30 stateless children aged between seven to 15.

The school would teach them basic literacy, hygiene and even music and theatre, said Mukmin, a Malaysian from Tawau who is a theatre arts graduate.

Also known as Cikgu Mukmin, he said that through the SPG, these marginalised children had begun to show more interest in acquiring an education.

Society, which had previously stigmatised them, has also been gradually accepting these youngsters, he said.

He said there were now plans to extend the once-a-week class to a more frequent basis as the children found classes enjoyable.

In an interview, Mukmin said the social stigma and extreme poverty had led many marginalised children to glue-sniffing as a way to escape hunger.

The glue, which cost RM3 or less, is easily accessible compared to getting food for themselves, he said.

“These children are extremely poor. Some of them were even abandoned by their parents, who are also stateless. They usually beg for money in the Semporna town, which created uneasiness among the locals.

“As a result, they have no access to many basic necessities, especially food. In order to suppress their hunger, they use glue to make them ‘high’ for a few hours,” Mukmin said.

Furthermore, he said a lack of space to play like other children had led these kids to sniffing glue as a past-time.

In fact, the activity has been “normalised” in the community, he added.

Mukmin, however, observed that the people in Semporna had begun to acknowledge that these unfortunate kids need help, and that some of them had started to volunteer at the school as well.

Barely four months into its operation, SPG has been giving lessons to the children on the health danger of glue-sniffing, besides providing a safe space for the children to play, he said.

SPG had its beginning back in 2017 when Mukmin visited a water village to start a social impact project called Sekolah Alternatif with an NGO called Borneo Komrad.

“My students in Sekolah Alternatif founded Kesatuan Pelajar (students union), then co-founded (SPG) early this year to help the children in their community,” he said.

Mukmin said there should be a collective effort from the government and NGOs to address the problems faced by these children.

“We need multi-level support in order to sustain these programmes,” he said, suggesting transit centres for the groups in the area.

scroll to top