Jakun teenagers playing pick-up sticks in the community library, Kampung Punjut, Johor, Malaysia
Pic by By Xenobiologista - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18560332
Dr. Chew Shin Yi, a dedicated lecturer from the Faculty of Language and Linguistics at Universiti Malaya, embarked on a remarkable journey of community engagement with the Orang Asli Jakun people.
Her work began by leading her undergraduate students in the Community Engagement Program with Orang Asli schools, focusing on providing support and education. The story of this work unfolds as we delve into the team’s experiences with the Jakun community in Pahang, and the cultural preservation efforts they have championed through the power of storytelling.
The team’s engagement with the Jakun community began with a Language Camp, part of the Jalinan Masyarakat Course. The project aimed to create a bridge between university students and the Orang Asli community. However, the pandemic necessitated a shift to language modules and the delivery of English materials to the Orang Asli schools instead. With the help of Mr. Samuel Isaiah, they successfully delivered modules and book vouchers. This connection paved the way for years of ongoing support for the Jakun schools.
The Jakun community is a significant segment of the Orang Asli population in Peninsular Malaysia. The project primarily focused on the challenges faced by these children in schools, transcending the emphasis on their ethnic origins and culture. The Jakun people share a language similar to Malay, and while they have their unique cultural practices, the project's focus remained on the challenges of transitioning from primary to secondary education and fostering friendship among students.
One of the essential findings was the Jakun community's love for storytelling, especially their folktales. They are deeply connected to their environment, and their stories often revolve around the areas they inhabit, such as Tasik Chini and Pulau Tioman. Dr. Chew's project leveraged this affinity for storytelling to create culturally relevant educational materials that motivate children to pursue education and do well in school.
This research also addresses the critical issue of Orang Asli children transitioning from primary school to secondary school. The significant distance between their homes and secondary schools, coupled with the unfamiliarity of the host communities, can lead to a demotivating environment. Children often face questions and, at times, bullying, exacerbating their social and economic disadvantages. This project is a vital tool to motivate them to continue their education, preventing dropout rates and offering better prospects for their future.
This research is driven by several objectives. Firstly, it offers Universiti Malaya’s students a chance to connect and gain experience with an often marginalized community. Secondly, it aims to improve the quality of education for Jakun children, enabling a smoother transition from primary to high school. Additionally, it exposes them to the English language through their folktales, fostering cultural pride and language development. Beyond the community, the project promotes racial harmony and educates non-Jakun community students about the rich heritage of the Orang Asli.
For those interested in supporting the Orang Asli Jakun community, it's essential to educate oneself about their unique heritage, challenges, and aspirations. Dr. Chew's team serves as an inspiring model for collaborative community engagement. Importantly, respectful and culturally sensitive engagement is more impactful than well-intentioned but misguided efforts. You can find more information about the research and the student’s projects through the following websites:
This team’s work with the Orang Asli Jakun community demonstrates the power of education, storytelling, and cultural preservation. Their commitment to bridging the gap between communities and fostering understanding is a beacon of hope for the future of these indigenous people.
Dr. Chew enthusiastically shares her journey of working among the Orang Asli Jakun Community.
Dr. Chew Shin Yi is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English Language, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, Universiti Malaya. https://umexpert.um.edu.my/chewshinyi.html
Ms Priscilla Diniesha is an MA student in English Literature who has a deep passion for language and writing. When she landed a job in copywriting and unlocked skills, she never knew she had, she realized it was her calling.
Ts. ChM. Dr. Kumuthini Chandrasekaram, Research Officer, Universiti Malaya