SEMOA (Semenanjung Orang Asli)
is a non-profit charitable and non-governmental organization working among the Orang Asli people of peninsular Malaysia. The founders of this outreach project, Mr. Timothy Cheah Kim Hock and Mr. Rajendran Velu, started the hostel and education centre outside of Raub, Pahang in 1996. In Pahang, as in much of peninsular Malaysia, the aboriginal people live in remote rural villages far from government schools which are located in more populated towns. This presents a hardship for the Orang Asli children in that they must travel long distances through jungle trails to reach school, and then make the long trek home again at the end of the day. Once they are back in the village, the absence of electricity and reliable working space makes homework completion a near impossible task.
Faced with these daunting challenges, it is no surprise that many of these children drop out of school at a young age, unable to continue, and therefore unable to improve their chances of a decent future in an increasingly technological world. SEMOA is one initiative that seeks to bridge this education gap. By providing clean and comfortable housing, food and tuition help with the children’s educational needs, SEMOA is working to keep these children in school long enough to make a difference in their lives.
Primarily a hostel that houses the children while they attend local government schools, SEMOA provides tuition and extra educational help to make the adjustment from village life to the demands of a modern education. Sonia, who acts as den mother for the girls and tutor for all, works tirelessly to ensure that the children keep up with their studies and are well fed and well rested. A retired teacher of 34 years’ experience herself, Sonia volunteers at Semoa in order “to give some good back into the community for all the good I have received in my life from others.”
Timothy Cheah, who along with Rajendran Velu founded SEMOA notes that initially the children would run away from the hostel and back to their villages. “There was a lot of suspicion of us in those early days,” he notes. “The villagers were afraid that we were going to steal their children. We invited the parents to come down and stay nearby so they could watch what we were doing. After a while they began to trust us. Now they insist that their children stay with us. They still come down to visit, and often the children will go back to the village on the weekends to visit their parents. We are very open about what we are doing.”
There are other initiatives at SEMOA as well. They have started a fish farm on the site to help feed the children, and they harvest the durian trees that grow on their property and sell them in roadside stalls. The proceeds go to pay for the children’s food as well. “We will never be self-sustaining,” Mr. Cheah admits, “but we do want to teach the children that it is important for them to work for their own improvement in every area of their lives.”
Right now approximately 50 children are housed at SEMOA and they attend three nearby schools. There are plans to expand this facility in the near future, and land has already been obtained for that purpose. Further information about this very worthy project can be found on the project's website
, and on their Facebook
page. Other projects related to this outreach, such as a book on the importance of the Orang Asli to the history and future of Malaysia can be found here