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Azwan Irwan: Empowering Undocumented Children Through Quality Education At Sekolah Alternatif Tawau

Wiki Impact celebrates Teacher’s Day 2023 by honouring teachers who go above and beyond to ensure that all children, regardless of their socio-economic status, citizenship, abilities, or background, have access to education. Their names may not immediately ring a bell, but these unsung heroes have positively impacted countless lives and futures.

Azwan Irwan roamed the streets of major cities in Sabah, gathering children who had wandered too far from home during his undergraduate years. As a member of Borneo Komrad, Azwan served as a teacher in the “street schools” or Sekolah Jalanan.

At the Sekolah Jalanan, we provide education to children who are left out of mainstream education. Many of these children are undocumented and come from low-income households. 

Additionally, Azwan and his team ventured into rural villages in Sabah, offering weekly classes to marginalised children. 

After graduating in 2018, Azwan’s commitment to the organisation’s noble mission led him to continue teaching at Borneo Komrad. However, their mission took on a new dimension as they began advocating for the rights of stateless and undocumented children in Sabah.

One of their initiatives involved establishing alternative schools throughout the state, including locations such as Kota Kinabalu, Tawau, and Semporna. Azwan was stationed at Sekolah Alternatif Tawau in Kampung Hidayat, where he decided to stay. The warm and welcoming nature of the community, coupled with their deep respect for teachers, made his journey much smoother.

Although we were ‘outsiders’ at Kampung Hidayat, we always felt welcomed. They embraced us as teachers and we were invited to community events and offered food and drinks all the time. 

In addition to Borneo Komrad’s main goal of ensuring that all children can read, write, and count, Azwan and the teachers at Sekolah Alternatif Tawau have created a safe and nurturing environment for the children and community in Kampung Hidayat.

The school is not only a place for learning but a safe space for children to express their feelings and thoughts. The community also views the school as a hub to gather, plan and solve community issues. 

This expanded perception of the school, beyond its role during class time, has fostered a deep sense of motivation among the students.

Some students arrive as early as 7am, even though classes start at 8am. There are also students who, after finishing their regular school day, choose to stay at the alternative school to continue learning.

As a result of the good reputation, demand for enrolment has also increased. Azwan has occasionally had to decline enrolment requests from parents in order to maintain the quality of education offered. 

Currently, the school limits its enrollment to 50 students to ensure a comfortable and conducive learning environment.

Knowledge is power and Azwan believes that through basic education at their school, “undocumented children are able to change their fate, able to avoid social ills.” Azwan emphasised that there are significant differences when undocumented children do not receive an education. 

Azwan firmly believes that knowledge is power, and he sees education as a means for undocumented children to change their destinies and avoid social issues. He emphasises the significant differences that arise when undocumented children are deprived of education. 

Without education, undocumented children become vulnerable to exploitation and deception due to their lack of awareness and literacy skills.

Armed with a better education than their predecessors, Azwan hopes that his students will carry their knowledge forward and share it with their communities.

I hope they can give back to the people around them, to their younger siblings and to their community. Knowledge should be widely spread. 

Azwan’s focus does not lie in how he will be remembered by his students, for he understands that the impact of his efforts will endure. To him, his students are not just pupils but friends and cherished members of his extended family. 

In Kampung Hidayat, Azwan and the dedicated teachers at Sekolah Alternatif Tawau work tirelessly to bridge the gaps and uplift the marginalised community, leading them on a transformative journey toward a brighter future.

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