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Six Students Stepped Out To Invest In Little Lives

Education and poverty are intertwined. Underprivileged children from low income families are predisposed to various challenges at school and at home, limiting their chances for success in education. The problem becomes more complex when children are born into families without citizenship or national belonging, especially in Sabah.  

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone. It means that there must be equal opportunity, universal access and quality education standards for all regardless of race, religion or citizenship.

United Nations ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (UDHR)

The missed education opportunity traps children in the poverty cycle for reasons out of their control. Thankfully, many organisations in Malaysia have taken on this challenge and made it their mission to improve literacy rates for children in low-income families. 

These issues are so tangible and heartfelt that six undergraduates took it upon themselves to do something about it even before they graduated from university.

Meet PriviLAD

PriviLAD, is a project founded by six final year students of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) with a vision to transform the lives of underprivileged children by providing them with basic quality education. 

Founders from PriviLAD

The idea was first seeded when they took part in a grant application for social change funded by Khind Starfish Foundation. PriviLAD is a combination of the words, ‘privilege’ and ‘lad’. The girls realised how fortunate they were to be given the opportunity and access to quality education and wanted the same for children of Sabah. It did not take long for them to also recognise that ‘stateless’ children were right at their doorsteps.

Urgent Need To Step Up 

In Malaysia, there are over 40, 000 undocumented children between the ages of seven to seventeen. 

85% of them are illiterate. 


In a Star newspaper article in 2018, an estimated calculation by a coalition of 21 NGO claims that there are approximately 800,000 undocumented people[1] in Sabah alone. 

As a new entity, the girls decided to partner with an existing organisation, Borneo Komrad to carry out their vision. They identified several existing literacy centers called ‘Sekolah Alternatif’ set up specifically for undocumented children in Teluk Layang, Sabah and made a commitment to invest their time and efforts there. 

Educating the underprivileged children

The PriviLAD team became part-time teachers to the children at these alternative schools while completing their final year of university. They made education fun for the children incorporating lots of games and songs. They taught the children soft skills, how to read and write, but more importantly, they build strong relationships with the children giving them the confidence they need to develop as individuals. 

Educating the underprivileged children

Eye Opening Experiences That Changed Their Perspective

The girls remember witnessing unexpected situations during their time at the literacy center that deepened their understanding of life as undocumented people. The ordinary rights of humans were not a given for these communities. They lived on the edge with a constant fear that authorities can arrest them at any time. 

Interacting with the underprivileged children

Teenagers without any education were forced to find work to help lessen the financial burden on their families. Due to their lack of identity, they were exploited and paid terribly. Employers were also at risk of running into authorities if they hired undocumented people, as a result job opportunities are few and far between. 

The team would witness heart wrenching scenes of children crying in class because of hunger. Older children often brought their younger siblings to class because they had to babysit them. Girls carrying babies in their hands and soothing them with water instead of milk, while trying to concentrate in class. 

Underprivileged children in Sabah

These firsthand experiences made the girls of PriviLAD realise how important it was for them to carry out their mission of improving lives through education. No child should have to experience the hardship of poverty and education can be the solution out of this long-term problem. 

Can Anyone Help The Underprivileged?

We are hoping to inspire and empower the daily Malaysian to make a difference. 

PriviLAD encourages everyone to get involved. If not as a teacher, then to simply raise awareness of the severity of the problem is already a step in the right direction. The option of joining alternative learning centres throughout the country that are working towards the same goal remains open. 

Interacting with the underprivileged children

Learning to accept the undocumented community, as they are also “minds of tomorrow” and lending a hand to those in need will not go unappreciated. These small acts are the keys to breaking the poverty and education cycle. 

Follow PriviLAD’s journey on Instagram: @privi.lad. You can also find other amazing organisations helping to alleviate poverty on our Changemakers Map

Contact us to improve on this list!

Explore our sources:

  1. Stephanie Lee, The Star. (2018). No new ICs for stateless people in Sabah. Link.

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