SHE’S just 26 years old, but Azuriaty Atang has already carved her name in the history books as the first ever lecturer from the Penan community.
With a Bachelor of Administration in Tourism from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) and a master’s degree in Human Capital Management from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), she absolutely does not fit the stereotype of the Penan community by some quarters.
The world media and much of the online community like to portray the Penan community as resistant to education, backward and wanting no part of the development that other Sarawakians enjoy.
Western stereotypes treat the community as a cause because it makes them feel good to ‘help’ the poor nomadic jungle people and their primitive ways, which in their minds should be kept for them to study and admire through rose coloured glasses.
Now try to imagine this scenario. In a forest somewhere in the UK — okay so this is a bit a stretch of the imagination because there are only around 3 million hectares of woodlands there, which means only around 10 per cent of the UK actually has forests, but hey it is good to exercise your imagination — anyway, imagine they discover nomadic families.
Now these families have been living in the forests for centuries and have only just been discovered. The families live in utter squalor and are malnourished, the children receive no education and are exposed to the elements because of their shabby forest huts. The families don’t want to leave because this life is all they have ever known. They don’t realise that things could be better for their children simply because they have never known anything outside their lives in the forests.
Given that the United Kingdom has laws for compulsory education for all children aged between 5 and 16 (this will actually change to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015), would the government allow these children — citizens of the United Kingdom — to be deprived of an education? Under the Child Act 1989, the welfare of the child also includes educational needs and of course physical well-being, so the courts can actually decide to take these forest children away from their parents.
Why is it then that children of the Penan community do not deserve to have their educational needs and physical well-being looked after?
Here’s the reality. Azuriaty Atang, the first and only lecturer from the Penan community, wants to help her people improve their lives through education.
With Unimas, she plans to study the involvement of the Penan community in business and education. The university also plans to adopt a Penan village.
It is wonderful to note that her three younger siblings are also following in her footsteps of academic achievement. Azmilhisyam, 22, is currently a diploma student at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), while Afreeza, 16, and Anastasia, 13, are in secondary school.
Their parents Atang Sanai and Zuliana Abdullah should be commended for prioritising the education of all the children.
All the best to Azuriaty Atang in her mission to better life for the Penan community.
The story from The Borneo Post:
Lecturer aims to improve her community via education
By Irene C
KUCHING: Azuriaty Atang, the state’s first Penan lecturer aspires to help her community improve its lifestyle through education.
The 26-year-old from Kampung Baru in Suai, some 100km from Miri, is the eldest of four siblings, dreamt of becoming a Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) lecturer and finally achieved it when she became a management lecturer in Unimas.
She is determined to achieve her goal to prove that Penans could also be successful in many areas including academically.
“In fact, plans are in the pipeline, with the co-operation from Unimas, to hold a study on the involvement of the Penan community in business and education activities. Unimas also plans to adopt a Penan village.
“I am unable to provide further information as it is still in the discussion and planning stage,” said Azuriaty during a press conference on Thursday evening.
She revealed that she was motivated by her supportive parents, father Atang Sanai a Forestry Department staff and mother Zuliana Abdullah a housewife, as well as her friends.
She has three younger siblings, Azmilhisyam, 22, who is currently a diploma student in UiTM, Afreeza, 16 and Anastasia, 13, both who are still in secondary school.
On her early education, Azuriaty said she went to SRK Temenggong Datuk Muip in Miri from 1992 to 1997 and SMK Riam Taman Tunku in Miri from 1998 to 2004.
After completing her STPM, she furthered her studies at Unimas at the Economy and Business faculty and graduated with a Bachelor of Administration in Tourism in 2008.
The following year, she pursued her masters degree in Human Capital Management at Universiti Malaysia Sabah and graduated in 2010.
Before joining Unimas, she was attached to a private company for a year.