For most of us in West Malaysia, we tend to overlook ongoing issues across the South China Sea on the Malaysian part of the Borneo Island. Some of us still think that Sabah and Sarawak are completely different countries and thus, have stayed rather detached from the social, cultural and political state of affairs in that part of the Malaysian Federation.
Enter Putri Purnama Sugua, a Sabahan-born filmmaker who decided to change that narrative by seeking to tell the world a story about passion, determination and the will to learn. One that took place in her own backyard.
“Aku Mau Skola” (I Want To Go To School), a documentary directed by the 26-year-old, highlights the plight of undocumented Sabahans especially stateless children who endure hardships and travel great lengths all for the sake of gaining basic education.
This documentary made it to the Freedom Film Festival in 2018 (“Mend The Gap”), earning her a grant. The Freedom Film Festival (FFF) is widely known as Malaysia’s leading human rights documentary film festival highlighting some of the best local and international talents.
The inspiring documentary chronicles the plight of stateless children in a particular area in Sandakan who just wanted to go to school. One of the schools was literally a shack with a leaking roof and over 70 stateless children taught by only one dedicated teacher, Pn Rujjiah Sami.
“It breaks my heart when I see how passionate these kids are to get an education. They don’t have anything else. They struggle, but even then, they want to go to school,” she told Free Malaysia Today (FMT).
No doubt, the documentary made a huge impact in raising awareness on the access to education for stateless children in Malaysia at international premieres such as the 49th Roshd International Film Festival 2019, Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival 2019 and Global Migration Film Festival 2019.
Putri, who studied theatre and animation in Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) was inspired to highlight the plight of stateless children after first-hand accounts of the struggles faced by them and what their families had to endure to survive as migrants in Sabah having travelled from Southern Philippines to avoid civil unrest in their country of origin.
In a 2018 interview with FMT, she candidly talks about how she grew up with stateless children as a Sandakan native herself and the harsh realities of being stateless – “It’s horrible that they come to realise so early on in life that they can’t go anywhere without that one document that everyone else has, and it’s not fair.”
The premiere of “Aku Mau Skola” was welcomed by many NGOs and academicians, who lauded Putri’s efforts to tell this important story which eventually caught the attention of the Ministry of Education at that time.
As reported in The Star (4 October 2018), Marianne Clark Hattingh, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Malaysia, commented that the State Government during that period of time was very supportive of the efforts and initiatives to solve the issue and expressed her hope that such children would have the opportunity to get an education and other important rights that would help in the country’s socio-economic development.
As a filmmaker, Putri strongly feels that it is her duty to educate and raise awareness on pressing social issues in Malaysia, namely, stateless children. In fact, she filmed another short film from a grant received from Pesta Filem Kita in 2019 titled “Rumah Ndak Bertanah” (House Without A Ground) which touches on a stateless boy who helps his mom by working at a nearby dumpster to make ends meet and determined to go to school because of a question his younger sister asked him about the human body.
We wish Putri Purnama much success in her future endeavours. Keep inspiring us with real and untold stories of sheer resilience!
*Feature image sourced from Putri Purnama