As the rainforest of Borneo have been destroyed, education has become a vital tool to help indigenous Penan communities protect their land and cultural hertiage, allowing them to file for legal land rights, and to fight for a better, more sustainable, future.
In order to support long-term sustainable conservation efforts, the Borneo Project is working to build literacy in Penan villages. With this project, we plan to publish two indigenous language children’s books, featuring traditional fables and art by both local artists and the Beehive Design Collective of Machias, Maine, USA. We will publish them in water-proof books and hand them out free – one per family—to over 800 families in over 70 villages in the province of Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo.
In Penan communities, the battle for literacy must be fought on many fronts. Children are taught to read in their indigenous language at the Borneo Project’s indigenous-language preschools, but once they learn the basics, they do not have books that will hold their interest and help raise awareness of the environmental issues they face.
These stories will help not only promote literacy, but also help save Penan culture. In these communities, stories are traditionally passed down orally. Nowadays, children spend most of their time in boarding schools, and as the elders pass away, the stories themselves are being lost. Publishing children’s stories in Penan will help preserve the stories and give Penan children a chance see the strength and beauty of their traditional stories and culture. When possible, stories will be illustrated by Penan artists as per the sample pictures shown here.