Twins Become IIUM's First Orang Asli Students
By Erda Khursyiah Basir
GOMBAK (Bernama) -- Orang Asli twins Amelina and Amelia Ahmad are the toast of their community, here as they are the first two indigenous students who have succeeded in gaining admission into the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).
The 19-year-old sisters, from Kampung Orang Asli Batu 12, here also have every reason to beam with happiness as their education would be sponsored by the university.
Although they were not very articulate and seemed to feel awkward when approached by reporters, they obviously could not hide their excitement of having created history for their community after being offered a place to study at IIUM.
The twins told Bernama they hoped that their success would inspire more Orang Asli students to pursue tertiary education.
Amelina and Amelia, who were former students of Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Sungai Pusu at Batu 7, Jalan Gombak, had scored 7As and 5As respectively in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination in 2014.
The two have been enrolled into a foundation programme in science at IIUM's Centre for Foundation Studies at its Petaling Jaya campus. After completing the one-year course, they will embark on their degree programme at the university's main campus, here.
Meanwhile, the proud father of the girls, Ahmad Uda, 55, expressed his gratitude to the university for giving his daughters the opportunity to pursue their higher education.
"As a father, I'm very happy and am proud of them. It's a golden opportunity for them to continue with their studies at the university-level.
"I hope they will stride confidently towards the future. I also have high hopes of seeing more members of the Orang Asli community being given a similar chance so that they can find their rightful place in society... I take this as a good start for the progress of the Orang Asli," he said.
Ahmad also said that even as children Amelina and Amelia, who have two other siblings, had shown a deep interest in their studies and enjoyed reading. They also scored good grades in school and were able to communicate and mingle well with others, he said.
He added that his daughers' success in gaining entry into an institution of higher learning showed that the Orang Asli community was not marginalised, unlike the perception of certain quarters.
"We're not being sidelined, but we have to work hard always and do well in order for opportunities to come our way. As for my children, I hope they make full use of this opportunity," he said.
He said his older children had also previously received financial aid from the government, particularly the Department of Orang Asli Development, to pay their school fees and buy uniform.
IIUM Faculty of Architecture and Environmental Design lecturer Asso Prof Dr Norzalifa Zainal Abidin said the university's decision to accept the Orang Asli twins came about following a goodwill visit to their village, here by an IIUM delegation, led by its president Tan Sri Dr Rais Yatim, last April.
The visit was made in conjunction with the university's Orang Asli Cultural Heritage Project, of which Norzalifa was coordinating officer.
During his visit to the village, Rais had reportedly said that IIUM, which has international university status, would implement a programme run by volunteers to develop the Orang Asli community in the Gombak district.
Rais, who is also Social and Cultural Affairs Advisor to the government, said IIUM would provide guidance to the community on its socio-cultural aspect and implement an "adoption" programme, as well as select some Orang Asli homes that could be commercialised for tourism purposes.
"(The main campus of) IIUM is located in the neighbourhoods of the Orang Asli village as well as other communities in Gombak. Besides the Temiang and Temuan sub-ethnic groups, members of 18 other Orang Asli groups also live here," Rais had said.
Besides IIUM students, the university has also roped in Orang Asli graduates from other universities, who hail from Gombak, to help out with the voluntary programme so that they could do their bit to give back to their community.
Norzalifa said the university had been helping the Orang Asli community in the Gombak district since 2011 as it regarded them as part of the IIUM family.
"Now we're planning to conduct weekly tuition classes and later on more intensive programmes for the Orang Asli children.
"Amelina and Amelia will be made the icons to motivate the Orang Asli youngsters in the community, as they are our neighbours," she said.
Norzalifa added that IIUM would improve the programmes gradually to place more emphasis on education issues and assisting single mothers.
"The university administration is giving its full support to help improve the community's education and socio-economic affairs and develop their surroundings, in accordance with our living heritage, ecofriendly approach," she added.