Tom Lyndon works as a mentor in Kota Kinabalu on the ELTDP. One of the schools he visits is on a small island and he tells us about his unusual commute.
Tuesdays are always early starts for me. This is the day I go to SK Pulau Sepanggar. I have to wake up around 5.30am to get to the jetty before the boat leaves at 6.40am sharp. There are often one or two teachers who miss the boat and then have to wait an hour for it to come back to collect them. On mornings when I too am cutting it a bit fine, I see teachers hurtling down the road past me but luckily the roads are deserted at this time of day.
The jetty is not so much a jetty, more of a pile of rocks really. Some precarious clambering is required to make it aboard without taking a splash. I'm told that the former Guru Besar (Head Teacher) did indeed take an unintentional dip on one occasion.
The senior teachers sit on a makeshift upper deck and the female teachers sit inside. I shimmy along a 5cm ledge gripping the rail tightly, releasing it momentarily to shake the outstretched hand of the Guru Besar and as he greets me “Assalamualaikum”. I then make my way to the back of the boat to join the male teachers.
The journey to the island takes about half an hour. The men kill time by playing cards, smoking and chatting about the football. They are eager to hear my opinion about who will win the Premier League this season.
We pass by Sepanggar Naval Base and see an array of maritime vessels, including a submarine under armed guard. The sun starts to appear from behind Mount Kinabalu and in the distance the much larger Gaya island is visible across the water.
Approaching the island we see the pupils alight from the school boats, which like the buses are also painted yellow. When it is low tide the pupils are late to school as the boat cannot get to the village to collect them. During monsoon season the sea is often too rough for them to come at all. I'm told that they have all been given life jackets, although I've never seen any, but I'm reassured that they are all excellent swimmers.
Surprisingly, around 90 percent of the pupils come from the mainland. The school near to their village is only small and the road out of the village is in such poor condition that it is easier for them to come to the island instead. The majority of them are from the Bajau tribe, also known as ‘Sea Gypsies’, so perhaps they prefer to come to school on an island.
Making my way back onto dry land I walk down the jetty to the school entrance. Two pupils stand at the entrance waiting to greet the teachers as they arrive. Next to them is a sign that reads “BEWARE OF THE MONKEYS” which are truly a challenge in this school. Besides the opportunistic primates there are also two-metre monitor lizards to contend with. Apparently on one occasion the teachers witnessed one of these reptiles devour a kid - a baby goat that is, not one of the pupils!
As the teachers make their way through the gates there is one pressing issue on everyone’s mind…….. breakfast! We all make our way to the canteen to fuel ourselves for the day ahead.