The Plight of the Penan
The Penan are traditionally hunter-gatherers, who have, until recently, lived a nomadic life deep in the jungles of Borneo. Urbanisation and certain commercial practices have triggered significant changes in the Penan’s natural habitat and livelihood, resulting in many migrating to towns in the hope of securing employment, access to medical treatment and education.

Unfortunately, many Penan families have found it difficult to adapt to these changes. For women in particular, obtaining employment is a major challenge, leaving them stuck in an unforgiving poverty trap. Whilst public education is free, the lack of finances to purchase uniforms, books, school supplies and bus fares means that many children are unable to attend school, or inevitably drop-out due to financial constraints.

How We Help
Helping Hands Penan is a non-profit accredited social enterprise whose mission is to provide assistance to Penan in need. We are driven by the twin goals of catering to short-term basic needs and empowering the Penan to be self-sufficient in the long-run. The bulk of our work is done by helping the hands that weave. The art of weaving is deeply ingrained in Penan culture, passed down from generation to generation. With skilled hands, strips of coloured material are brought to life and lovingly transformed into beautiful crafts, each telling a unique story. Our role at Helping Hands Penan is to facilitate the sale of these crafts and bring these gems from the rainforest to the rest of the world.

As rattan, the primary raw material for weaving, is increasingly scarce, we provide the Penan with PP (polypropylene) strips as a durable and versatile alternative. We work with the weavers to develop new designs, aimed at being both functional and fashionable. Over the years, the growing demand in Penan crafts has reignited interest in traditional weaving, such that Penan girls and young women are now keen to hone their skills in what had previously been perceived to be a dying trade.

The fruits of the weavers’ labour are channelled to funding essentials and longer-term initiatives for the Penan. These initiatives include, amongst others, solar lights for settlements without power generators, chain saws and rice milling machines for them to earn their livelihood. To mitigate the typically high drop-out rates and absenteeism caused by transportation difficulties encountered by Penan students, funds are used to finance transportation costs from settlements deep in the jungle to urban schools, provide school supplies and monthly allowances for Penan students pursuing higher education.