KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 ― Just last week, the 122-year-old Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN) here was in danger of losing everything as the lease for the land it was sitting on expires this September and the school was told it would not be renewed.
Amid much furore ― both from the school's former students as well as heritage activists ― the Prime Minister's Office announced yesterday it had been given a 60-year lease.
Now some are asking: why not give the school heritage status and protect it as part of Malaysia's history?
Women's rights activist Ivy Josiah, 66, credits her years in CBN for helping to build up her confidence for the work she does today.
“Convent Bukit Nanas was popular for their debate team... although I didn't participate, I was part of the team who prepared the team for competitions.
“Those experiences were priceless and contributed so much to my work today,” she told Malay Mail.
It was also where she learned about how democracy worked through school prefect elections.
“This was done to replicate an election campaign, how a candidate would rally support to be elected as a school prefect, just like how an election campaign is run,” she said.
A student there from 1968 to 1974, Ivy ― together with others like Badan Warisan Malaysia (BWM), is urging the National Heritage Department to protect CBN.
BWM said the school was an important part of Malaysia’s history and heritage, both in terms of education and the architecture of its buildings.
Author Hanna Alkaf said if the school was gone, it would mean “a little less soul in the heart of the city.”
“I wish we didn't have to justify the existence of beautiful, historical institutions by attempting to quantify their worth,” she said.
Hanna, 36, was a CBN student from 1992 to 2002 and like Ivy, said the school helped shape who she is today.
“I'm not so sentimental that I look back and see only a perfect education; it had its flaws. But within its walls I learned what I was passionate about, found teachers who understood who I was and how I learned, and made friends I still hold dear,” she said.
For popular actress and singer Adibah Noor, 50, CBN was where much of her personality was developed.
“(My) memories were all great (at CBN).
“It was a place where I could be myself, where I managed to shape my interests through co-curricular activities,” she explained.
“CBN taught girls to be independent and to just 'go for it'. We empowered each other,” said Adibah who attended CBN from 1977 to 1987.
“(If the school were to be taken away) a huge part of me will die, because a huge part of me was developed in that school,” she said.
She added that should the government decide to remove the school: “It will be a concrete reason for me to never ever vote again.”
Television producer and first winner of The Amazing Race Asia, Zabrina Fernandez, 41, said the school also produced many of the nation's sports talents.
“For example, former national gymnast Dr Farrah-Hani Imran... she may be a plastic surgeon now but she is still part of the Malaysian Gymnastics Federation,” said Zabrina.
“I am relieved that the government did the right thing to extend the lease. However, to ensure that CBN is never torn down, it must be declared a heritage site,” said Ivy.
“Governments come and go, this decision may be revoked. So, take legal steps to ensure that this beautiful building is protected now and forever.”
Hanna agrees and suggests that the government work towards a permanent solution.
“I hope that they can work with the school towards a solution where this doesn’t have to be an issue every couple of decades,” she said.
“Thank you #KerajaanMalaysia for the extension of the lease of the land. It remains my hope that this school is made a national heritage site,” said Adibah.
Zabrina has the last word (or question) on the whole issue: “My question is... the school is more than a hundred years old, why is it still not gazetted a heritage site?”
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