This is a personal sharing and testimony by one of the volunteers for the Impian Malaysia project in Kg Tual, Kuala Lipis, Pahang, Vivian Chen Jqiao Wei.
August 29th, while I was on my way to a reunion dinner with my fellow Impian Malaysia warriors I received an unknown phone call. To my great surprise, it was a phone call from my ayah angkat (foster patron) whom I met and lived with for a week in the mountains.
As the mixed feelings of joy, excitement, grateful and sadness immediately gushed through my body, I almost burst into tears because I knew this phone call was too precious to hang up. Now, you may ask, why and who was on the phone that gave me such an emotional impact? Here is where my story with Impian Malaysia and Kg. Tual begins.
A week before I received the phone call, along with the other interns from DAP we began our adventure to Kg. Tual, a Semai village deep in the mountains in Pahang. Kg. Tual is located near to Raub, my hometown.
When I found out where this project was taking place, I signed up immediately. I have to admit I signed up partly because it is located near my hometown and I never heard of this village despite it being located near Raub.
Orang Asli have always been a mystery for me, I knew very little and almost none about them, I thought this would be a new learning opportunity for me.
We took the train, bus, 4WDs and walked to get into the village. The journey took us more than half a day. I never thought that one day I would have to walk in the mud in the rain with no shoes on. The rain had made it extremely dangerous for us to drive in.
Crazy as that may sound, but it was exactly what happened on our first day. Stepping into the muddy soil, I felt alive and experienced a different Malaysia I never had before. It wasn’t long until I realised that some of the villagers in the mountain do not have the luxury of wearing shoes.
It was only the start of adventure and yet I have already experienced so much, whether it was physically or emotionally. This project inevitably forced me to reflect on how lucky I am and to realise not everyone is as lucky as I am.
Our project in the village was to build public toilets cum bathrooms for Cenwaey Penaney Community Learning Centre. This learning centre is one of a kind in Malaysia. It will be the largest Orang Asli learning centre when the construction is finished.
The community centre seeks to bridge the gap between mainstream education and the traditional and culture of the people; in this case it is the Semai people. This project is important because it is the hope for the village.
Many of the younger generation of the village do not have the opportunity of education but more importantly they are losing their identity and traditional wisdom as time passed by.
The importance of identity not only shows us who and what we are but it is also a key to our future. When we have strong identity of who we are, then we can discuss what we want and therefore we can work for what we want.
Our identity tells others of our existence even if we are the minority of the society. As a volunteer of Impian Malaysia, I am proud to be part of this project and the process of development of the Semai people.
Getting to know them
While we were at the village, we flattened the land, dug manholes and trenches for water and sewage pipelines. For the anak bandar (city dwellers) like us, it wasn’t an easy job at all, especially under the hot sun.
However to our surprise and admiration, the teenagers who were working alongside with us continued their work despite it being burning hot in the outdoors while we were resting shamelessly indoors. Their dedication and hard work made me believe that they deserve more.
Through our conversations with them, we found out many of the villagers are no different than we are and in fact they are well aware of the outside world, whether it is politically or just general knowledge of urban life.
Many of them including the Batin (village chief) had worked in the cities before but in the end discrimination, competition and the tiredness of urban life had driven them away and they decided to return to their village.
It is not difficult to understand the frustration of the Orang Asli. Without education there aren’t many opportunities for them in the cities.
For the young people, a lot of them are lacking job opportunities. They have very little educational resources which prevent them from getting basic school education, what more to excel at it. In fact, the closest secondary school is 10km away!
However, they do not give up. One of the boys in the village learns English through bible and TV programmes. His determination touched me from the bottom of my heart. It is because of this passion and determination we have this learning centre project.
On a personal level, I have learned so much about Raub and its surrounding. I didn’t realised they are so many Orang Asli living in the mountain areas surrounding Raub. Even when I told my friends about this project, they were very surprised by this too.
This project was definitely eye-opening and rewarding. It inspired me to participate in future projects and I highly recommend everyone to take chance to explore what Malaysia is all about and what we can do to contribute to our motherland.
I realised that Orang Asli are indeed a group of voiceless people who are invisible from our sight. My connection with the Orang Asli had grown and we both understand each other more.
The keluarga angkat (foster family) I stayed with is my family now. They had given me more than I could ever give back. While I was there, they treated me like their daughter and sister. I was touched by everything they did for me. And the phone call was definitely one of them.
It’s impossible to get phone signal in the village therefore in order to call someone, the villagers would have to get down from the mountains to the nearest town to get phone signal. And on that day, my ayah angkat called me while he was working in town.
This is what Impian Malaysia had brought to me. It showed the Malaysia I have never seen before. I was only in the village for a very short duration of time but for being there, we as volunteers had shown to the villagers that we care and we want to share our stories with them. They too want to share their lives with us.
Impian Malaysia gave me the opportunity to learn, to accept and to respect the indigenous people of this land. Vice versa, it helps the Orang Asli to learn and recognize they too are a part of Malaysia.
They deserve to have basic infrastructure like everyone else. I sincerely wish that one day we can all call ourselves Anak Malaysia, no more anak bandar or anak kampong (village child)!