On 11 September, DAP launched the Impian Sarawak campaign, which is a part of the Malaysia Dream. The first project under the campaign, the building of a gravity water dam and channeling system in Kg Sait Muk Ayun, Ulu Bengoh was completed successfully on 6 October. The Rocket spoke with three of the self-sponsored volunteers about their experience in the helping out in the project.
Ng Boon Ming (27), DAP Intern
As a West Malaysian we were often told of the stories about how Sarawak’s resources have been taken by Peninsular Malaysia while the Sarawakians are ill-treated and still living in poverty. As I have never seen it, I decided to join the Impian Sarawak program to see for myself. We have a lot of information on the internet but we can’t trust everything that’s being circulated.
It was really bad. The poverty level and lack of basic amenities as portrayed in the news and blogs are really reflected where we stayed. Kg Sait folks have no piped water supply, electricity, education opportunities or even medical facilities. Some outside parties want to take their ancestral land yet they are not being compensated to leave the land. They are not being treated like Malaysians at all.
Chen Lee Leng (30), chiropractor
For me, it was a firsthand experience to live in the condition the natives faced every day. We were privileged to learn about their history, background and culture and more importantly about their problems. Everything we took for granted such as basic piped water supply, good roads and electricity is what they need the most.
We saw the old and pregnant ladies struggling across the makeshift bridge that hangs dangerously over the ravine. We are all Malaysians, yet it is heart-wrenching to see them deprived of the basic necessities which we take for granted. They have been Malaysians way longer than some of us, yet they have to suffer that kind of condition.
By learning about their condition and culture, we hope to come back and create more awareness amongst the Malaysians here. We are still comfortable with our phones, technology and other amenities. It’s sad to see places like that still exist in Malaysia.
With their land, the kampong folks are able to raise live stocks and plant paddy which is sufficient for themselves. They are a self-sufficient community. They didn’t have to pay for anything before this. Now they have to pay for the land which they have lived on for generations.
We hope what we are sharing now can be spread throughout Malaysia to let the people know that this is happening in the Bengoh dam area and many places in Sarawak.
Chu Yin Harn (25). student
When the Bengoh dam was constructed they were told to move further away from their original and ancestral land to the current site, which they built the houses themselves without adequate compensation from the government. Now they are being told to move far away from this site to another place where they have to pay for the houses and the land. It is so unfair to them.
We are angry at seeing how they were being treated. They spend all their efforts to build their homes only for the government to come in and chase them away without giving them proper compensation.
Taking away the land from them is like robbing their life; they cannot live without their land. It’s their identity. They will starve to death. They need the land to survive; the land is like air to them; if you take away their land it’s taking away their life. What the government is doing now, its murder!
Cut off from the world
Yin Harn : In our stay there, during the nights we had sharing sessions with the locals. We heard how they were being mistreated by the government. As they are cut off from the outside world, they feel helpless and without a voice. They wanted to engage a lawyer to fight their case for them; however they don’t have the money to hire one.
Lee Leng : I sensed a lot of fear in them. They were instigated and cowed to fear outsiders and opposition parties. The ruling party members came in to tell them not listen to opposition parties.
In my encounter with the women from the village, some asked me, “is it true if I don’t vote for the ruling party, my children wouldn’t be able to get a job?” We learnt from her that her son had a diploma. I tried to convince her that her vote is confidential; she was relieved somewhat.
Boon Meng : The villagers are really unaware of what is going on in the rest of Malaysia. They don’t know who or what to believe. They tell us that all the news they have is from TV or radio. These are the only source of outside information they have.
They don’t have someone who would consistently go into their village to tell them what’s going on. It contributes a lot to their lack of political awareness and education. Some duplicitous characters could just come in and promise them such and such a thing and they will vote them.
Some of the political news, which we the informed urbanites may know it’s not true, they have no way of knowing about it. By us going in to their village, we may not instantly change their mindsets and beliefs about the political situation.
However with the Impian Sarawak project, it may create a sense of presence and to tell the villagers such as them that they do have a choice and there are people who care for them.
Making an impact amongst the people
Boon Meng : I think we received a bigger impact from them than they did received from us (laughs)! I believed the project creates ripples of effect upon the people.
Both sides (the volunteers and villagers) were touched. The villages were really appreciative of our presence; it was so much so that the villagers insisted on hanging DAP flags on the day of the officiation of the gravity system by DAP leaders. Even though we were not much of a help to them and they could do the project themselves actually, they appreciated our presence there as a form of cultural exchange.
Lee Leng : We shed more tears than the villagers themselves. Though they have been subjected to much hard ship and oppression from the government such as having to move from the land without compensation, they didn’t project that anger or disappointment at us. We didn’t feel any hatred from them.
In my previous trip to Sabah’s interior I had sensed a lot of resistance from the villagers. They were suspicious of who we were (as we were from PM) and what we were up to.
We went in hoping to help them. I think some of us gave them more trouble than help (laughs)! But they were very appreciative of our presence there, being with them and going through what they go through every day.
In the face of difficulties they marshalled the strength to face the challenges to survive and adapt. They were not resistant to change; that’s what made us really touched by their perseverance. Hopefully our presence and interaction with them did create an atmosphere of trust between Peninsular Malaysians and Sarawakians.
Yin Harn : For us volunteers who went into the villages it does changes some of our mindsets. We learnt a lot from the villagers –the values, their way of life and their spirit for perseverance and adaptation. We are the ones that can be their voice and spread about what they are going through. However it’s still not enough; we need more volunteers to go for such a trip.
We wouldn’t care for them until we step foot into their kampongs. When I first saw the Impian Sarawak video trailer I wasn’t expecting the situation to be so bad. It impacted me. My reaction to this was big. We have problems here, but if we were to be in their shoes, our problems are so small. If you have a mid life crisis, I suggest you go for this trip; it will help you see things in perspective.
Deserving the government they get?
For many Malaysians who often hear such comments as ‘Sabah and Sarawak are not developed and poor because they deserved the corrupted government they get’, is that a fair statement to make? The volunteers shared their candid thoughts on it.
Lee Leng : I had been exposed to similar situations in Sabah before this project. The villages and places I visited, they (the villagers) would share similar answers about the lack of awareness of the outside world and apathetic resignation of “Apa boleh kami buat?” (what can we do?).
They are very smart people actually, these villagers. They stress on education a lot. They have also being exposed to NGOs working amongst them who have told them about their native rights.
However the overwhelming and constant response which they express is fear and vulnerability. They have no choice. Ever so often in the past some opposition members would come in to their village and make promises to help them, yet they get played out and lose faith and trust of these parties.
For those who often jeered the Sarawakians and Sabahans as naïve and deserving of the corrupt and bad government they get, I suggest these people go into the rural areas and see for themselves of the situation the rural Sarawakians faced every day. It is the most immature and ignorant statements one can make.
When one is subject to the squalid environment which these people faced every day, it’s the only choice one can make. The people do what they have to do to survive. Over here in Peninsular Malaysia we have the choice to say what we want to say and vote the government we want; they don’t have the luxury of such choice.
Yin Harn : They don’t have access to the internet and phone communication and the environment is handed down to them like that. Hence they have a perception of no choice. Often they don’t have parties or people they can go to ask for help to voice their grievances. In their minds, they are thinking ‘Pakatan Rakyat maybe powerful in Peninsular Malaysia but not in Sarawak; what if I vote for PR and things go wrong (i.e. PR doesn’t form government), who’s going to take care of us?’
Boon Meng : For those educated West Malaysians and urbanites who says that rural Sarawakians deserve the government they get, its not a fair statement. We west Malaysians have access to internet and alternative information. Over there in Kg Sait and many villages that is not the case, in fact they don’t even have piped water supply and other amenities, much less internet access.
Fulfilling a promise
For project chairman Damansara Utama ADUN Yeoh Bee Yin and project director Tam Kar Lye this has been a fruitful end to an endeavour that was birthed from the persistence of a few activists.
“This village was identified by us a few weeks before. For years BN had not delivered any development for this village. When I first came to this village to shoot for video materials, the villagers had asked if we could help them with their water problem. We didn’t dare to promise them as we weren’t sure if we could get the funding for this project,” Yeo related.
“The villagers were disappointed as they had many experiences with politicians who came to the village and made promises but never deliver them. For some of them to hear this YB from somewhere far who didn’t even make a promise to them, it was doubly disappointing for them.”
“Then the DAP leadership decided to the Impian Sarawak program and donation drive. We told them we were going to do the project and we managed to accomplish the project in six weeks.”
Tam spoke about how the village headman had been warned that in order to retain his job and allowance he has to move five families out of the village out of the area every month. In order words evict them. “He has steadfastly refused to do so.”
“In fact this kampong is not even in existence in the government’s list. If he is not recognized as the village chief, it means the kampong doesn’t get any funding from the government and he doesn’t get his allowance,” she explained.
Doing it right
Yeo said that the local BN chapter has not raise any alarm yet by the volunteers’ presence. “They believe that money politics can sway the votes to them even though we have worked for more than two years here.”
Tam said that IS will be organizing three more projects in November, in Sri Aman, Betong and Bau. “There will be two water projects and one will be on economy. The economy project is to empower the locals to have better earning capacity. We don’t do handouts as we want them to be independent.”
“We in PR could do the similar thing by giving money to the locals. However we want to chart a new direction and a new way of doing politics. We need to do things the right way. And that means giving them the right to choose who they want as government without coercion,” Yeo said.
“This is not a political movement. We want to help the people regardless of political background. We hope that through volunteers like them, they would be able to come back and share with the people here of what they went through.”
“We will need more volunteers. Kg Sait is our first project but not our last. This will be the first of many to come.”