I used to believe that Sabah had actually wriggled its way out of poverty long time ago– that all the talks, articles, news and stories regarding the stark poverty in Sabah was only part of Barisan National’s propaganda in their desperation of winning back the state from then the opposition back in 1994.
I used to curse that all the footages on the poverty and underdevelopment scenario in Sabah were all staged up for political motives and purposes. Or if they were genuine, the poor communities that were recorded to be played on TV prior to the impending General Election were actually immigrants who, to me at that time, were completely OK to be poor. I kept saying that Barisan National was overly exaggerating the fact that Sabah was far behind the other states in Malaysia so much so that when I enrolled into a boarding school in the peninsular, quite so many of my fellow Malaysian from other states thought that we in Sabah still stayed on top of trees.
Well, I didn’t blame them considering that TV1 and TV2 and a number of government-controlled local newspapers were their only means of sources for news back then. In the absence of low-cost airlines such as Air Asia, travelling to Sabah by MAS to see the real things for themselves was still considered too expensive and highly unaffordable for most East Malaysian back then, forcing them to swallow everything they saw on TV and read in the newspapers. Not quite like now when everyone can fly.
My post-graduate jobs had been putting me around the urban areas in Sabah for a few years. Being surrounded by the rapid development and even being part of it (I was on construction), I was tickled in the stomach every time I remembered the ridiculous TV footages on poor and needy people in Sabah and I would mockingly sing the soundtrack song out loud in my sarcastic amusement. “Kami perlukan lentrik, air dan jalan raya…..”. Looking down to the rapidly developing town (now city)of Kota KInabalu from the my occasional flight trips, I’d say to myself.. “Poor peninsular. They still think we are poor. They still think that we still stay on top of trees”.
All the tickled and amused thoughts changed completely when I got into a job that required me to travel to some of the innermost parts of Sabah. And I’m talking about really really inner places. Some of them had been almost impossible to reach.
Some had no access road at all we were forced to walk for many many hours across rivers and hills..
.. and across seemingly edgeless forests. Just imagine. We were forced to walk 8 hours just to reach the destination and another 10 hours to return to our car on this trip here alone. My legs still tremble everytime I look at this picture!
And if they were roads, they were not ones we could cat-walk traversing along.
Some of the trips required us to go on a boat-ride across the open sea. There were times when we had to bask under the sweltering sun hour after hour after hour that we’d be stinking like salted fish by the time we returned to the shore.
Quite in most of the journeys, due to the very long hours, we were forced to eat after half-way through and it was far cry from the good weekend picnics we usually have at Tanjung Aru beach once in a while.
By the end of the each journey, we would usually be left exhausted and messy. There were just so many sacrifices made all done in the name of job.
Still, I’ve always considered myself lucky to have seen the rather unknown side of this beloved homestate of mine with my own eyes. I happened to see some human settlements that I’d never known to exist. Seriously, I still try to figure out the exact location of this village here in the map of Sabah. Strange enough, despite being a massive settlement, it really seemed to be in the middle of no where.
And above all I’ve had first-hand encounters of how impoverishment is still dooming here in Sabah.
They might not be staying on top of trees but they are stark poor. They are not immigrants, they are as native as I am, they are our very own people. They have got almost nothing that they are forced to work around what they have got around to survive. Or rather to stay alive. It was a personal shocking encounter for me.
Some of them live in a house I had had some difficulty categorizing between a hut and a shack. Some of the huts(or shacks) are so scarcely and roughly built I wondered how they could ever find their private moments inside when they seem to keep generating kids quite profusely.
And of course the main concern is - what does the future hold for them? Bleakness and hopelessness, if they stay they way they are now.
Life in the fishing villages on the islands and seashores is nothing better either. Living off the unpredictably seasonal sea has proved to be as difficult if not more. Most of them are still way below the poverty line.
While they were born poor and probably due to geographical factors, among others, any mean of luxury and even a faint smell of good comfortable life has never reached them in any form so they don’t really know that they are poor.
But then, don’t you think they deserve a better life?
As being somebody who has seen it all, I would really like to address this, even to the whole world if I have to, that Malaysia is still very much a third world country. They are still so many poor communities out there who are so much in dire need of help and attention.
Some people might blatantly ask,”Aiyooo. It’s their fault mahhh. They are the ones who don’t want to come out of the shell? They are the ones who are to blame for being poor.”
That would be ridiculous to say, considering that they are not armored and facilitated with any weapons to face the cruel and unpredictable outside world. How do you expect them to survive in urban areas when some of them can’t even tell an RM1 note from an RM5? They need some basic education, to say the least.
Education is hope. Otherwise, they'll end up topping up the already worryingly increasing number of beggars all over KK.
Providing them with "those houses" wouldn't really do them any good if long terms are to be considered.
In the end, they would still be poor because they have no steady sources of income. Even worse it would be if they have no will of changing at all.
I still believe that opening their minds up by providing them with proper education is always the best option.
I was born into a fairly poor family but was so lucky to have parents who had always believed that there is always a better life. With that so strongly inflicted on us, we were set to pursue it and with some opportunities coming along, life began to take a better and better turn.
I believe, that is what should be given to them – opportunities.