A horse called Putih
Posted on April 23, 2012, Monday
TWO Peace Corps teachers Richard Shaltz and Len Edwards who were posted to Lawas Government School in 1968 decided to give the students a hands-on experience of stable work and riding a horse.
To do that they pooled their allowances and bought two horses for two hundred US dollars.
USD 200 was serious money back then when you take into account the Peace Corps allowance then was USD 300 per month but it was not enough to buy a thorough bred so they settled for two ponies from Sabah.
Lawas is the nearest Sarawak town to the Sabah border so transporting the animals was not too much of a bother.
The ponies were a hit with the students in Lawas but it was after Shaltz and Edwards left Lawas that Putih the pony took centre stage in a another school in nearby Limbang and Chang Yi who was a teacher in that school has fond memories of Putih’s contribution to the development of the students there…
In 1974, I was posted to Limbang Secondary School.
I have very good memories of this school, which thrived under its principal, Phang Chung Shin and a multi-racial group of teachers and students who were future-oriented and hardworking against all odds.
But a large part of our life at the school revolved around a white Sabah pony conveniently named Putih which means white in Malay.
Putih and his partner, a young filly, were bought by Richard Shaltz and Len Edwards, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) teaching in Lawas Government School in 1968.
The two ponies cost $100 each – rather cheap to many but it was one third of their full month PCV allowance.
They shipped the two ponies from Sabah to Lawas and the students were exposed to horse-riding and stable work.
Many teachers and students enjoyed interaction with the two ponies and a few Lun Bawang students became very attached to them.
Everyone who dared to ride, rode bare back on the two ponies.In Lawas many single teachers and Shaltz and Edward ate in the school dining hall, another part of the shared lives which both teachers and students appreciated.
Food was simple but the school non-academic staff and the academic staff were like family.
These were some of the best memories of Lawas teachers and students.
The years passed and sadly the novelty of having the ponies lost its appeal and when the Peace Corps teachers left they were neglected and Putih lost its partner.
The poor pony was destined to live the rest of its life in misery until Mr Goh a teacher who was transferred from Lawas and a few other teachers in Limbang Secondary heard that Putih was being abused in 1973.
The story of Putih’s plight touched Mr Phang the principal of the school and he was convinced that he should be brought to Limbang .
He decided to deputise the late Balang Lasung (who was then a junior teacher in the school and later became the top javelin thrower in South East Asia) and a Lawas student who was familiar with Putih – to fetch him.
It was an amazing and gargantuan task for Balang to put Putih on a cargo coastal ship from Lawas to Limbang, but they did it.
Thus Putih became our school pony.
What a change a school made…Putih was much loved in Limbang.
Students all wanted to wash and feed him. He was given a nice stable and was looked after very well by Balang.
Naturally the school management did not have any budget for a pony in the school which was supported by meagre government allocation.
Even food for the students was around $1.60 per head (lower than prisoners, according to some quarters).
But Putih never went hungry and managed to put on weight.
Students would go together to groom Putih and developed a real relationship with each other.
As they cared for him they also developed a great love for animals and compassion for living things.
For me, I was just so touched by Balang’s love for the animal and how he could ride Putih.
He brought cowboy and horses to reality in the small town of Limbang.
Most of the boys loved patting the pony and every now and then, they would speak to him like a friend.
It must have been very therapeutic for some little Form One boys who were homesick for their families and kampongs far away from Limbang.
Many of these little boys were from places like Long Semado and Long Lellang – two or three days’ journey by road away… and one or two days of walking again from the end of the road!
Probably many would like to own a horse so that they could ride one whole day and one whole night to go home…and then come back to school again. How they wished for ‘Horse Power’!
I myself even entertained such thoughts of riding a horse all the way to my hometown Sibu. High adventure that would have been!
If we had lots of memories of a good pony in a special school and lots of tales about him then we have to thank the two Peace Corps volunteers, Shaltz and Edwards, for bringing Putih into our lives!
We also have to thank Mr Phang and the late Balang Lasung for bringing Putih to Limbang Government Secondary school.
When people want to do something and you get people around you to do it together…things move! Even an abused pony could be brought ‘home’ where it was loved and cared for…and our lives became richer because of these acts of kindness.
Indeed the caring of a special white pony in our school was a special part of my life. My 1974 year was remarkable and unforgettable because of a white pony left behind by two Peace Corps teachers.