DAY14:From Sarikei to longhouse with success story

STANDING TALL: Rumah Jilap.

PAKAN: A last-minute change of plans saw BAT 3 spending another night in Sarikei, which the team did not mind at all as it gave us more time to soak in the town’s vibrancy.

End-of-month tends to be quite busy for Sarikei. Long queues can often be seen snaking around banks and cash withdrawal machines as locals and people living outside town congregate there to settle financial matters.

With Hari Raya around the corner, the town is even more packed with visitors on weekends and public holidays as people prepare for the upcoming celebration.

Sarikei Resident Michael Dawi Alli had tipped us off earlier on the Aik Seng coffee shop near the waterfront which has a reputation of preparing the best-tasting ‘roti bakar’ in town and the only place in the state where one can savour halal ‘loh mee’.

Aik Seng’s charcoal-toasted ‘roti bakar’ is different from the usual coffee shop offering as it has three fillings – butter, ‘kaya’ and peanut butter – instead of just butter and kaya.

As for its halal ‘loh mee’, it has gained many fans across the state, including the present head of state who rarely fails to drop by the coffee shop for a dish when he is passing through the area.

Unfortunately, when we dropped by early yesterday morning, Aik Seng was not open for business.

So we settled for a simple but delicious breakfast at the nearby open-air market instead.

Fed, the team then set out for Rumah Jilap, located about 50km away, an hour’s drive from Sarikei and then a further 9km after Pakan.

On the way, we passed by a number of pepper farms which Pakan is well-known for.

To get to Rumah Jilap from Pakan, the team had to pass through a stretch of unsealed gravel road which threatened to rattle the fillings from our molars out.

But the road has improved according to two members of the team who last visited the longhouse in 2009.

The trip to Rumah Jilap would figuratively kill two birds with one stone. We wanted to learn more about the longhouse residents’ success in planting vegetables, and to meet with Minister of Social Development Tan Sri William Mawan who coincidentally was also paying the longhouse a visit that morning.

Rumah Jilap is known for its fresh leafy green vegetables grown under tents of fine netting. For a longhouse of only 41 families, it manages to produces about RM50,000 worth of vegetables per  month which are mainly sold in Sibu and Sarikei.

The villagers first embarked on this endeavour in 1994 through state youth body Saberkas. They started out on a small scale planting on communal land, but as they saw good returns, the villagers started buying and planting individual plots as well.

With the derived income, the living standard of the villagers has improved significantly. Many of them used the money to send their children for higher education. Today, they have about 34 masters, bachelor degree, diploma and certificate graduates from their longhouse, with more on the way.

The land around the village seems particularly suitable for growing vegetables and the villagers have built on this advantage through good organisation, communication and management skills as well as a vision for their future.

Producing vegetables consistently on such a large scale requires detailed planning and teamwork, especially during harvest time as there is a very small window of opportunity for them to work.

Every year, the villagers compile an annual report with updated statistics on the village’s demographics, achievements, needs and goals. The team was quite impressed with the high level of organisation and mutual cooperation they displayed.

Every villager we spoke to seemed well-aware and informed of the latest developments pertaining to their vegetable plots. Understandably, they are proud of what the village has achieved.

Not long after finishing our interviews, Mawan and his entourage arrived.

The minister is a popular public figure in his constituency and it was not difficult to see why. He is friendly, approachable and has a lively and endearing sense of humour.

The longhouse folk gave Mawan a warm welcome and took the opportunity to update the minister and also present their petitions.

Once the formalities and speeches were made, we managed to sit down with the minister for an exclusive interview.

After that, we rushed back to Pakan to file our stories.

BAT 3 is now facing the home stretch to its 2-week journey. It has been an interesting trip but the team is all looking forward to going home.

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