MAHATMA Gandhi once said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.
This could be one of the reasons why people take part in volunteerism, including the over 100 volunteers of the recent ‘Giving Hope, Sharing Love’ humanitarian project.
It was started by Dr Ling Tung King, a local veterinary surgeon, and Kelvin Wan, founder of local welfare non-governmental organisation (NGO) Hope Place. Both are no strangers to lending a helping hand to the less fortunate throughout Sarawak.
The project, which took place in Ulu Baram, was an enriching and rewarding experience for Dr Ling, Wan, and the other participants.
Not only did they enjoy the adventurous off-road expedition, they helped the less privileged communities by sharing some comforts most in the technological era take for granted.
Wan said he developed a soft spot for the people in the interior, especially the Penans, after being brought to several areas in Baram by Kayan paramount chief Temenggong Elizabeth Deng in 2015.
“We managed to visit several disabled people around the areas Elizabeth was familiar with. I also found out they had no water and electricity supply – not like us. My heart went out to them and I wanted to help them. This is what has kept me searching for the Penans ever since.
“This year, Dr Ling told me since I’m doing this – he wanted to introduce me to the three Penan villages – Long Siang, Long Rudin and Long Selulong,” Wan told thesundaypost.
According to him, the programme initiated in April after a fact-finding trip to Penan settlements earlier this year, did not only receive an overwhelming response from both volunteers and donors alike, but also the blessing of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg.
News of the humanitarian expedition spread far and wide, leading to over 30 four-wheel drive vehicles from Kuching, Miri, Sibu, and Labuan joining the convoy.
The trip to the three Penan settlements started as early as 5am from Miri on June 15.
Besides Dr Ling, Wan and his staff, the volunteers included doctors, dentists, and nurses from the Sarawak General Hospital, the Sarawak Nursing Professional Association (SNPA), and Sandakan, Sabah.
A pharmacist, a hairdresser, and 17 technicians – all volunteers helping to install solar lights at Long Rudin and Long Selulong – also joined the three-day, two-night trip.
Wan said the technicians came well prepared, having been trained by solar light experts. He was also grateful for the good weather during the installation process.
“We installed six solar panels altogether at the two villages (Long Rudin and Long Selulong),” he said.
Wan said as nine houses in Long Rudin had previously received smaller solar panels from an NGO in Kuala Lumpur, solar panels were installed only at the community hall and the village church.
In Long Selulong, solar panels were installed in all 22 houses and the village church.
As for Long Siang, the houses had solar panels but the batteries were spoilt and Wan had them replaced.
“These solar panels will provide electricity for the whole village. The installation started around 12 noon and was completed at about 9pm on a Saturday. By the time we got back to our homestay, it was almost 1am,” he said.
He was happy to note the response from villagers was very encouraging.
“They were very happy because not only had they received solar panels but also a lot of food in one go. We managed to distribute equally to every door,” Wan said, adding that they handed out rice, cooking oil, salt, sugar, biscuits, noodles, Milo, milk powder, as well as milk from Australia.
Children at the villages also received stationery, school bags, and other goodies. The volunteers also brought new clothing for the women and children.
Major sponsors for the project included a Chinese manufacturer of photovoltaics and solar projects developer – LONGi Green Energy Technology Co Ltd – which donated 38 solar panels during the recent launch of LONGi Kuching at the Samajaya High Tech Park.
Among the major individual donors was Wan’s schoolmate Kelly Lau, who contributed some 60 per cent of the food items.
Wan said there were other donors, including private companies, which gave various items – solar accessories, food, women’s undergarments, preloved clothing, and basic medical supplies.
“The main objective, besides providing food aid, general health screening and oral check-up, is giving light to the villages. Some never had any form of electricity before,” he said.
The volunteers also provided dental healthcare to the villagers.
“Although some were afraid to have their teeth pulled out, we were still able to perform more than 30 extractions. There is a clinic in Long Seridan but no dentist,” Wan noted.
He was happy that children from Long Selulong are going to school for the first time this year.
“The availability of electricity will ease the struggles of the villagers and greatly help the children in their studies,” he said, pointing out it is imperative for the Penans to have good education for future generations.
“With access to solar lights, a lot of things can be done to improve their living standards.
“Some of the villagers could not speak proper BM (Bahasa Malaysia). Fortunately, we had two translators to speak with them, especially during medical check-ups. It’s very important for them to understand the healing process.”
Wan pointed out that among the challenges the volunteers faced were cars breaking down and bad road conditions. Overall, he gave full marks to their spirit of volunteerism and camaraderie.
“The volunteers were exceptional. They used their own cars and paid for their own petrol, not to mention doubling up as our technicians. The medical professionals also closed their clinics and flew over to help us,” he said.
“They did a fantastic job. I encouraged the villagers to check their teeth and we had fun teaching the kids to brush their teeth properly. We also handed out free toothbrushes.”
Wan also observed that the Penans are very shy.
“Even though we tried to shake hands with them, they didn’t dare shake our hands and kept looking at us. Some of them just smiled. They are not used to meeting outsiders.
“However, by the time we switched on the lights, we could see happy faces, especially among the elderly.”
During the humanitarian expedition, villagers in Long Siang sold their handicrafts at the longhouse and sales were quite good.
After the successful first project, Wan plans to organise a second one next year.
“I will need a lot of volunteers, especially those with different skills.”
He hoped more people would step forward to help the less fortunate.
“Those who’d like to become volunteers can call us or email us your forms. We will post our updates in a WhatsApp group. Feel free to participate in any of our activities,” he said.
Hope Place visits poor and destitute families to offer essential food items such as rice, cooking oil, sugar, salt, biscuits, and noodles.
“Many of them earn barely enough to get through the month. They are grateful for the basic necessities delivered to them. For families with special needs children, elderly or disabled people, Hope Place provides milk powder, oats as well as diapers,” added Wan.
Hope Place delivers the aid once every two months due to the long list of recipients. Presently, it supports more than 200 families.
Hope Place can be reached via 013-5672775 or 082-505987 from 2pm to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays, and from 9am to noon on Saturdays.