MULU, a world renowned tourist spot, is typically famous for lush tropical rainforests and impressive caves, especially the Mulu Caves, a world heritage site.
But many people are either taking them for granted or do not really know the true living conditions of the villagers there, especially the Penans.
Hope Place, a local welfare non-governmental organisation (NGO) had recently been invited by Lim Siok Yam, headmaster of Tadika Penika, a local kindergarten, to visit the pre-school and some rural folk with special needs (OKU) in Mulu.
The invitation followed an earlier charity project — solar lights for Penan villages in the state — organised by Hope Place.
Basic amenities needed
Tadika Penika, with pupils from ages four to six, is a simple building on stilts with a beautiful vegetable garden surrounding it. Although this does paint a picture of a lovely and self-sustaining nursery school, problems and challenges abound for the teachers and pupils.
The school was in the midst of renovation when Hope Place arrived in Mulu.
Lim said the school was subjected to flooding every December with the water rising three to four feet high. And according to Hope Place founder Kelvin Wan, the site is being raised to prevent damage to the school.
The school also has no electricity or water supply. And it has asked for solar lights from Hope Place.
The only power source is a generator but it’s not used to produce electricity because diesel is very expensive — between RM16 and RM20 or more for two litres.
Another thing is that none of the pupils — all Penans — has proper shoes, except slippers, to wear to school.
English night class
Despite the challenges, Tadika Penika has proposed to start an adult English night class for the local villagers to help them find jobs in the tourism industry — for example, as local tour guides.
Although lacking in amenities like electric fans and computers, the kindergarten is determined to start this project — which is why it has asked Hope Place for help.
Wan said for ease of communication, the headmaster and teachers spoke to the pupils in Penan language although lessons, including basic maths, were taught in Bahasa Malaysia. English is also one of the subjects.
He noted that despite all the problems — lack of funding included — the school still provided the pupils with food like noodles or biscuits during recess.
He added that sometimes, vegetables like tomatoes, brinjals and other greens were plucked from the school’s garden and cooked to supplement their diet. Milk is given once a week.
The only source of clean water is rainwater.
“Although the school is near the main river, the water is not fit for human consumption. Boats come and go every few minutes. The river is polluted with diesel and petrol and it gets worse, especially during the dry season,” Wan said.
OKUs too need help
The Hope Place team were also brought by the teachers to visit two families with four OKUs.
They first called on ‘special needs’ person Paris Khiasan, who was born mute and unable to walk.
The 21-year-old who lives with his family, needs 24-hour care and the family has requested for a wheelchair.
Paris’ grandmother, Midi Lian, is also disabled and unable to walk since a fall a year ago. She too wants a wheelchair. In addition, the family has made a request for electricity (solar lights), water supply as well as food aid.
Another OKU the team visited was Salam, 40, who lives with his parents.
Salam is deaf mute while his mother is totally blind. Both depend on Salam’s 80-year old father to care for them. They too have asked for help such as food and solar lights.
Wan said the Hope Place team were in Mulu for three days, surveying the town and its surroundings.
He noted that as Mulu was located in deep rainforests, the only way to get to the town was by air or river.
“If one opts for the more adventurous route by boat, from Marudi town to Mulu, one needs to travel for about five to seven hours. Using the less travelled waterways through Long Berawang will take more than two hours.
“Transport charges are very high and beyond the means of most Penans and Berawans. The fare for each person in a privately-owned longboat is RM200 to RM400 per trip. Transporting any vehicle from Marudi to Mulu costs roughly RM5,000.”
Wan added that a local water taxi-man called Robert had agreed to give Hope Place a special rate in transporting the team and items like solar lights and food parcels from Marudi to Mulu.
Robert who owns a longboat, is happy to help out for charity.
Flying the team and all the necessities to Mulu is out of the question as the load consists of solar light components such as batteries and other items among others.
Hope Place is planning to return to Mulu to help Tadika Penika and two disabled (OKU) families early this year provided it can get enough sponsorships for much needed items like solar lights, food and wheelchairs.
Wan is appealing to the public and corporations for help. Hope Place carries out its aid deliveries once every three months.
“Our list is long — we are helping OKUs with milk and pampers, single mothers who have schooling kids, abandoned elderly and those earning below RM500 per month.
“We are now supporting more than 200 families,” Wan said.
For more information, call Hope Place Kuching (hotlines 013-567 2775/082-505 987 from 8.30am to noon and 2pm to 5pm from Mondays to Fridays, and 9am to noon on Saturdays.
Kelvin himself is available at 016-866 0711.
Public donations can be made through Persatuan Kebajikan Harapan Kuching Maybank 5112-8900-1160).
All donors are advised to ask for receipts from Hope Place staff.