Saturday, September 19

We must never forget our local heroes


THE floods of January 2012 hit Kuching hard. Many of the low lying areas were badly affected. In the rural countryside the hilly areas were badly hit with many landslides and settlements succumbing to erosion caused by heavy thunderstorms and torrential rains.

The open monsoon rains along Jalan Rock and Jalan Batu Lintang had been swollen with flood waters, making it impossible to tell the difference between road and drains. The worst hit section was just next to the Shell petrol station, Joo Seng, along Jalan Rock just facing the Indian Hindu temple, a stone’s throw away from Wisma Saberkas. The huge open drain had burst its banks and cars were seen bogged down and were stranded by engines which had stalled or flooded over.

Nineteen-year-old Form 6 student Kho Ying Qi was walking from her school SMK Batu Lintang towards the bus stop amidst torrential rainfall. Visibility was extremely bad and she couldn’t tell road from drain.

As she disappeared into the murky waters of the swollen and fast flowing drain, 27-year-old Herman Sihas, who was working the petrol fuel pump at the nearby Shell station caught sight of her disappearing into the dark water abyss. Without a second thought, and even though he couldn’t swim, he had swiftly jumped into the spot where he saw her go in; going after her. The flood water had to be at least several feet higher than any adult, and the current was extremely strong and churning at the T-junction where the bridge had met the main road. A whirlpool effect had most certainly caused both girl victim and rescuer to have been swiftly sucked into the inner drain amidst other debris, flotsam, and jetsam of the swirling water.

It was only three days later that the Civil Defence Department personnel had found Mohamad Sulaiman Abdullah’s remains (Herman had converted to Islam in the year 2000 having received his parents’ blessings), some 3km away from where he had jumped into the tumultuous flood waters. It was 17 days later that Kho’s body was found stranded some distance away on the cliff of a river mouth by a local resident who happened to be scouring the area.

In anyone’s books, Mohd Sulaiman Abdullah (aka Herman Sihas) was a hero. He was the son of retirees who were in military service and had hailed from Kampung Jangkar, near Biawak in Lundu. The only known recognition ever bestowed on him was a First Class Merit Certificate by St John Ambulance Sarawak for courage and valour beyond the call of duty. He had given his life in pursuit of saving a stranger’s life, without thought for his own personal safely and welfare.

I was reminded of this incident of bravery by Dr John Fozdar. We had over coffee at the Sarawak Club very recently discussed about the many topics, subjects, and issues that have either lacked the public’s recognition, debate, or had been just swept aside – be it due to political correctness, disinterest, ennui, or just simply forgotten.

We must never forget our local heroes – the unsung men and women who have unselfishly given their time, influence, effort, energy, financial resources and in this case their own lives – in pursuit of the greater good. By this I mean the collective good of our community, our society and the world at large. These are our real life heroes, often unnamed, unknown, untitled, and unacknowledged.

It would be an honourable thing if the authorities that be, in this case, DBKU or the Ministry of Welfare, or Youth and Sports, honour this hero who gave his life for another, by erecting some kind of a memorial plaque or a small marble headstone, with words to the effect of his act of bravery, at a spot nearby where he had fallen. I had gone to have a look and the most appropriate site would be just at the boundary of the fence of the Joo Seng Shell petrol kiosk, where he had worked. It would also serve as a reminder to those in the future, lest we forget that within our own society and in this very town, we had raised a son of Sarawak who is worthy of remembrance. His sacrifice may be local but his appeal and his deed speaks a universal language which will find admiration on the world stage.

Dr Fozdar and myself have used Mohd Sulaiman (alias Herman) as one outstanding example of a hero whom we mustn’t let history erase from our collective memories. In fact, there are many more – unsung heroes of both sexes, all races, religions and creed and from all walks of life – people who have either done good, made successes of themselves, or became giants and have stood out in their individual fields of endeavour or their areas of expertise – who had gone on leading their quiet lives without any spotlight being shone on them or without praise and glory but happily getting on with their lives, doing what they do best.

These are our everyday heroes – the guy you pass on the street, the lady sitting quietly reading her book in the park, or that someone who just gets things done without making a fuss.

Every society, every community, needs local heroes. Some of us may be envious of them, others enamoured or enraptured beyond realistic expectations, or simply be in awe of such folk. Again too some of them may be what I’d term conflicted heroes, dubious heroes, enigmatic, or even complicated heroes. These are just labels that we as humans tend to stick on them. As for me, heroes are heroes, regardless of what you want to label them by or with.

It is time that we as a community shine our torches on them – lift them up, acknowledge, name, and honour them.

Thank you once again John for this timely reminder. Amen.

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