Thursday, Dec 14th

Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Saturday, 01 October 2016 00:00

The Road to Paitan Is One that Leads to Happiness

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, Sandakan / Translated by Goh Hwe Yong

The happy smiles of the children were the motivational force for Tzu Chi volunteers to promote the Happy Schooling Scheme. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]

Sandakan volunteer, Chin Chai Mee, felt extremely excited whenever she revisited the 700 odd children in Paitan as they are very dear to her.


On October 1, 2016, a team of Tzu Chi volunteers, led by Chin Chai Mee, arrived at the Kabuluh Community Hall in Paitan. The school children of SK Kabuluh were in their uniform and sitting on the floor in the hall, while their parents waited outside. When the adults caught sight of the volunteers unloading aid materials, they quickly formed a line to help transfer the packets of rice, cooking oil and groundnuts into the hall.

Chai Mee and other volunteers immediately divided the hall into four different zones for various activities to be carried out. They set up the polyclinic on the right side of the entrance, distribution of goods on the left, dental clinic near the stage, and humanity lessons for the pupils right at the centre of the hall.

The hall soon became busy and noisy, with villagers either queueing to see the doctor or dentist, or sitting down chit-chatting away. Pupils, on the other hand, were led by volunteers in group activities, such as, writing and drawing with the use of a pen held by foot or mouth.

Outside the hall, clean recycled garments were put up for charity sale at RM1 per piece. As they paid for their choice of garments, the villagers learnt to do charity while benefitting from it at the same time.

Getting to Paitan by driving was no easy matter as the road to Paitan was long and winding. Hence, the free clinic and Happy Schooling Scheme were always held concurrently for Paitan people. Some humanistic lessons and health talks were also incorporated.

This year, beneficiaries of the Happy Schooling Scheme were given rice, cooking oil and groundnuts in place of school bags, stationery and the like, that were given in the past.

A luxury to have rice to eat

“Jinol Maijin, a local teacher, reported to Tzu Chi that the pupils needed transportation subsidy to attend school. Through follow-up home visits, we discovered that they also need food as well,” said Chai Mee.

The villagers do not earn enough to sustain a decent life, for they only work as casual labourers or rubber tappers. Filling their stomachs at every meal was something beyond their means, not to mention, paying for their children’s transport to school. This was why so many children were forced to stay away from school.

Although Tzu Chi’s Happy Schooling Scheme offers aid to poor pupils to help pay for their transportation, meals in school and tuition fees, Chai Mee was worried that they would still go hungry when they return home. Upon discussion with other volunteers, it was decided that the meal allowance would be substituted with aid in kind, like rice, cooking oil and groundnuts.

Jinol was very supportive of the change, and agreed to work together with the volunteers as coordinator, and help compile the name list of the needy pupils, as well as, make announcements on the distribution.

In July 2016, the first distribution was held for 81 pupils, who received two packets of 10 kg rice, one packet of 1 kg cooking oil and one packet of 1 kg groundnuts. On doctors’ advice, groundnuts were chosen to supplement the nutrients needed by the locals.

Harmun, a mother, was so happy because Tzu Chi’s assistance not only gave her children a chance for schooling, but also made it possible for the family to fill their stomachs. With her husband being a casual labourer and four children, the youngest only nine months old, to feed, she often has no money to buy rice. The entire family normally survived on wild grown vegetables and tapioca.

To make it for the aid distribution that day, she had spent all the RM5 she had on boat transport. But she was happy with Tzu Chi’s help so that her children could go to school, and the family could have rice for meals over the next three to four months. She said smilingly, “We do not have gas stove at home, thus I would use wood to cook rice with the groundnuts. If we consume it sparingly, the food can last us for a long time.”

The family has enjoyed the meals prepared using the rice given by Tzu Chi. Harmun has always urged her children to study hard now that they do not have to starve anymore. This is how they could reciprocate the caring love of Tzu Chi volunteers.

Sarimah, mother to Primary 4 student Arliana and a younger boy, were entitled to two portions of aid. Sarimah once tried to borrow money from others to buy rice to cook for her children but it was in vain as others were just as poor. However, since July this year her life has taken a turn for the better with Tzu Chi providing the food needed for the family.

Arliana found out during the humanistic lessons that to write with a pen in her mouth was something as difficult as attending school every day. She used to attend school only two days a week because she could not pay for the boat fare. The Happy Schooling Scheme has enabled her to attend school every day, and her study has improved since then.

She finally managed to write her name with the pen held in her mouth. Her mum was pleased seeing that and encouraged her to study hard so as to fulfil her ambition as an English teacher in future.

A big thank you to volunteers

Though busy helping with the name list for distribution, Jinol felt happy looking at the keenness in his pupils in the learning activities. He kept reminding them and their parents not to forget the kind deed extended by Tzu Chi.

A native to this part of the land, Jinol cares most for his pupils. It pained him to see the hardship faced by the children in schooling opportunities. But, however much he wanted to help, he simply could not do much alone. It was not until three years ago when Tzu Chi held free clinics at Paitan that he asked Chai Mee for help.

Over the years, he was transferred to a few schools, and witnessed the common problem of absenteeism at schools. He would then report the case to Tzu Chi and volunteers would follow up with home visits. He was touched by Tzu Chi’s timely subsistence on numerous occasions.

In 2011, Tzu Chi volunteers started reaching out to schoolchildren of primary and secondary schools in Paitan, giving out aid based on their requirements. For instance, some schools needed bicycles while some needed stationery, sport garments, exercise books, school bags, and so on. In 2014, aid in the form of boat fare, meal allowance and tuition fee were given. This time, the situation had called for aid in kind, like rice to sustain the families of the pupils.

“I did not expect Tzu Chi to give out aid with such thoughtful considerations. Boat fare is what the children needed most and following such aid, the class attendance shot up from 60% to 90%,” Jinol informed.

Education gives hope for a better future and Jinol knew it best, for he himself had gone through similar hardship. But he persevered and successfully completed his tertiary education. He knew that to break away from the life experienced by his older generations, he had to study hard.

He does not want to see the native children being trapped in the same kind of life. He felt they should reach out to the world outside, in search of their dreams. So he did all he could to that end, and was thankful towards Chai Mee for being ever ready to respond to his call to help the children.

A different world

What Jinol said had given rise to a warm feeling for Chai Mee. In fact, it was a motivational force. Since she first set foot in Paitan six years ago, she has become a regular visitor, and that is something which amazes her.

She could still recall how she had to spend a night in a classroom during her first visit with other volunteers. Sympathy for the poor children having to study in such difficult conditions then arose. Since then, she has never missed a chance to partake in various charitable activities held in Paitan.

Chai Mee grew up in Sandakan. All along, she has lived a simple and easy life. She is single and has a steady job. She had never thought of going to Paitan, which is a three to four hour arduous journey with bumpy rides, as she has motion sickness.

“Had it not been for Tzu Chi, I don’t think I would ever come to this place. It is so different from the life I know. Home visit has allowed me to see the living conditions of natives, and I felt so sad for them,” Chai Mee remarked.

As the person-in-charge of the Happy Schooling Scheme, Chai Mee is constantly in touch with the local schools. Whenever needy pupils are referred to her from schools, she and Hsieh Hsiu Hua, person-in-charge of Sandakan Liaison Office, would organize a team of volunteers to make home visits.

Home visits proved tedious for her, as she has to put up with motion sickness on the one hand, and crossing unfamiliar hilly terrains on the other. Her efforts might just be in vain because a house might not be located at all.

In native settlements, houses are scattered and house number and street name are unreliable. Many times, even the headmasters, teachers or boatmen could not locate the house. Despite all obstacles, Chai Mee and all volunteers never gave up on trying again and again.

When they made it, what they saw was normally a house in the shabbiest condition that could not withstand any thunderstorm. The experience of each home visit might be different, but one thing is common – the endless story of suffering.

According to the parents, if the children could not pay for the boat ride to school, they would have to walk through the muddy and hilly terrains hence the journey to school is rather risky. Threat of wild animals, or an accidental fall down a cliff or deep valley were not impossible. So a child would have no choice but to stay at home if there are no other kids for company.

A promising tomorrow for the children

Chai Mee was totally shocked by all the realities of hardship and suffering faced by these indigenous people. But, she was truly touched to witness the parents’ hope for their children to study hard and to do well so that they could break the vicious cycle of poverty.

There was this old father who was a rubber tapper. His work earned him a monthly income of only four to five hundred. Out of this meagre sum, he had to set aside RM200 for his son, who was studying in a university in KL. He had no regrets making the great sacrifice even to the point of starvation, just to ensure there was money for his son to continue with his studies. He knew very well that without education, there would be no hope for his son’s future.

Chai Mee stated, “Such story was very touching. Actually, the schools have been very caring too, but they could not do much hence they felt desperate and helpless at times.” Knowing the root cause of the situation, Chai Mee has thus made it known to all the schools that children in need could request for financial help through the Happy Schooling Scheme of Tzu Chi.

However, her good intention was met with cold shoulders initially, simply because many did not know about Tzu Chi Foundation and some headmasters even asked for proof of identity from the Ministry of Education. Chai Mee would then patiently explain to them that Tzu Chi is a charitable organization which extends help without discrimination regarding religion and race.

Whenever there are free clinics or aid distributions held in Paitan, Chai Mee would send out invitations to headmasters of various schools to witness the event for themselves. She never missed any opportunity to reach out to the school principals as she knew there were many schoolchildren out there in the mountains awaiting assistance.

By and by, possibly due to her sincere efforts, response to the scheme started to get into motion, and had even gathered greater momentum with the passing of each year. By September 2016, seven schools with a total of more than 700 pupils were beneficiaries of the scheme.

With more applications received, more home visits are needed at a rate of once every two to three months. Chai Mee, together with Hsiu Hua and other volunteers have worked relentlessly. The headmasters and teachers have also helped to guide volunteers to the pupils’ homes personally.

“Though it was difficult at the start, nothing is more important than making schooling possible for the children. What seemed insurmountable is overcome. Now, I am so used to coming to Paitan for follow-up home visits. I look forward to seeing the 700-plus children as if they are my own children,” Chai Mee shared.

She wished that all children in Paitan could come under her care. She wanted all of them to have a better future through education. She believed that together with the school authorities and Tzu Chi volunteers, the children could certainly have a much different and better tomorrow in time to come.



On this very day, Chai Mee was seen mingling well with the children during the humanistic lessons, like a young happy mother. Joy was seen on the faces of the children; and at that instant, the hill track to Paitan was tricky no more. Instead, it was the road that leads to happiness.

 

Chin Chai Mee always looks forward to seeing the pupils in Paitan time and time again. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]   Jinol Maijin (in red shirt) has been a strong supporter of Tzu Chi Happy Schooling Scheme taking place in Paitan. He is seen here helping to check the names of the students in Kabuluh Community Hall. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]

Chin Chai Mee always looks forward to seeing the pupils in Paitan time and time again. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
Jinol Maijin (in red shirt) has been a strong supporter of Tzu Chi Happy Schooling Scheme taking place in Paitan. He is seen here helping to check the names of the students in Kabuluh Community Hall. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
Chin Chai Mee checked out the food items to be distributed to the beneficiaries of Happy Schooling Scheme. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]   Harmun (right) was all smiles, for the Happy Schooling Scheme not only ensured schooling for the children, but also made it possible for the family to have rice for meals. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]

Chin Chai Mee checked out the food items to be distributed to the beneficiaries of Happy Schooling Scheme. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
 
Harmun (right) was all smiles, for the Happy Schooling Scheme not only ensured schooling for the children, but also made it possible for the family to have rice for meals. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
Children were invited to experience writing by holding a pen in the mouth. They finally made it. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]   Siramah (centre) received four bags of rice, and thanked Tzu Chi for providing them food so that they do not go hungry. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]

Children were invited to experience writing by holding a pen in the mouth. They finally made it. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
 
Siramah (centre) received four bags of rice, and thanked Tzu Chi for providing them food so that they do not go hungry. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]