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Friday, 30 September 2016 00:00

A Blessing for the Blue Angels to Serve in Paitan

Written by  Gan Chian Nee, Sandakan / Translated by Tan Heang Shin

As there were only three four-wheel drive vehicles, volunteers were split into two batches. Photo shows the second batch of volunteers treading the hilly countryside while waiting for the vehicles to make the second trip. [Photograph by Tee Kim Wooi]

A team of 17 volunteers from Tzu Chi KL & Selangor together with one doctor and one pharmacist from TIMA departed to Sandakan to conduct a free clinic and humanistic lessons in Paitan, a rural village located some 220 km from Sandakan. The mission was a joint effort between Tzu Chi KL & Selangor and Tzu Chi Sandakan which ran for four days from September 29 until October 2, 2016.


Sandakan is the second-largest city in the state of Sabah located some 350 km away from the state capital of Kota Kinabalu. Paitan is the most inland village in Sandakan and consists of many small native settlements along the riverside in the forest. It was so remote that the villagers have to wade across rivers and use small river boats while traversing the mountainous area.

Treading the forest along the riverside

In 2010, Tzu Chi received news that the school children in Paitan were facing schooling difficulties. The headmasters and teachers informed that most of the villagers were either farmers, hunters or fishermen, but their livelihood had been adversely impacted due to deforestation and pollution.

Earning a meagre income, they could not afford the daily transportation fee of RM3 to send their children to school. Thus the children were forced to walk one to two hours to school. Rainy seasons would aggravate the situation when the roads become too muddy for the children to attend classes.

There were nine primary schools and one secondary school in Paitan. Volunteers managed to conduct home visits by boats with the help of the headmasters and teachers. Tzu Chi Sandakan had earlier in 2011 initiated the Tzu Chi Study Grant but found subsequently that their requirement for meals, transportation and tuition fees were more critical. The assistance model was therefore changed to the Happy Schooling Scheme in 2013.

Volunteers have since visited seven schools and more than 500 native families. As of September 2016, the Happy Schooling Scheme has benefitted 490 primary students and 220 secondary students.

Journeying more than 200 km

Hsieh Hsiu Hua, the person in charge for Sandakan Liaison Office, reached out to Tzu Chi KL & Selangor for workforce resources to conduct humanistic lessons in Paitin schools. Volunteer Lim Mei Mei was the first to register. On learning about the student literacy standards and that a free clinic would be held by TIMA Sandakan, she extended the invitation to the Tzu Chi youths, English-speaking group, as well as the TIMA members in KL & Selangor.

From September 29 to October 2, a total of 17 volunteers, one doctor and one pharmacist from KL & Selangor joined the volunteers and TIMA members from Sandakan, to hold a free clinic for the villagers as well as provide humanistic lessons for the students in Paitan.

The team started off from Sandakan at around 7 am on September 30 for a four-hour bus journey on tarred roads that gradually deteriorated to bumpy terrains through oil palm plantations.

When the road became too narrow, the team had to change their mode from bus to four-wheel drive vehicles. It was another 40 minutes of bumpy ride before reaching the first meeting point. As there were only three vehicles, two trips had to be made to ferry everyone onwards.

By the time everyone reached SK Lingkabau, it was almost noon. The school served as the meeting point with the Headmaster and the boatmen for the home visits. The Headmaster generously offered his house as well as the school hostel for the volunteers. He also purchased a gas cylinder out of his pocket so that the volunteers were able to cook. As there was no electricity in the village, the Sandakan volunteers brought with them a generator for everyone’s convenience.

At 1.30 pm, the team was split into three groups to kick start the home visits along the river by boats. The first team led by Sandakan volunteer Kiing Teck Ngie took care of the farthest family. The boat ride took 40 minutes and everyone had an interesting time getting ashore due to the thick mud.

The short path to the house, which was a hut sitting on stilts, cut through the forest with deep foliage and trees. To Mei Mei, it seemed barely habitable as the structure appeared incomplete. When they climbed the house, they found the mother carrying a one-year-old infant sitting with two little girls on each side. One of them was a beneficiary of the Happy Schooling Scheme.

“We can hardly call it a house as there were barely any wall and there be gaps on the floor built from bamboo sheets. It was shocking! I did not realize there was such poverty in our country,” Mei Mei exclaimed. Her heart ached when she saw only a pot and a stove in the kitchen with a small bag of rice as subsistence.

The other team was led by Hsiu Hua and the Headmaster, Jaisim Sarongkai. They had taken off their shoes as it was easier to walk barefooted in the mud. The first family encountered, lived in a house with a few poles and a tiled roof. The master of the house was Harimau and his main livelihood was from his plot of tapiocas and banana trees.

The volunteers noticed that his five-year-old child had a fever, but refused to take medicine. Dr Tan Sue Sian and pharmacist Chin Kim Lin then mashed the pills and mixed it with vitamin water to produce a sweet drink. The kid took a wisp of the pleasant scent and swallowed the drink in one gulp.

As Hsiu Hua, a Taiwanese, could not understand Malay and English, she conducted the home visits with help from a KL & Selangor volunteer, Siow Lee Yuen. Lee Yuen was so touched by the Sandakan volunteers, who often travelled long and arduous journeys just to help the poor children, as they knew that education is the only way to change their lives. She would never forget how the children in rural areas had to travelled by boat to school.



Sandakan volunteers make visits to the families in Paitan periodically to make sure that the children could go to school with a peace of mind. It was a productive trip for the KL & Selangor volunteers which helped us to realize our good fortune and be contented with what we have and in return to contribute back to society.

 

The suspension bridge has connected the small villages with SK Lingkabau. It is the only walkway for students to go to school. [Photograph by Tee Kim Wooi]   Volunteers travelled in three boats to conduct the home visits. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]

The suspension bridge has connected the small villages with SK Lingkabau. It is the only walkway for students to go to school. [Photograph by Tee Kim Wooi]
 
Volunteers travelled in three boats to conduct the home visits. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
Volunteers relied on boatmen to find their way to the students’ house in the thick forest. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]   Volunteers arrived at a house built on stilt. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]

Volunteers relied on boatmen to find their way to the students’ house in the thick forest. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
 
Volunteers arrived at a house built on stilt. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
First group of volunteers was led by Sandakan volunteer Kiing Teck Ngie (2nd left) to the farthest houses for home visit. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]   Volunteer Hsieh Hsiu Hua (front) and Headmaster Jaisim Sarongkai (wearing blue cap) took off their shoes and walked barefoot to Harimau’s house. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]

First group of volunteers was led by Sandakan volunteer Kiing Teck Ngie (2nd left) to the farthest houses for home visit. [Photograph by Kevin Tan Kok Sieong]
 
 
Volunteer Hsieh Hsiu Hua (front) and Headmaster Jaisim Sarongkai (wearing blue cap) took off their shoes and walked barefoot to Harimau’s house. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]
 
Dr Tan Sue Sian (centre) and pharmacist Chin Kim Lin (left) squashed the medicine and mixed it with vitamin water to produce a sweet drink for the kid. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]   Siow Lee Yuen (2nd right) helped translate for Hsieh Hsiu Hua during the home visits. She was touched by the latter’s perseverance and determination to help the people in remote areas. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]

Dr Tan Sue Sian (centre) and pharmacist Chin Kim Lin (left) squashed the medicine and mixed it with vitamin water to produce a sweet drink for the kid. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]
 
 
Siow Lee Yuen (2nd right) helped translate for Hsieh Hsiu Hua during the home visits. She was touched by the latter’s perseverance and determination to help the people in remote areas. [Photograph by Gan Chian Nee]