Account by Datin Jeanette Tambakau, accompanying driver and translator:
Two hours after the break of dawn on the 14th of May, Bunker, Meagan, and I left Kota Kinabalu and embarked on our journey up North to Kota Marudu. On this trip, we were accompanied by two French videographers; Denis and Catherine who are documenting this whole amazing process. They were as keen on the journey as I was, as they had never experienced life in a remote Bornean village before. It would definitely be an interesting change of pace, and we welcomed them aboard. We arrived at Kota Maruda at approximately 11AM. By the time we got to the Hexan Hotel Lobby, Thondik, Parasul and Eddy, our AFC indispensable partners, were already waiting to take us to our destination. Before leaving, however, we had quick coffee break.
It was a 180km journey through terrains, muddy roads, and rivers to get to Sosongon Mangandai village. Despite leaving at 11.30, we arrived at the village at 4. It took us 4.30 hours to get there. And it truly was not the most pleasant trip I’ve been on. The road was in terrible condition. Our 4×4 vehicles were threatened with the danger of getting stuck in the mud at every turn but thankfully, Parasul and Eddy managed to maneuver their way out with their wonderful driving skills. Throughout the journey we stopped several times to allow Denis and Catherine their chance to shoot a few videos.
Upon arriving at the Sosongan Mangadai village, the clouds darkened and engulfed the area with rain. We scattered into the local Church, and there we met up with the Ketua Kampong (Village Chief) and the villagers. Bunker introduced himself, and proceeded to ask the Village Chief a few questions.
B: How many houses are there in this village?
VC: We’ve estimated around a hundred houses.
B: What are the sentiments of the villagers about the solar project?
VC: They’re very excited.
B: Would the villagers allow their wives to go to India?
VC: They’re worried that their wives will not come back!
B: Why do they worry?
VC: Their wives may get sick there and may never come back.
B: How much do they spend on kerosene and batteries?
VC: They don’t use kerosene, they use diesel. It’s estimated around RM8 worth of diesel per month. For batteries, they use about RM50’s worth per month.
B: How many people have handphones in this village?
VC: Every household has a handphone.
B: How much do they earn in a month?
VC: Somewhere between RM100 to RM200.
B: What are their main incomes?
VC: From crops and rubber trees.
B: Do the villagers believe that I can bring light to this whole village?
VC: Yes, they do.
B: Do they trust me? (In order to get the whole village to support this project, Bunker had greatly stressed to the Village Chief that his trust was essential.)
B: Do they believe in me?
Before dinner, I followed Denis and Catherine as they decided to explore the village and take a few videos along the way. I had somehow become their translator as they questioned several of the villagers on their way of life. Denis and Catherine had no knowledge of the common tongue, and the villagers had no knowledge of the English language. Seeing that I knew both, I became their translator. They filmed the way the women lit their diesel lamps and to help with their dinner preparation without any other means of light. The Village Chief’s family was also interviewed on what they normally ate and what life meant to them without electricity.
That night, we slept on the floor of their Church. They were only 7 of us and it was raining heavily throughout the night. But we all managed to fall into a very peaceful slumber.
We woke up at 6AM the next morning. It was a wonderful, sunny day. An hour after we woke up, I took Denis and Catherine to the top of the hill to visit some of the houses that were located there. We had to cross a bridge and river. Denis and Catherine took more videos and pictures of the villages there.
The villagers slowly piled into the Church at around 11AM. Bunker spoke to several people from the village and asked them the same questions he had asked the Village Chief. After the meeting, Bunker came to the conclusion that the villagers spend approximately RM60 per month on diesel and batteries. He said that they have to set up a Committee for this project, and that a commitment in writing must be made to pay RM30 every month to maintain the solar equipment. Every single villager will have to sign on this.
At around 2 pm , the women and young grandmothers arrived. Bunker and Maegan interviewed them, and asked them:
- How old are you?
- How many children do you have?
- How many grandchildren do you have?
- If you can help your village, will you help?
- Do women play an important part in your community?
- Do women have a say in discussions among the villagers?
- Is there a husband here who abuses his wife?
- Are you willing to travel on your own?
- Are you afraid to meet other women who are just like you?
- If people say you are illiterate and cannot go to India, what will you say?
- If you are given a chance to bring light back to your village, how much do you think you can contribute?
- Are you willing to work hard?
- Are you willing to teach the other villagers what you have learned once you’ve returned?
- Is a certificate important to you?
- What will you do once your village has light at night?
- What will be your worries once you’re in India?
- Do you believe you can be a solar engineer if you go to India?
- What are the benefits the village receives upon receiving light?
The questions were to identify the dedication of the women who were present, and to verify their obligation towards the cause. The interview went on until 6pm. Finally, Bunker and Maegan decided on 3 grandmothers who were eligible enough to embark on their quest. The names of the women who were selected are—
Tarahin Masanim: 40 years old, illiterate, 9 grandchildren.
Boyocot Punam: 40 years old, no children.
Rumsaya Jimar: 43 years old, illiterate, 15 grandchildren.
- Boyotol Punam (2) Jeanette (3) Rumsaya Jimar (4) Tarahin Masanim
Whilst waiting for more villagers to arrive at the Church, Bunker called for a meeting with all the project partners who were present during the trip. Eg, David Lee of GEF SGP, Anne Lasimbang and Helen Morgan of PACOS, Thondik, Parasul and Eddy of AFC, En Sualim – DO of Kota Marudu, and YB Anita Baranting. The meeting was to validate each partner’s role and responsibility. Bunker also suggested to YB Anita Baranting to assist in fixing the road before the solar equipment arrived in Sabah. He drafted a letter addressed to YB Datuk Max Ongkili requesting him to look into the horrible condition the roads were in, and hopefully through his Ministry, he may help to fix it up.
After a long day, we slept on the Church floor again. However this time round, there were more than 20 people sleeping with us! The snores were amazing, like an orchestra all in harmony though at times more like a freight train going through a tunnel!
The next morning, we got up by 5AM. We had breakfast and attended to more meetings in repetition to the duties and responsibilities of all the partners and what needed to be done. After that, we waited for Datuk Daniel Kinsik, Datuk Adeline and Hanaa to arrive. Once they’ve arrived, we all gathered into the Church and launched the project off.
The Emcee , Yap Li Ling, invited me, David Lee of GEF SGP, Maegan Carnahan , Datuk Daniel Kinsik and YB Anita Baranting to say a few words about the project.
The launch was a tremendous success.