The greatly anticipated day finally arrived as on Monday 12th May Bunker Roy flew in from Manila via HK together with Meagan Carnahan, the Global Strategy and Development Manager of Barefoot College at 7.30pm. On hand to receive them were Datuk Adeline and Swepa’s President Datin Jeanette Tambakau. Both ladies could hardly contain their excitement in finally having the man himself on Borneo soil after months of planning and years of anticipation in the case of Adeline!
The next day they had a meeting to finalise the trip into the villages in the Kota Marudu district to meet and select the grandmothers. It will be a little under 2 hours’ drive to Kota Marudu before a 3-4 hours’ drive on logging roads if they can be called roads at all, to Kampung Sonsogon Magandai, the first village and then another 2 hours to the 2nd village, Kg. Sungei Magandai. They have decided to start early next morning so that they will have time to get the feel of the villages, select the grandmothers from the 1st village and then travel the 2 hours to the 2nd village to select again before returning to Kg Sonsogon for the launching of the project on Friday 16th May 2014.
Bunker was raring to go even though he and Meagan had just visited 5 villages in the Philippines to select 10 grandmothers for Barefoot College, waking up at 4.00am each morning for the long drive into the villages. For a man who had brought and is bringing so much to so many he remains totally unassuming and unaffected. There is a tranquility and serenity about his persona which I feel can only come from knowing he has found his own true calling long ago and is doing exactly what he wants to do and knowing that it is for the good of his fellow being. He knows he is making a better world wherever he can. Bless you Bunker!
However, before he could go off into the depths of our jungles, the SWEPA ladies wanted to give him a real Sabahan reception that evening. It was hosted by Adeline at her home. As May is the month of Sabah’s native Harvest Festival, all the SWEPA ladies came clad in their stunning Kadazandusun costumes. Though the local dish of‘kinava’ was present, alas the potent ‘tapai’ rice wine wasn’t as the ladies were concerned that it wouldn’t go well with the grueling ride that Bunker would have to embark on early next morning. Next time, they promise!
Both Adeline and Jasmine gave their account of how the project came about. As Jasmine recounted her India Story of 2007, she couldn’t help using the word ‘surreal’ several times. The last time she met Bunker it was in a dusty village in Tilonia, a dream world away and now 7 years later, he was sitting in front of her in her home! For Jasmine and Hanaa who recommended her for the India Study Tour, it has come a full amazing circle.
Both Bunker and Meagan also spoke about the Barefoot college movement and gave the 45 ladies present a deeper insight into the work of Barefoot College. It was an unforgettable evening for this proactive group of ladies who could sense that they were on the threshold of something which they could not have envisioned when they stated in their Vision and Mission that their aim is to bring women to the forefront of economic development and to give them a platform to be trained. They are now doing that to the most economically and socially challenged group of women – grandmothers in a remote village connected to the outside world only by a logging road passable in dry weather.
The next day, Wed 14th: Jeanette drove Bunker and Meagn to Kota Marudu at 8am to meet up with Thondik AFC’s project manager who coordinated the journey in. Parasul and Eddie, staff of AFC then drove them together with the French TV documentary crew of Denis and Catherine in 2 vehicles, arriving at Songsogon at 5pm. They slept on the floor of the church there.
On Thurs 15th: 2 grandmothers were selected with Jeanette being the interpreter the whole two days. Please see separate post for a personal account by Jeanette of the selection process and the time spent at the village.
They were unable to go visit the 2nd village to select the grannies from there as the bridge was washed away by the swollen river with the rain. They then decided to select one more grandmother from Sonsogon to service the 2nd village as the village only has 50 houses.
The Launching on Friday 16th May 2014: State Assistant Minster for Community Development, Anita Baranting led a convoy of 10 vehicles in for the launch while the Political Secretary of Datuk Dr Max Ongkili the Federal Minister for Energy, Green Technology & Water, Datuk Daniel Kinsik flew in by helicopter to represent the Minister for the launch. It went well and Li Ling was the MC. See accompanying post of photos.
On the way back, Jeanette’s vehicle had a scare as Parasul the driver stopped for the French documentary TV crew to take some videos while he went along with them, leaving the handbrakes on along a slope. Somehow the vehicle began rolling down the hill slope. Jeanette with presence of mind stepped on the clutch from the passenger seat, and shifted it into gear to halt the slide as the brakes didn’t work! Bravo Jeanette, Swepa’s graceful but tough President! There’s no doubting this project will succeed!
They returned in time for the evening dinner at Palace Hotel followed by in depth interview by James Sarda, Chief Editor of Daily Express. Will post the whole interview when it is released.
Bunker and Meagan with Adeline & Hanna at KK airport.
As he left Kota Kinabalu, Bunker vowed that he will be back next year for the commissioning of the solar electrification in the kampungs. He wouldnt miss it for the world for, as he puts it, this is the first Barefoot solar project put together BY a women’s organisation FOR the women in the rural areas. He has to be here to see Kampungs Sonsogon & Sungei Magandai all lit up for here is indeed Women Helping Women Succeed in action!