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111.1: Account of heli-lift of solar equip: 12th June 2015

The Final Stretch – the Heli Lift of Solar Equipment:            12th June 2015

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Geraldine, Adeline, Jeanette, Li Ling.

The 241 boxes of solar panels, batteries, solar lanterns, LED lights, cables etc had been sitting in the container since 24th May 2015 when the ship docked at the Kota Kinabalu port. On the 27th May, Datuk Adeline together with Datin President Jeanette, Li Ling and Ann Lasimbang from PACOS and her technical people went to see the Director of the Sabah State Fire and Rescue (Bomba ) Department, Tuan Nordin Pauzi to sort out all the technicality of the airlift of the cargo from Kota Marudu Town to the kampong Sonsogon Magandai. Tentatively depending on various factors and the weather, the airlift was scheduled for 12th June 2015.  In the meanwhile Tuan Nordin and his men made a recce flight to the site and prepared the landing pad at the kampong. With the help of the District Office in Kota Marudu, an open field next to the school in Tandek was also identified for the boxes to be placed for loading onto the helicopter.

The following day on the 28th May, Datin President, Datuk Adeline and Li Ling made the appointment to see the Director of Customs Dr Jonatan Kandok who assisted them with the technicalities to clear customs with minimum fuss! The transporter, Serba Cargo kindly offered to Datin Jeannette-SWEPA the use of their container and warehouse in Menggatal for storage while waiting for the helicopter transfer.

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As the date 12th June approached, it was uncertain whether the airlift would take place. It was exactly a week since the deadly 6.0 richter scale earthquake shook our beloved Mount Kinabalu and the same helicopter had been in the midst of the Search & Rescue (SAR) mission. It was only on the day before, on 11th June that Datin President received confirmation that the airlift would proceed as scheduled. Later on we found out from Tuan Nordin that his men completed their SAR mission and did the final sweep and mopping up only two days before on 10th June. And now here they were, Tuan Nordin himself with 25 of his finest to continue serving the people of Sabah. Syabas and bless you Tuan Nordin and your Bomba men! Sabah salutes you for doing your duty under and through all circumstances.

From day 1 of this noble project of using solar energy to bring light to a remote kampong, the hand of Divine Intervention had been clearly evident. The Swepa ladies had agonised and fretted over this seemingly insurmountable obstacle of  transporting 241 boxes weighing some 4000 metric tonnes over a treacherous stretch of mud for a distance of 118 km taking some 5 hours. They had approached the authorities and anyone who could assist and the response was always the same, that nothing could be done to improve the muddy tracks as any expenses poured into improving any impassable stretch would just be that – poured away at the next rainfall. The calculation was that it would take numerous trips in trucks which could brave the terrain several days to transport all the equipment and that too depending on several days of fine weather.

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This divine intervention occurred during discussions between Datuk Adeline with Julita Ontol, General Manager for Group Corporate Affairs for Sabah and Labuan of PETRONAS, our National Oil & Gas company on the feasibility of setting up a full fledge Barefoot College in Sabah with Petronas as a major partner. Datuk Adeline had brought this idea up at the State Institute of Development Study (IDS), Sabah’s Think Tank of which she is a director and began discussions with Petronas under its CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities. Hanna Wong Abdullah the Deputy Project Chair followed this up with Julita as both also sit in the Sabah Women Advisory Council (MPWS) and in the course of this interaction between the 3 of them, Julita heard of this seemingly insurmountable obstacle. She immediately offered her help in putting the Swepa ladies in touch with the State Fire & Rescue Department (BOMBA). She knew that the Bomba regularly carried out their training with their helicopter based in Miri and this airlift of cargo into a remote village would fit in with their training schedule. After a few calls to the right people in authority, it was agreed in principle that this exercise could be carried out! Datuk Adeline and Datin President then co-ordinated with all the various people and groups so that on 12th June, all parties were ready for the biggest gift to be dropped in from the sky for the people of Sonsogon Magandai!

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The evening before on the 11th June, Datin President Jeanette and assistant treasurer Geraldine Asuncion drove to Kota Marudu for an overnight stay so that they could be at the Tandek field nice and early the next morning. Datuk Adeline drove in early on the 12thmorning from Kota Kinabalu to arrive at the field around 8.00am. Project co-ordinators Yap Li Ling and Eddy Juas also drove in that morning together with Glen MacNair and Thondik Venantius from AFC Swepa’s vital partner on the ground at Sonsogon Magandai. The Kota Marudu Assistant District Officer, Mat Lunad Agok was also present.

It was a sight to behold all the boxes laid out on the field and on seeing them, the ladies couldn’t help squealing “the boxes, the boxes”! After more than a year since Bunker Roy and Meagan’s visit in May 2014, the dream was now a solid reality. The ladies could see, touch and even smell the equipment. It was now just a 7-10 minutes flight away for the equipment to be reunited with an excited Tarihing, our first woman solar engineer!

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The Bomba personnel were all there and ready, 25 strong looking specimens with their chief Tuan Nordin. And the weather was perfect for the heli-lift! What a blessing! The helicopter arrived by 9.00am and took Tuan Nordin and 8 of his men in the first flight to the kampong to secure and prepare the landing. It was calculated that it would take 3 trips to cart all the equipment over. As soon as the helicopter returned, the Bomba men swung into action for the first loading.

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As I stood by and saw the robust Bomba men handling and loading with ease the boxes into the heli with the 4 Swepa ladies standing by watching and grinning from ear to ear at the thought of their mission almost accomplished, I marvelled and thought  “only the Swepa ladies can pull this off ….. and with style”!

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On the 2nd flight Datuk Adeline boarded together with the first instalment of equipment. On landing we could see the advance party of the Bomba ready together with some 15 of the village men to unload the cargo. With so many ready hands the cargo was unloaded within minutes and the helicopter departed for its next load.

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The villagers couldn’t hide their excitement as they could at last lay their hands on the equipment which may change their life style if not their lives forever. They gleefully carried off the load as if it was of no weight. Tarihing was there, standing as proudly tall as her 4’11”frame would allow her, wearing the Swepa red T-shirt which has become the symbol of the Empowerment of Women. Her time had come and she couldnt wait to get started. The next flight brought in Datin President and Geraldine who stayed the night as to sort out several administrative matters and to chair a meeting of all the villagers and form the working committee.

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The 4th and last flight brought in the rest of the equipment and the rest of the men at 1.00pm. Between the 25 Bomba men and the 15 villagers, they then spent the whole afternoon till 6pm carrying all the equipment from the helipad to the REW building some 30 minutes away. The Bomba men then stayed overnight as part of their training which was a blessing as then Datin President and Geraldine could hitch a heli ride back the next day to Tandek after their important dialogue with the villagers. Otherwise it would be a nightmare trying to return by land! Poor Datin President and Geraldine didn’t have much sleep at the REW Building that night as they were barely prepared for an overnight stay. They thought they could take in the meeting in between the flights but as the village and the REW building were some distance away from the heli pad, this was not possible. Thus they went hungry and survived on biscuits and hardly slept while going through another aftershock of 5.0 magnitude at 2.30am! BRAVO Datin President and Geraldine for your toughness! Proud of you two! Special mention must also be made of Eddy of AFCS and Doris and 2 others from Pacos who came in over land to provide support to Datin President and Geraldine.

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And Now, over to you Tarihing! LIGHT UP YOUR VILLAGE!

As observed by Casey Leong

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