A Personal Account By Rosie Moo
Trip to Kg Sungai Magandai & Kg Sonsongon Magandai 16th – 19th Nov, 2015
A surprise invitation came on 5th November, 2015 through a what’s app group called Team B Kg Sonsongon formed by Wynnie Jong our SWEPA Vice President inviting me to join a trip to Kampong Sonsongon Magandai. Being the Head of Public Relations of the current SWEPA Executive Committee, I was privileged to be invited to join the much anticipated Launch of the Lights of the Swepa Solar Barefoot Project 1.0. This was to be officiate the successful installation of the solar panels to 100 households by trained Barefoot College Solar Engineer, Tarihing Masanim an illiterate grandmother from her village in June, 2015. It was also the culmination of two years of hard work of the SWEPA Project Team together with their partners and sponsors lead by Organising Project Chairperson Past SWEPA President Datuk Adeline Leong. The Launch was postponed three times to accommodate the schedule of YAB Chief Minister Tan Sri Panglima Musa Haji Aman who had graciously agreed to do the honours.
This expedition divided into Team A & B was headed by Team Leader Datin Jeanette Tambakau who was the Swepa Solar Project 1.0 Advisor. Team B’s itinerary was to travel 187 kilometers by road (via Kg Samparita) on 18th November from Kota Kinabalu to Kg Sonsongon Magandai , stay one night and be present for the Launch on 19th November. Team B consist of SWEPA VP Wynnie Jong, Reporter Daily Express Mary Chin, Head of Training Kate Chin, Assistant Treasurer Stella Wong and SWEPA member Monica Chung. They were also joined by Co-ordinators of Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program (GEF SGP) Lai Sook Mee, Lee Shin Shin, Sabah Credit Corporation Mr Eligius Samuel, Vicky Ng and Executive Director of Pacos Trust, Anne Lasimbang.
Team A’s itinerary was to travel 187 kilometers by road from Kota Kinabalu to Kg Sungai Magandai on 16th November and then travel another 20 kilometres to Sonsongon Magandai on 17th November for the official Launch and return to KK on 19th November. Team A’s purpose was twofold. The visit to Kg Sungai Magandai was to identify two more grandmothers to be trained for 6 months to be Solar Engineers in Barefoot College, Tilonia, India just like the first grandmother Tarihing Masanim from Kg Sonsongon Magandai. Upon their return, they would install the solar panels for the households in their village. I thought that Team A was a more worthwhile trip, therefore I switched to join Team A. Kampong Sungai Magandai is the kampong that SWEPA will be embarking on as the second village with about 75 households to be lighted under the SWEPA Solar Barefoot Project 2.0. Our final Team A consisted of Mdm President Datin Albina Ogor the Project Advisor,
Immediate Past President & Barefoot Project Advisor Datin Jeanette Tambakau (DJT), Barefoot committee Geraldine Asuncsion, Exco Social Committee Head Tricia Mojulat, myself as Head of PR, volunteers Datin Jeanette’s son Adam Tambakau and my husband Herman Yee.
Details of where to meet, who were our 4×4 drivers, list of what to bring, how to get prepared were all discussed through the Group A whats app chat group. Among the preparations were to take malaria pills as a precaution as the kampongs were prone to malaria. Thanks to Barefoot committee Deputy Chairperson Hanaa Wong Abdullah, she was able to obtain doxycycline from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for all 16 persons going on this trip.
On the morning of 16th November, 2015, we were all expected to meet at Sutera Habour at 6.30 a.m. but due to the traffic jam & I was running a little late, Herman & I arrived at IPP Datin Jeanette’s house at Luyang, Phase 8 instead as all the vehicles would congregate there for loading of the foodstuff. Our most kind hearted and thoughtful Project Advisor Datin Jeanette had prepared and packed all the food sufficient for every one including the drivers for our 4 day trip. Packets of rice was loaded was donated by the members of the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu Pearl (of whom Datin Jeanette is a member) was meant for the families of the two kampongs – Kampong Sungai Mangandai and Kampong Sonsongon Magandai.
We, all 14 of us took off from DJT’s house, Luyang Phase 8 at 7.08 am with the passenger/driver combination as follows:-
- SA5255P Driver -Tan Sai Hock, Co-Driver – Lu Ai Lee Passengers – Datin Albina Ogor, Tricia Mojulat
- SA799E Driver Ho Kok Yeong Passengers – Adam Tambakau
- SA5610R Driver Dave Das Passengers – Rosie Moo, Herman Yee
- SB2263 Driver Voon Chin Hwa nick names “Ah Kap”, Co-Driver/mechanic Daniel Sampe & Tom Nelson
- SAA363N – DJT’s car – DJT & Geraldine
From Datin Jeanette’s house at Luyang Phase 8, we would be covering 124 kilometers and stop at Kota Marudu for breakfast and meet Juidywa Juas or Eddy from SWEPA’s project partner Asian Forestry Company who would be guiding us which road to take to Kg Sungai Magandai.
It was time to get to know our driver Dave and his vehicle while cruising along Tuaran Road. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that Dave Das is the son of Sohan Das, the reporter from Daily Express. He works as a chargeman in a steel company in Labuan and he is a keen 4×4 driver although he says not as “hard core” as his friends Voon and Ho who were also from Labuan. Voon & Ho would go all over the country and even overseas for off road expeditions. We were informed that Tan was recently in China for a 4×4 for expedition. We noticed that Dave had a radio fixed on his vehicle which he used to communicate with his buddy drivers to stay updated for road conditions, discussions and decisions to be made. We could hear the conversations the 5 team drivers had with each other throughout the trip which were often times humorous. This was the only means of immediate communications as telephone or internet service would be not available after leaving Kota Marudu and heading towards the kampong.
We arrived at Kota Marudu township and stopped by for breakfast where we met Juidywa Juas or Eddy as he is fondly called from Asian Forestry Company who would accompany us to Kg Sungai Magandai. DJT parked her car in Kota Marudu and the final entourage was from Kota Marudu was then as follows:-
- SA5255P Driver -Tan Sai Hock, Co-Driver – Lu Ai Lee, Passengers – Datin Albina Ogor, Tricia Mojulat
- SA799E Driver Ho Kok Yeong, Passenger – Adam Tambakau
- SA5610R Driver Dave Das, Passengers – Rosie Moo, Herman Yee, DJT & Geraldine
- SB2263 Driver Voon Chin Hwa, Co-Driver/mechanic Daniel Sampe Passenger – Tom Nelson from Raleigh International
The month of October and November had been rainy months due to the monsoon season. The clouds were looming overhead as we sat in the coffee shop and we were anxious how bad the road conditions were. Eddy advised that with our well equipped 4×4 vehicles we could take the shorter route of 63 kilometers going via Kg Samparita to Kg Sungai Magandai. The other route to reach our destination was via Paitan Road but that would take 260 kilometers, so much longer and of course longer hours of travel. We left Kota Marudu at 11.15 a.m. At the first hour, we travelled on gravel road along Kampong Samparita which was relatively easy for the four 4×4 vehicles. We stopped briefly at the bridge of the Magandai river to take a breather, take photos and for the drivers to discuss to decide whether to move on in the same manner or was there a need to change tyres.
Dave our driver informed us that both his vehicle SA5610R and SA5525P Mr Tan’s car were not fully equipped for extreme conditions whilst the other 2 SA799E Driver Ho Kok Yeong and SB2263 Driver Voon Chin Hwa were better equipped to drive through roads of extreme poor conditions. But in case Voon’s car tyres need to be upgraded, 4 new tyres were (1 spare tyre carried by each vehicle) were available to make the change. The leader of our 4×4 team, Voon made a decision to travel on without changing tyres.
The convoy took off. What a shock of my life! I have never in my life seen such horrendous road conditions. The roads were muddy, wet and slippery. We held our breath when Dave manoeuvred his vehicle to find the right path on the dirt track which Dave said could hardly be called a road.
At 12.10 p.m. the flat surfaces gave way to hilly slopes. We held our breath as Dave’s vehicle started to climb a very muddy slope got stuck in the mud and simply cannot move. To make matters worse, it started to rain. Mr Voon (Geraldine said he looked like Mr Bean with his big eyes, large nose and wide smile) came out of his vehicle and beamed. We wondered why he looked cheerful when the situation was so dismal. Dave explained that Mr Voon or “Ah Kap” had just come alive. He revelled in such challenging situations otherwise he would find smooth driving very boring. Mr Voon stepped into the thick, wet, sticky mud in his bare feet (not bare foot) and together with his mechanic assistant Daniel (also bare feet deep in the yellow mud) tied a rope onto the front of Dave’s vehicle. Then Mr Voon got into his vehicle, started the engine to pull Dave’s car. Meanwhile Daniel remained outside, giving hand signals to guide Dave where to move his tyres. The passengers, Herman, DTJ, Geraldine and I cheered when Dave’s car finally moved up. We soon realised that this was the first and definitely not the last of getting stuck in the mud rendering the vehicle unable to move. The rain continued, making the roads deteriorate further becoming more wet, slippery and dangerous.
Our 4×4 drivers through radio communications kept their spirits up and encouraged, guided and rescued us whenever we got stuck in the mud again.
Dave’s vehicle was not the only one stuck. Mr Tan’s vehicle SA 5255P and also got stuck on a slop just like Dave’s vehicle and had to be pulled up in the same manner using a rope. At one point Voon’s vehicle landed on a ditch and had to be rescued by winching.
It was about 1.35 p.m. We were proceeding very slowly with the frequent stuck in the mud situations of Dave’s vehicle. Dave also had a radiator that overheated and he had to take time to cool his engine and top up with water. When Dave tried to negotiate up and down the slippery, wet and muddy slopes, I could see that any wrong move or turn could have our vehicle end up off the road down a ravine, a ditch or on the face of hills. We remained cheerful but I could not help but pray all along these treacherous roads and I knew my fellow passengers were doing the same. Suddenly Dave’s vehicle landed on a very deep trench as it was climbing up a slope and we were very much stuck AGAIN. As our drivers got out to survey the damage, they decided that it was time to change the 4 tyres of the rescue vehicle
Mr Voon’s LB2263 to be better equipped to winch Dave’s vehicle out. If we were wondering where the spare tyres come from, never fear Dave explained, they came prepared for this with each vehicle carrying a complete set of 4 spare tyres for Voon’s 4×4.
With two winches hooked from Ho’s SA799E and Voon’s LB2263 and one winched on Dave’s car, it was a breeze being pulled out of the deep ditch by two 4×4 vehicles. As we continued our way along the muddy yellow road (what road? Said Dave) Dave’s vehicle inevitably slipped into another very deep trench and had to be winched out AGAIN. Judywa Juas also known as Eddy from Forest Solutions and Faldixon Lorin the school teacher came in his 4×4 vehicle and joined us at this point.
The ladies were hinting that they needed a toilet break which we were unable to do so at any decent place. What a relief when at 3.40 p.m. we arrived at a house
by the road where we gratefully dashed in to do the necessary even though the “toilet” was just some place among the tall grass near the house. We had come to accept that “toilet” near some bushes is going to be the norm for the rest of the journey. Our drivers parked in a convoy and off loaded 40 kg of rice from Dave’s 4×4 to another better equipped 4×4 vehicle in order to reduce any further “stuck in the mud/ditch situation” to reduce wasted effort and time winching Dave’s vehicle out.
We continued a short distance when at 3.55 p.m., we stopped to allow Voon’s vehicle to be topped up with petrol as he was running low on fuel. He came prepared to top up petrol knowing that there would be no petrol stations to refill deep in the kampong.
It was a good thing we stopped as Dave took the opportunity to check his vehicle too and discovered his steering transmission was faulty and broken. If this had happened to me, I would be left stranded, probably panic and no idea what to do in the middle of a jungle. But, our 4×4 guys were ever ready. They had the spare part ready and mechanic Daniel rolled up his sleeves and conducted the repair grinning from ear to ear.
When I looked at my time, it was 4.15 p.m. and we still had 21 kilometres to go before reaching Kg Sungai Magandai.
At 4.55 p.m., an unexpected accident occurred that left us very much shaken. There was a steep uphill slope with a deep trench on the side and several diches in the
centre of the muddy track and Dave’s vehicle was in the process of being pulled up by Ho’s car. In the process, Dave’s car fell into a deep trench at the side of the road and landed tilted at a 45 degree angle. DJT who was sitting at the tilted side suffered slight bruises and was luckily cushioned by her water bottle. We climbed out of the vehicle more shaken than hurt. “How is the heavy 4×4 vehicle going to be pulled out?” was the question in all our minds looking at the seemingly impossible situation. Our gungho 4×4 team again came to the rescue. This was a challenging rescue that needed two vehicles to winch SA5610B out of the very deep trench. After a few tries, in a matter of less than half an hour, walla, Dave’s vehicle was pulled out of the trench. We cheered and clapped happily and were on our way again.
We started again at 5.15 p.m. and negotiated the last 10 km but this time I realised the whole team was more careful. SL2663 driven by Mr Voon was assigned to be the Lead Guide Vehicle for our car. He drove in front and whenever he crossed any difficult, deep and muddy tracks, he would stop after crossing and send Daniel out of the vehicle and use hand signals to guide Dave to cross. There were so many such muddy, deep holes on this last 10 kilometers. I continued to pray that our Almighty God will keep us safe and guide our drivers to drive safely. I was not surprised that those in our vehicle were also praying with me. We wondered at the rate we were travelling what time would we arrive at Kg Sungai Magandai. Dave remarked that we are likely to arrive after nightfall maybe 9 p.m and DJT was also in agreement.
We finally arrived at the river Sungai Magandai about 8 p.m. where we would be expected to cross over to reach the Kampong Sungai Magandai. The whole convoy stopped for our team to take stock of the current situation. It was pitched dark except for the headlights from our vehicles. Eddy walked over to our vehicle and informed us that the river may not be passable due to strong currents. He said that we had a choice of camping out with our vehicle that night and going across at daylight tomorrow or to now trek towards a hanging bridge leading to the kampong. While our people were deciding what to do, some of our team took a quick dip and wash at the river while some of us snacked biscuits and sandwiches. After about 30 minutes, we were pleasantly surprised to see one of our vehicles made it across the river. It was the vehicle Eddy was driving. After reaching safely across the river, he came out of his vehicle and shown a torchlight along the river and yelled to the rest of us to cross. Each vehicle made it safely across that night guided by the torchlight used by Eddy. Everyone in the car was anxious (I prayed) when Dave drove across the river guided only by Eddy’s light and we cheered heartily when we reached the other side of the river. Herman had the right mind to take pictures and a video of our crossing.
It was another half kilometer before all vehicles with their passengers safely arrived at Kampong Sungai Magandai. We were welcomed by Maini, a grandmother who showed us where we would be putting up that night. The guys would sleep at the Balai Raya while the ladies could bunk together in an adjourning house. The rest of the evening was spent unpacking and getting a bath/wash. Both sleeping areas had no kitchen facilities but no worries. We were pleasantly surprised when Dave came to the rescue. Walla! His vehicle came equipped with a table top, stove and two ready containers of 4kg of water. Dinner of maggi mee with soya sauce chicken drumsticks/wings eaten under the stars that evening was heavenly. After filling our stomachs, we made ourselves comfortable to catch some sleep.
17th November, 2015. I woke up to the sounds of a rooster crowing and realised I was not at home. As I scrambled to my feet, I could feel the aches on my back which was surely as a result of sleeping on a light sleeping bag. The aches were soon forgotten as I felt the fresh coolness of the morning air and my eyes behold the kampong greenery enveloped in mist against the sun was just rising.
Not many of my housemates were awake yet except for Tricia. We took each other’s pictures and quickly took turns for the one and only bathroom cum toilet ahead of the others. Luckily there was one tap we found outside where anyone could have a basic wash and brush their teeth. Well, this is kampong style..roughing it out!
I had brought some mango seedlings, a bormeliade and some plants from my home and presented to Maini that morning for her to share with her kampong mates. Maini was the first potential candidate for the Barefoot Solar Project 2.0.
We were to have a meeting with the Ketua Kampong and the villagers in the morning. Early risers hung out around Dave’s 4X4 for breakfast. His vehicle became the most popular watering hole since his table top, stove & water was discovered neatly tucked at the back of his vehicle last night. We ate sandwiches and some quick cook noodles. I made more sandwiches so that we can eat along the way in the afternoon to Kampong Sonsongon Magandai.
Since it was early before the meeting with the villagers, we decided to have a tour around the kampong to meet the kampong folks and see their facilities.
Teacher Falickson teaches in this kampong. He and Maini brought us around the Kampong Sungai Magandai. We were pleasantly surprised to see that there was a Kindergarten with 20 students, a primary school SK Magandai for 100 students and a hostel for 50 students there.
The facilities were built by the State government which the kampong folks was certainly appreciative. A football match was on going which was part of the year end activities of the school. We were informed that there would be a Year End School Speech Day the following day as was the norm which made it difficult for some kampong folks to join the Launching the next day. Dickson informed that the school was proud to have produced a 5As student by the name of Emily Joinin. Maini then brought us to see their hanging bridge across the Sungai Magandai which was in dire need of repair. She requested if any help can be rendered to repair their handing bridge.
At about 9.30 am, we assembled for a meeting with the kampong folks of Kg Sungai Magandai. There were about 30 adults and 12 children present.
Barefoot Advisor Datin Jeanette Tambakau briefed the meeting that the SWEPA members were here to identify who were the grandmothers who were keen to take up the training at Barefoot College, India and how many households require solar lights. The Ketua Kampong by the name of Majan Sampun confirmed that there are 25 households in Kampong Sonsongon Suyad that require the solar lights in addition to the 75 households in Kampong Sungai Magandai. Therefore the total is 100 households. DJT further briefed everyone present that after the solar panels have been fixed, each household would be required to pay RM15.00 to the grandmothers who will maintain the lights for them. After much encouragement, two grandmothers by the name of Gining Jaineh and Rusni Singkamung came forward as candidates to be considered for training at Barefoot College, Tilonia. DJT proposed that these two grandmothers meet our team at Kampong Sonsongon Magandai the following day at the official Launch and join the entourage back to Kota Kinabalu. The purpose was for the two candidates to undergo a medical screening which is a criteria to be eligible for the training. Tom Nelson (Raleigh International) proceeded to ask the kampong folks questions with regard to the use of the forest, what has changed since 20 years ago and what were their activities carried out to sustain the communities at present. It was sad to hear that there was not much development and significant growth for the kampong folks that could improve their livelihood. It was agreed that this was hampered by the lack basic facilities mainly access road to the kampongs, water and electricity. There is still hope for the future with the government, Raleigh International, PACOS and SWEPA with big hearted sponsors to render whatever help to improve the kampong folks livelihood. Geraldine as the secretary for the meeting recorded the proceedings of the meeting which ended about 10.30 a.m. Packs of rice courtesy of Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu Pearl were presented to each household present and stationary were given to the children. The balance was presented to the Ketua Kampong for the other households who were unable to be present. The Kampong folks then proceeded to present a few Rungus style dances to the beat of gongs called pinakang and memeluk. Some of us without hesitation joined them in the dances much to their delight. The steps were not very difficult and it was most fun indeed.
It was time to say goodbye at about 11.30 p.m to our host for the time being till we meet again. We then proceeded to take the road of another 20 kilometers to reach our destination – Kampong Sonsongon Magandai. We expect to spend two (2) nights there in preparation for the Official Launch by the Chief Minister the following day. We loaded our stuff, got into our 4×4 vehicles with our gungho drivers and off we went. When I looked at my watch, it was 11.20 a.m. Crossing the river – Sungai Magandai was easier this time as it was done in broad daylight. Our drivers still were very careful as the water level reached up to the top of the tyres.
After crossing the river, the road terrain was uphill and downhill with potholesand ditches in a slippery, muddy conditions like the day before. Our very, very experienced drivers drove carefully and whenever there was a difficult path to manoeuvre, Daniel would get out of his vehicle which was in the lead and stood in front of Dave’s vehicle to give hand signals to guide Dave. This made it so much easier for Dave and we did not experience any “stuck in the mud and need to be winched out” situations.
We stopped at 12.55 p.m. on top of a hill which was a crossroad leading to Sonsongon Suyad and Songongon Magandai. It was a nice flat spot for a short break while waiting for everyone to be together before moving on. Since it was close to lunch time and the hunger pangs were felt by some, it was decided to take lunch. Out came the fried chicken, sandwiches, quick cook noodles and eggs to provide a most enjoyable lunch. There were two little huts nearby where we could take shade from the noonday sun before hitting the road again.
At about 1.20 pm. Ah Kap stopped and we wondered why. Then Dave explained that Ah Kap needed to refuel his vehicle. These guys really thought of everything. They brought along fuel to refuel because the kampongs have no fuelling stations at all. Dave got out of his vehicle to check his radiator which had the tendency to overheat on and off. Oh..oh! His power steering hose had burst. It was bad news for us but for our gungho 4×4 drivers, it was just a little setback. Daniel in his usual cheery attitude, just fished out a spare power steering hose and he proceeded to replace the burst one. Amazing! They seem to have spare parts for every broken part. 15 minutes was all it took for Daniel to have Dave’s vehicle fixed and we were on our way again.
We arrived at Kampong Sonsongon Magandai within 5 minutes’ walk of Rural Electronic Workshop (REW) building. All the 4 vehicles were parked along side the road as advised by Eddy. It would be better to park here rather than near the church to avoid the expected traffic jam during the Launch on 19th November, 2016.
REW building is where Solar Engineer Tarihing Masanim lives during the weekdays and is her workshop where she operates in carrying out maintenance and collection of monthly fees. It has 1 store room, 1 smaller room, a hall, a small kitchen and 1 bathroom cum toilet. The REW building was not very big but all 14 of us decided to put up there for the next two nights. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around to see the Kampong. Herman & I were brought to a guided tour by Tarihing ‘s daughter Lena. She and her two cousins brought us to see the church which usually doubles up as a community meeting hall and a kindergarten which was built by NGOs with help from Raleigh International.
We walked along a little hanging bridge over the river Sungai Magandai and eventually decided to take a quick bath in the cool river before heading back to REW. We were not the only ones with the same idea as our drivers suddenly appeared all prepared to take a dip in the river. They certainly know how to blend into the kampong lifestyle.
Dinner was a gotong royong quick one before we all decided it was time to have some sleep. Some of us had brought very comfortable bedding which I was very envious of. I only had a regular sleeping bag where I stuffed a little pillow to cushion my back.
Our drivers made themselves comfortable on the veranda of REW. Comfortable was an understatement! Their camp beds were those I have never seen in my life. It was raised on 4 legs, cosy, mosquito netting and very soon after I heard the sounds of snoring indicating the tired gungho guys were in dreamland.
I woke up to the sounds of birds chirping and dogs barking. It was a beautiful clear, cool misty morning of 18th November, 2015. It had rained in the night before making the environment so refreshing although the grounds were wet.
DJT was always the one who organised the preparation of the meals and for breakfast that morning, there was no exception. There was bread, eggs, sardines, peanut butter or quick cook noodles to fill our stomachs.
When breakfast was cleared, the ladies trekked towards the church for a meeting with the Ketua Kampong of Sonsongon Magandai. The path was slippery made worse by the rain the night before.
We arrived at the church which would be the venue of the Launch for a meeting at 11.30 am with Ketua Kampong Encik Kayak Oting. The purpose was to ask him for his feedback and whether there were any challenges faced with regards to the solar panel implementation. He mentioned that some households had difficulty paying the RM10.00 maintenance fee monthly and hoped that the fee could be reduced to help those who cannot pay. The PBS Wanita representative Maureen was also present to update us on her role for the Launch the next day. She informed that they would cater for the food for the VIPs and all present for the Launch. A young man came in while the meeting was in progress and made a commotion. Luckily the Ketua Kampong put him in his place and sent him off. We were informed that he probably had too many drinks the night before.
After the meeting, we then trekked back home to REW building for lunch.
At 1.30 pm., the audit committee met with Tarihing and her daughter Lena with regards to the Barefoot Solar Project implementation, collection of fees & Tarihing’s records. This was necessary to give her guidance to ensure the mother & daughter team are managing the maintenance and collection correctly.
At late afternoon, some of our drivers left REW to render help as they heard news that Team B may need assistance and rescue on the road.
At 6 p.m. seven Team B drivers and Wilvia Olivia from Asian Forest Solutions turned up at REW. Having extra mouths to feed, we started getting ready for dinner for 22 people. We cooked eggs and prepared tinned sardines, dried fish and chicken. It was an added bonus to the menu that we had “lemiding” a local vegetable bought at Kg Sungai Magandai that morning. The food was more than enough for 22 and for Tarihing and her family as well. Food shared among good company is “bona appetite”.
At 8.00 p.m. we all trekked back to the church to meet our Team B friends and at the same time to have a meeting to prepare for the official Launch the next day.
Everyone from Team B had arrived safely but unfortunately Stella Wong had sprained her ankle while walking along the road. After sharing stories of each team’s adventures on the road, we arranged the church and put up our banner in preparation for the anticipated launch the next day.
It took a long time for everyone to finally settle down and we eventually sat together at 9.05 p.m. at the veranda of the church for the meeting. The meeting was attended by the SWEPA ladies, Anne Lasimbang from Pacos and the emcee from the Kota Marudu District Office for the event.
We decided to call it a day and Team A swepa ladies trekked back to REW to catch some sleep. When we arrived, the veranda of REW was full……oh we forgot, we had 8 additional guests. But honestly, the gungho drivers had came prepared. More camping beds were on show. They were unbelievably light, comfortable and came complete with mosquito netting.
Sleep did not come easy to us as the REW was not only crowded, the family members and relatives of Tarihing were watching Television nonstop into the late night. Not only was it disturbing, they were doing it in front of SWEPA committee and visitors from outside the kampong. Only after a reprimand from one of us did they switch off the TV went into their room.
19th November, 2016 – D Day –Day of the Launch
We woke up early. I spent a few minutes taking deep breathes of the fresh cool air and soaked in the beautiful misty kampong environment. Then DJT and I quickly whipped up some French toast and got ready boiled water for anyone who wants to make quick cook noodles or make a drink for breakfast. We packed all our belongings as well as we would be hitting the road to go back home to Kota Kinabalu immediately after the Launching. We dressed in our signature SWEPA red T shirts and made our way to the church. It was raining slightly but it did not damper our spirits at all.
When we arrived at the church, there was a hive of activity going on with many people milling around the place. Many took the opportunity to take photographs of this historic occasion.
Among people present were our sponsors and Companies that were involved in the success of this Swepa Barefoot Solar project 1.0. Sponsor Sabah Credit Corporation was represented by Vicky Ng and Eligius Samuel. (SGP) Small Grants Program was presented by and National Co-ordinator Lee Shin Shin and Program Assistant Lai Sook Mee. Asian Forest Solutions Company were represented by Managing Director Glen Macnair, Project Manager Thondik Venantius and Conservation Officer Wilvia Olivia. PACOS Trust was represented by Executive Director Anne Lasimbang while Country Program Coordinator Tom Nelson represented Raleigh International Malaysia. Daily Express was represented by reporter and Special Writer Mary Chin.
The District Officer of Kota Marudu Mr Sualim Sanan, various Heads of government departments together with the local community made up the rest of the crowd.
Assistant Minister of Community Development and Consumer Affairs YB Anita Baranting who arrived late last night was present and busy mingling with the crowd while waiting for the much anticipated arrival of the Chief Minister YAB Datuk Seri Panglima Musa Haji Aman. He was expected to fly in by helicopter. Our Project Chairperson Datuk Adeline Leong together with Deputy Chairperson Hanaa Wong Abdullah together with the Political Secretary to the Minister of Energy, Green Technology Datuk Daniel Kinsik was also expected to arrive in another helicopter.
It was 10 a.m. and there was still no sign of the CM. Finally we received word that he would not be able to make it as it was raining heavily over Sonsongon Magandai, thus it was unsafe to fly in. We also received news that Datuk Adeline and Hanaa had landed in the compound of the Police Headquarters in Kota Marudu and was advised not fly in due to the same reasons.
The show I mean the official Launch must go on whatever happens. The Assistant Minister YB Anita Baranting rose to the occasion and would officiate the Launch instead.
Our SWEPA President Datin Hajah Albina Ogor in her speech welcomed all and she shared the success and pride of Tarihing through the SWEPA Barefoot Solar project 1.0 that has helped to light up 100 households in Kampong Sonsongon Magandai. She urged the villagers to support Tarihing by paying up their maintenance fees. Without the payment she would find difficulty sustaining herself and providing the maintenance service. After this success, SWEPA is now embarking on lighting up the neighbouring village of Kampong Sungai Magandai and Kampong Suyad – 100 households in total.
She presented certificates of appreciation to project partners. They are the Federal Government, Sabah State Government, Government of India, Barefoot College, Asian ForestryCompany (Sabah), GEF Small Grants Programme, UNDP, Sabah Corporation, PACOS Trust, Raleigh International, Sabah Fire & Rescue Services Department, Louis Pang Photography, Grandis Hotel & Resorts, volunteer Jennifer Anjek and independent blogger Casey Leong. Daily Express is the media partner.
In her speech, Assistant Minister YB Anita Baranting spoke that she would bring up the kampong’s problems to the Chief Minister. Among the problems she was very aware is the terrible road conditions. She announced that in the 11th Malaysia plan, the road along Kampong Samparita is earmarked to be upgraded.
Meanwhile she announced an approval of RM30,000 from her Assemblywoman’s Fund for the extension of a rest house in the village.
The program continued with Tarihing giving a demonstration of the lighting up of the solar panels, followed by the presentation of a gift to YB Anita, gift to Tarihing and lastly, an interview with Tarihing by a local Television crew.
The event concluded with lunch before more pictures were taken to record the Launch of this historic project.
The time was 12 p.m. We collected our lunch boxes and decided to trek back to the REW to freshen up, collect our bags and get ready to hit the road to go home. We were anxious to leave early so that we could reach KK before nightfall. However we still spent some time waiting for Madam President as she was accompanying YB Datuk Anita Baranting for lunch. Eventually Team A members assembled together at REW and was joined by Daily Express Special Writer Mary Chin, SGP representatives Lee Shin Shin and Lai Sook Mee.
There was a 10 minutes’ instead of 5 minutes’ climb up a little hill to where our cars were parked. It was not an easy climb as it was quite steep. Going down when we arrived was easier.
Our driver Dave was already in our car waiting to load our bags and ready to go. Unfortunately we were told that many cars were stuck in the mud and blocked the traffic as they tried to climb up the slope from the parking area near the church. Our gungho drivers went to see whether they could render help. We hung around our vehicles chatting while waiting for the green light to move. It was a long wait before our drivers reappeared. We were told that the ADO’s vehicle was the one stuck on the slope of the road and blocked the traffic flow.
Eventually by about 2 p.m, we started off in a convoy of 8 vehicles of both Team A & B from Kg Sonsongon Magandai to Kota Marudu via Paitan road. It was 280 kilometres away much longer but would be less likely to face horrendous road situations that was faced by us using the road via Kampong Samparita into the first village Kg Sungai Magandai. Certain stretches of the road were still muddy and full of unsuspecting pot holes and each driver had to use his skills to manoeuvre through but this time there were no serious obstacles faced by the drivers. We reached Kota Marudu at about 8.30 p.m. where we all had dinner before going our own ways to home sweet home.
This trip was simply an amazing experience for me. From this four days three nights trip, these are my opinions and thoughts:-
- 53 years since Malaysia was formed, we have a lot of kampong folks in Sabah who are living not far from Kota Marudu (KM) – just 63 kilometers away that don’t have basic facilities for their livelihood:-
- electricity to light up at night for students to study or for the kampong folks to have more activites at night be it educational, economic or recreation.
- No proper road as means of communication between KM to the kampongs. The horrendous road of 63 kilometers and another 20 km between the kampongs are in desperate need of improvement. It is so difficult and dangerous for us SWEPA ladies or anyone to just go by such terrible road conditions (can hardly be called road) to visit or render help, what more for the kampong folks to commute regularly from one place to another.
- No clean piped water. Source of clean water is by gravity water or rain water. This may be not healthy as water not treated may subject them to infections. It is common for the folks to have hepatitis for example.
- Limited Primary & secondary education available for them. There is a primary school in Kg Sungai Magandai but no secondary school. There is one probable near to Kota Marudu but imagine the daily travel for the students through the horrendous “road”.
- Some kampong folks are too laid back in their thinking, almost lazy I would say. It may not be their fault because there is nothing much they can do or if they have some produce to sell, how are they going to market them given the lack of water, electricity and proper road.
- SWEPA’s efforts to bring electricity through the Solar Barefoot project 1.0 is commendable and now moving into Solar Barefoot Project 2.0. It is hoped that the follow through after implementation with our partnership with PACOS is done to ensure the human and capital investment is not in vain. Bringing light to the kampong folks has its negative side effect. As we witnessed Tarihing’s family & relatives watch television for hours on end wasting time and perhaps unconsciously absorbing bad city culture.
- I would like to acknowledge that credit and many thanks goes to the 9 volunteer drivers and 3 co-drivers, 1 mechanic from the Labuan 4×4 team. For without each of them with their awesome skills, knowledge and experience, preparedness and never say never attitude, we would not have made it safely travelling horrendously very bad 207 kilometers of road conditions from Kota Marudu into Kampong Sungai Magandai and Kampong Sonsongon. Then from Kampong Sonsongon Magandai after the Launch to drive another still bad but less horrendous 280 kilometers of road out back to Kota Marudu and back safely to Kota Kinabalu to be with our families.
Team A Drivers & Co-Drivers
- SA5255P Driver -Tan Sai Hock, Co-Driver – Lu Ai Lee
- SA799E Driver – Ho Kok Yeong
- SA5610R Driver – Dave Das
- SB2263 Driver – Voon Chin Hwa nick names “Ah Kap”, Co-Driver/mechanic Daniel Sampe
Team B Drivers & Co-Drivers
- SA5021J Driver – Wong Chee Wai
- LD5000 Driver – Tan Aik Kiong
- SAA6226Y Driver – Tan Guan Kong, Co-Driver- Chin Yun Khiong
- SA2883M Driver – Koh Yick Hoe, Co-Driver – Tan Shai Phin
- LD5000 Driver – Liew Ket Kiong
Written by: Rosie Moo Shoon Jing
Public Relations SWEPA Barefoot Solar Project 2.0
SWEPA Committee 2015-2017
Date: February, 2016