Friday 18 October 2013

Malaysiakini reports on Impian Sarawak

DAP tries 'caring' to win rural Sarawakian hearts

Lawrence Yong
9:52AM Oct 8, 2013

Forget expensive campaigns, smart speeches, angry street protests and vote-buying: How about simply caring for the poor? 

Conquering the final frontier, DAP is sending an “urban” army into rural East Malaysia in its latest strategy to cement votes in the upcoming Sarawak state election in 2014. 

The party with already growing support among the middle-income group in urban centres of West Coast Malaysia has often found its brand of “meritocracy and human rights” a hard-sell when it comes to uneducated rural Malaysians, who only want stable water and electricity supply. Despite rich natural resources, Sarawak is the fourth poorest state in the country.

Impian Sarawak was launched with this intent - to prick the conscience of the rich and narrow the wealth gap. 

"I think the movement is bigger than DAP. It's initiated by DAP but the success of the movement is whether this movement can overtake the party," said DAP publicity director Tony Pua, barely a month after its official launch.

Yeo Bee Yin, Impian Sarawak's project leader, explains how DAP is only the kickstarter.

"Our basic goal is to get these volunteers to involve their friends. It doesn't need to be under that they have the right connection to the local villagers, they can just get a group of friends to initiate other new projects," Yeo said. 

Yeo, a state assemblyperson for Damansara Utama and Tam Kar Lye, together with Pua, are the main workers behind this new movement. Almost everyone else is a volunteer.

Speaking to Malaysiakini yesterday, the team was in high spirits, telling of how its first nine-day "flash" project helped 41 Bidayuh families living without water or electricity supply in Kampung Sait. Twenty-seven Malaysians paid RM200 each, bought a flight ticket and bravely flew into Kuching on Sept 28. 

They drove 40 minutes inland and walked upriver for two hours, passed a dodgy suspended bamboo bridge, all to do some good. They stayed to finish a dam and pipeline to provide stable water supply to the village. 

Kampung Sait villagers were previously displaced by the construction of the Bengoh dam, and for three years, relied on a river which sometimes dried up in hot seasons.

Change agents

Yeo calls this "political will" to meet the urgent needs of the people and hopes that this would set the party apart from BN in the next elections. Pua said it simply addresses the great chasm.

"There was a main chasm we saw in the last general, we have change agents going into Sarawak not only to provide humanitarian programmes but also deepen the understanding between east and west Malaysians," Pua said.

Yeo first visited the village on a scouting mission six weeks ago and left unsure if she could do anything for them.

But with the help of some friends and DAP-raised money, she returned just a few weeks later and was able to complete the first project for Kampung Sait. 

Three days ago, the villagers celebrated a new water supply and hung DAP flags all over, something which may see BN turn green with envy. However, Pua downplayed this when asked if this would translate into votes.

"BN doesn’t see this as a threat. You can do all the hard work you want for three years, they just need to come in for three days and give money... so perhaps for BN people, it's a fixed deposit for them ... so they are not too worried about what we do," Pua said.

Unfair treatment

So, why then is DAP doing all this hard work?'

Apart from RM20,000 from the party, it was Yeo's simple Facebook page that sparked this off. The page drew about 250-300 interested participants from which the first batch of over two dozen volunteers were then chosen. 

Pua said they would have been happy if 50-80 people signed up.

"A lot of things as a Malaysian ...I myself don't know and I am ashamed of it," Lilian Chen, 30-year old chiropractor, who was one of the volunteer leaders, said. 

"When it comes to Sabah and Sarawak, a lot of things are closed quietly and never raised."

Ho Chung Shin, another volunteer, said that he learned much from the Bidayuhs and in exchange, hopefully gave them a chance to see that not all city-folks were greedy, land-grabbing businessmen.

"The more we go into the kampung, the more we see that they are not getting fair treatment," said Ho, who has previously volunteered for Raleigh international projects to help rural Sabah, in explaining why he keeps returning.

Meanwhile Pong Xian, a bespectacled teenager who grew up in Kuching, was ashamed to admit that he never thought much about rural folks before, even though they lived less than 30km apart. He applauded the DAP effort and told of his parent's initial caution.

His mom asked: "Who got the guts to do something like that? Are they going to get punished?"

"But, we just went for it and it's true that we can make a change through Impian Sarawak," said the 19-year old student.

He was most impressed by the Bidayuh's hospitality. The volunteers were split up in groups and stayed with different families. The volunteers expressed surprised at the warmth, friendly Bidayuhs who overfed them and even stayed up to wait up for them some nights when the team had late night meetings. Many of them also remembered their names.

Recalling the new close friends she made over the nine-day trip, one volunteer Chu Yin Harn, choked up with sentiment and started crying.

"As first they all looked the same to me. But as we got to know them ... they were so sincere and pure. Their way of life is so precious to me because they live a simple life with good quality," Chu, a university undergraduate, said.

Lowering her head and rubbing her teary eyes, she uttered: "I wouldn't want their culture to disappear."

For that short period, the volunteers questioned whether Malaysia's race to developed status by 2020 was still relevant.

They lamented that Sarawakian tribes living on the fringe of its jungles for over a century could be considered "lain lain" (other ethnic groups) and urged the government not to forget their needs in the race for development which was mostly city-focused.

"They call government promises AK - 'Akan Kemudian' (will do later) ...what can you do?" one of the volunteers said.

Petaling Jaya Utara MP Pua who was with the team in the state said he was encouraged by the young people's support for Impian Sarawak.

Who would have thought simply caring could spark something? For DAP, it is certainly a timely awakening for the opposition party, which after 48-years finally chalked up its biggest success ever in the 13th general election. It won 38 seats in Parliament and is now hungry for more.

DAP has said that it plans three to four more such projects in Sarawak and will have its first fund-raising dinner for Impian Sarawak on Oct 10.

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