SPECIAL REPORT In entering the interiors of Kelantan that were most ravaged by recent floods, we found abandoned Orang Asli communities waiting for food for days, fuming at the state and federal governments which come a calling to their areas only during elections.
Malaysiakini joined an elite team that moved into the interiors of Gua Musang to provide aid a week ago, three weeks into the floods.
The volunteer group, called the Elite 4x4 Search and Rescue Squad of the Malaysian Emergency Disaster Relief Foundation (MEDRF), had by then been gone in thrice to deliver aid to the Orang Asli deep in the jungles affected by the floods.
Yet, the majority of those hit by the floods had not been reached. There are more than 2,000 Orang Asli living in the forests of Gua Musang, in 14 villages.
Most of the access roads were blocked as a result of landslides, or the bridges across the roads had been swept away by the devastating flood waters. The affected people were hungry, hurt and many had become homeless since Dec 22.
We set out from our base camp at Kuala Betis, heading 20km into the interior, to Kg Tohoi.
On a regular day, this journey would take someone with a durable vehicle less than an hour, but with the weather against us, and floods having had a toll on the routes, it looked like we were set for a long journey. The base camp at Kg Bawek held more than 20 tonnes of supplies donated by various NGOs and individuals.
As we were about to leave, a group of Orang Asli men came by on their Honda EX5 motorbikes. One of the men told me they had spent literally 24 hours on the road to reach the camp because they heard we have supplies.
Twenty three of these men stacked up bags of rice, jerry cans of gasoline and other essentials on their bikes and headed back to the village.
They will continue to do this, day in and day out, so that their community will not suffer from the lack of food and other important supplies.
Tightening belts to stop hunger
With only noodles in the cup to fill our stomachs, we set out for Kg Tohoi, an hour away on normal days but now likely half a day away.
There were 12 of us in three 4WDs. The only medical officer was Dr Rashidi Mohamed Pakir Mohamed from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Hospital.
Rashidi is no stranger to volunteering during disasters, having experience with a team doing recovery work after the devastation of the Philippine floods in Davao City recently.
Our terrain was not only dangerous, it was almost impossible for any other vehicle to pass through, except for 4WDs and motorbikes. After almost two hours, we reached where a major bridge was supposed to be to link to Kg Tohoi.
The bridge was completely destroyed by the rising river waters and a group of Orang Asli men were hard at work repairing it.
These men, being natural builders, used ingenious and creative ways to make a temporary bridge that will, unfortunately, get washed away every time it rains.
Two Orang Asli men, Zainal Pandak from Kg Pos Dangdut and Hamid Ramli from Kg Pos Simpor, had walked three days to reach this bridge.
They informed us that a big group of children and adults had been waiting for three days, expecting aid, but left when they saw nothing come.
Zainal, a father of seven, said the massive landslides around his village have effectively cut off access along most dirt roads.
His community was trapped on the other side of Kg Tohoi since Dec 22 and since they were so isolated, no one knew about their plight until Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) came looking for them.
Although aid had been delivered via helicopter drops by Flying Singh of United Singh a week or so ago, it was barely enough to last a family of four for two days.
Zainal, his voice dripping with emotion, said that they have not received help from any government body.
The 35-year old added that when the waiting became unbearable, and when food became scarce, a group of men from Kg Pos Dangdut, located about 40km further inside, decided to brave the treacherous terrain in search of aid.
They slept on the dirt path and in the jungle and only had potatoes to eat. Even then, Zainal said, he had to tighten his belt and eat only when he had too.
‘We’ll sumpit and roast them if they come’
His village suffered terrible landslides and at one point, very recently, a landslide so massive hit and woke up the entire village, for it sounded like a bomb that went off.
Zainal and Hamid complained about the lack of aid and support from Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli (Jakoa), saying they were unhappy that an organisation claiming to help the development of the indigenous people was being so unhelpful.
"Jakoa staff have never set foot in our villages. We’ve never seen the director before," Zainal said, claiming that Jakoa once told them to "eat potatoes and stop asking for help".
Hamid half-jokingly said that if anyone from PAS were to walk into his village, he will ‘sumpit’ (use a blow pipe on) them. Obviously, these people have had enough of the way they are being treated.
The duo said the elected politicians would only come as far as Kg Tohoi when the voting season starts, and after getting what they wanted, they would leave, never to be seen again until the next year.
"We’ve asked Gua Musang assemblyman Mat Yusoff Abdul Ghani before, but all the Kelantan state government ever said was ‘Our state is poor, we don’t have the money to help the Orang Asli people’," Hamid said, with Zainal nodding in agreement.
State ‘gave permission’ for logging
As this conversation took place, other Orang Asli men there were felling trees to make the bridge. Using only a blunt axe, these men chopped down four trees. We were then told that they were felling their own rubber trees to make bridges.
Both Zainal and Hamid said logging is a main problem here.
Hamid spoke about an abandoned ‘kongsi’ in his village, with tractors, unwanted logs and rubbish left to rot. They have tried complaining to Jakoa, the state government and all the way to Putrajaya, but to no avail.
In fact, Hamid said, the Kelantan government officials even informed him that these logging companies had acquired permission from the government to log in the area.
Zainal teared as he recalled how far they had to walk to go to town in order to speak to their assemblyman.
"Once we tried to see him at Gua Musang and as soon as he saw us, he ran to the kitchen to hide," Zainal recalled.
Neither Zainal nor Hamid ever heard about the allocation Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced for the indigenous people in Malaysia.
Najib said on Oct 10 that RM325 million would be allocated for Orang Asli development programmes, infrastructure facilities and to improving their standard of living.
So far, they have not seen a single sen from any sort of allocation over the years.
Teachers who hardly teach
The roads are still dirt roads, the houses they live in are still sheds and as for education, the children barely receive any form of schooling.
Education is yet to be a priority in their culture at the moment.
Even for those like Zainal and Hamid, who recognise the importance of education, they seem to be frustrated at every turn as it looks like everything is against them.
The men toldMalaysiakini that teachers come and go as they please because of the lack of accountability. A local resident confirmed with us that he had witnessed this happening.
"In school, the teachers don’t teaching any writing skills. They just leave the kids in class. So, the children just play and watch videos. This has been going on for a long time.
"My child, whom I’ve sent to school from Standard One to Standard Six, still cannot read or write. The teachers based in Kg Pos Tohoi might come in more than the teachers coming from outside.
"We have written a complaint to Suhakam, but they told us we need to speak with the Gua Musang teachers. However, we have not seen any changes until now," the local resident lamented.
We could not move further into the interiors after the 10yearold steel bridge at Perias River was washed away by 40-foot-high flood waters.
These Orang Asli have been completely cut off because crossing the 90-foot-wide river, without the proper means, could mean certain death.
We made all our food drops there almost 1,000kg in all. The supplies came from MEDRF and another convoy.
This convoy brought food supplied by the Komas centre, with their 4WD drivers rented out by the Bar Council.
The look of relief on the faces of the Orang Asli when they realised the aid was meant for them was heartbreaking. These men had waited on the other side of the river for days.
They walked several hours around the river, and back again, carrying the supplies on their back, one at a time.
Although these people are resilient, tough, resourceful and ingenious, they know they will not survive if they do not change. Especially so when their heritage lands are being encroached by logging and plantation companies and they are pushed further into the interiors of the forest.
If their lands are destroyed, where will these people go?
They have no answer to that. And neither do the state or federal governments, which are now enjoying a cushy life after having been voted in by these people.
What they ask for is just a little bit of help to live like other Malaysians do.