It is good that I can finally sit down quietly in my small room in Sibu to blog about what I saw during my stay in Sibu.
To be on a brief note, today I visited Chinese-majority Sungai Merah area and several Melanau and Iban settlements in the rural area of Bawang Assan. Yesterday I also visited several Iban settlements in the rural area of Rantau Panjang in the afternoon (Note: there is also a place named "Rantau Panjang" in Sibu). Yesterday morning, like many other DAP and Pakatan Rakyat comrades from all over the nation, I marched together with Sdr Wong Ho Leng, DAP candidate for the by-election to the nomination centre. I will be returning to the busy life in Petaling Jaya on Monday.
As you may know, Sibu is a 67% Chinese majority parliamenary seat, with about 20% Ibans and 10% Melanau. A big majority of the Ibans are Christians or Catholics while Melanau are mainly Muslim with a small proportion of them being Christians or Catholics. Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is a Melanau. (Note: Melanau IS NOT Malay!)
Our campaign has been targeted on the element of change among all ethnic group. The DAP is particularly weak in the Bumiputera community, especially the Melanau-Muslim majority area. Therefore, the machinery does not neglect the importance of securing a victory through a stronger support among the Bumiputera communities, especially among the Ibans and has arranged at least a team of campaigners to visit Iban long houses everyday. I was tasked to be one of the campaigners to visit these areas for the past two days. Today's visit is even an important one as the party Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng is leading the visit, accompanies by Lim Lip Eng, Fong Kui Lun and DAP Dayak members from Sri Aman Branch (led by Augustine Terban). Reporters from MalaysiaInsiders.com and MerdekaReview.com areare also with us.
We made three visits today, first to a Melanau village in Kampung Bungan Kechil, followed by Kampung Bungan Besar, which is also a Melanau village. There is no longhouses in these villages. Longhouses is the typical living structure of rural Ibans in Sarawak. The third visit is Kampung Sungai Aup longhouses in Rassau. There is no road access to these places. We have to travel by speedboats and it takes us about an hour to reach these places from Sibu.
Unfortunately the places we visited are places with the highest number of hardcore poor. Ironically these are BN's stonghold for the past 47 years ever since Sarawak and Malaya, Sabah and Singapore formed the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.
If we measured by the standard of United National Human Development Indexes (UNHDI), I am afraid that these places could have failed. The level of hygiene in these places were very low as there is no clean supply of potable water, no proper sanitation system and inadequate medical assistances for the villagers. Electricity has to be generated from gen-set, meaning that the State is not providing electricity to them. With a monthly household income of about RM300 to RM500 a month, it is hardly enough to feed their children and their extended family members.
Most of the villagers we visited today are sagu (a type of rice grain) farmers or small scale fisherman. The only way to uplift their living standard is via education for their children. Though the government build primary schools for most of the villages there, not all villages are equipped with school. For example, the poor parents in Kampung Bungan Kechil have to spend minimum RM30 a weekly for petrol to send their children to the nearest school. This work out to be about RM120 a month per family, more than one-third of their monthly household income of RM300.
During our visit, Guan Eng has categorically told the villagers that we cannot and we will not give money to the voters but he mentioned that a victory for Pakatan Rakyat in the Sibu by-election will kick-start a bigger victory for Pakatan Rakyat to change Sarawak State Government and the Federal Government in Putrajaya. With these victories, Pakatan Rakyat can do a lot to totally eradicate hardcore poor in Sarawak, just like what Penang PR government has done. In his stop in Sungai Aup longhouses in Rassau, he even urges the Ibans to vote for the party that can kill all the "buayas" (crocodiles) in Sarawak who have drained up the rich resources of Sarawak for their own benefit.
The Rantau Panjang longhouses I visited yesterday was a better longhouse community in the sense that it enjoys the supply of . However the the Iban community there is still plagued with poverty with substantial number of youngsters have to seek jobs outside Sibu. One woman whom I manage to talk to said that her daughter could not find a job with the government. She tried to apply in Kuala Lumpur, thinking that the chances to secure a job could be higher there compared to Sibu but she failed too. Her daughter was told that jobs are only reserved for Malay. The best job they could find in government is the "sapu" jobs (cleaners) while higher-paid jobs were only for Malays.
Throughout my visit, I have a feeling that the Iban community is generally a soft-spoken community and will only communicate effectively with the people they trust. It is good that the DAP grassroots have been working in these places since March 8th, 2008 in order to penetrate into these areas which are BN traditional strongholds. I think their years of hardwork are paid-off when villagers are more willing to communicate with them who can speak fluent Iban, as to us Peninsulans who can only communicate with them through simple Bahasa Malaysia.
It is for certain that there are plenty of works to be done for politicians from both Peninsula and East Malaysia to uplift the living standard of the Bumiputeras in our country. Education is the way forward as I see it and the government should put in whatever resources it has to provide top-class education to the people.