People:It takes the global village...
BY DAVID LAVOIE
Kedah’s village communities are bettering their lot in life with help from their own. DAVID LAVOIE meets the enigmatic Romli Bakar, whose community work in his village has inspired several organisations to pitch in to help.
THERE’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Nowhere is that more true than in Kedah’s Bujang Valley, where a fascinating partnership of village people, university graduates and institutes of higher learning are working together to improve conditions in rural kampung for all, but especially the young.
Always in the middle of this social revolution is a fascinating man, Romli Bakar. Pak Su, as he is known, was born in the village of Bujang, not far from Sungai Petani in Kedah. As a boy, he would have been hard to tell from his friends, but he was different: he had a goal. He did well in school, graduated and became a teacher himself.
It was the beginning of a remarkable career, which saw him eventually become deputy registrar of Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang.
In 1995 he retired, built a house in Kampung Bujang, and settled in to indulge happily in painting, music and his family.
From the house he built, he could look across the fields to where he was born. He was content.
One evening his life changed. Pak Su answered a knock on his door to find 11 village boys looking nervously at him. There was a long silence during which he examined each and saw in them himself so many years before. Finally one of them said simply: “Tok Su, please teach us.” To an educator there are no more magical words than these.
Scavenging wood and building materials, he and the boys built a large open-air classroom behind his house. Each day the boys would come to him after school to be tutored, away from the crowded, hot conditions of their own small homes.
More and more children came, and so did their parents.
Pak Su smiles as he tells me that he and his helpers have now tutored hundreds of children, more than half of them girls.
Once started, he could not stop. Everywhere he looked he saw the hardships suffered by the people of the kampung and, in spite of his age and desire to slow down, he could not.
Always there’s something more to do. And Pak Su refuses to believe that change cannot happen; he lives in a world of “yes we can!” With USM sponsorship, he has helped establish an environmental centre to educate local people and visitors about the delicate ecosystems of the mangrove swamps, he has facilitated health programmes for the villagers, and is constructing, mostly with salvaged materials, a new community centre in Kampung Bujang where youth can learn about such things as computers while their parents are still working long hours often away from the community.
In this project and many others, Pak Su is enormously aided by the membership of Kelab Puncak, or Peak Club.
Kelab Puncak (kelabpuncak.blogspot.com) is a vital force in the area.
With a membership of more than 100, the club has become a vigorous force for change.
Its purposes are simple and noble: to help eradicate poverty through education, to help environmental conservation efforts and to identify economic activities of benefit to the parents of children who are highly motivated toward learning so that they can pursue higher education.
It is the nature of the people of Kedah that, once they have benefited from these purposes, they return as adults to help others reach the same success.
Typical is the story of Hafis Ishak of Kampung Belau Merbok.
This young man is the son of a local farmer, Ishak Saad, who, with incredible determination and lots of hard work, raised his crops and gathered roots, herbs and medicinal plants in the jungle so that he could send five of his children, four boys, including Hafis, and one girl, to university.
Now Hafis, on top of working his full-time job, runs his on tuition centre for the children of his kampung on land donated by his father.
It seems to be in the spirit of so many in Kedah to reach out the hand of partnership to those still living in rural poverty.
The Kelab Puncak, for instance, has some members who are highly educated and some who are not, but everyone contributes to the betterment of the community.
Some contribute labour to communal projects; others, perhaps engineers, electricians or mechanics, have more specialised skills to offer.
One man is responsible for the large village boat donated several years ago by Tun Daim Zainuddin, a former minister of finance, when he heard of Pak Su’s good work.
Several of the most educated members of the club continue the original work of Pak Su offering tutoring in English and Mathematics to the villagers.
Also encouraging is the commitment of institutions of higher learning to similar ends.
A good example is the continuing project of the Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology (AIMST) to improve the health of kampung people.
Volunteer students enter the rural villages to perform physical check-ups and eye examinations.
While some students are performing the examinations, their peers are carefully studying the village for disease vectors such as impure water sources and improper garbage disposal, and teaching villagers how to correct these problems.
They also offer talks on lifestyle choices such as smoking and eating an adequately balanced diet. It is a continuing partnership of benefit to both.
The medical students get practical hands-on experience, and the villagers receive a degree of health care they had never had before.
With the mentorship of Pak Su, Kampung Bujang was adopted as a “university village” by AIMST several years ago.
A project with a somewhat similar philosophy has been undertaken by UiTM Kedah, or Universiti Teknologi Mara.
Associate Professor Dr Maznah Wan Omar explains that the university first became involved with Kampung Hilir and then with four other rural villages — Kampung Sungai Batu Besi, Kampung Bujang, Kampung Pengkalan Kakap and Kampung Belau — in a concerted effort to bring more economic balance to society in Kedah.
In a series of workshops in each locale, volunteer staff, and especially students, have explored how to process, package and market the bananas, tapioca, mussels and prawns harvested by the people of the kampung.
But complicating the effort to help them has been the dilemma that the people of the kampung, by and large, don’t own, use, or even have access to computers, where much of the most current information that could improve their lives is available. Only newspapers are available.
Another facet of the university’s programme is a particular focus on the women of the kampung. A series of workshops helping women to boost their self-confidence is offered.
Typical of the social spirit so alive in Kedah, all these workshops and programmes are run by volunteers from the student body and staff.
In fact it is estimated that about 80 per cent of the students volunteer to help at some point. This is an extraordinarily high level of social commitment.
We are on our way into Kampung Sungai Batu Besi. Pak Su is at the wheel. He has just told me he’s feeling his age a little, and eager to turn his work over to younger hands.
I chuckle to myself. I have heard him say this from time to time for five years now, but I know he will not stop while there is still something to be done for his beloved people of the kampung.
He sighs as he looks at the narrow, rough dirt road leading from a well-maintained four-lane motorway for several kilometres into the kampung.
In both his eyes and mine, it seems a fitting image of the continuing gulf between Kedah’s rich and poor. Yes, much has been done, but there is still a long, hard road ahead.
Romli Bakar (Pak Su) can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by post at F636A Kg Bujang, 08100 Bedong, Kedah.
(laporan online NST : http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/2010050717432020100507174320/Article/art_print) date : 2010/05/07
Sunday, June 26, 2011
People:It takes the global village...
Posted by KPSDK Kg Belau Merbok at Sunday, June 26, 2011