Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Flying on Helicopter to Interior Sarawak

In January 2010, I was invited to represent UTM group for a meeting and field trip in Sarawak with VIPs from Federal Agencies, headed by  the Secretary of PM, Dato’ Sahlan. The meeting was in the afternoon January 18, at Chief Minister Office. We were briefed  on the progress of development projects and problems faced by rural settlements in the Baram river basin of Sarawak.  Basic problems related to  infrastructure  such as poor conditions of road system, water supply,  electricity, need for bridges to cross rivers, and  communication. 

The condition of the road to Pekan Marudi after  heavy rain a  day before
There was discussion on possibility of involving UTM to study  an integrated project linking the construction of micro dam to supply of water for drinking and irrigation of paddy area in Barrio. One of the road project linking Lawas, Bekalalang and Bario was under construction and involved construction of 12 bridges. Some of the settlements did encounters flood problems particular during monsoon season. In term of economy it was the stability of income the main concern. Many people engaged in farming, and some worked with logging companies.
This helicopter can take up to five persons.

On the January 19, we went for field trip to Baram area. Starting from Miri airport in the morning, we travelled by 4-WD to Pekan Marudi. More than 20 people took part in the trip, including the MPs, officials of federal and states government. The road connecting Miri to Marudi was in very poor condition- unpaved, soft, undulating in some places, and it took two hours to reach the first destination. At Pekan Marudi  we visited a few places that was affected by flood and river erosion. After lunch we  continued the journey by helicopter to long houses at Sg Bong Tinjar, Long Teran dan Sg Seliping. The trip to Sg Bong Tijar took about 30 minutes, and we arrived at about 3 pm . We stayed there for 20 minutes, briefed by  head of the village on problem of flood, deteriorated school buildings  need to be replaced, and  water supply (currently collected from rain). Then we moved to Long Teran, after visited the surrounding area, observed the bridge site and was served with some local food. We  then proceeded to Sungai Seliping, landing at school field and went to the Long Teran Long house. Same basic infrastructure problems were mentioned, flood, water supply and road network.  It was already 5 pm and we have three more villages to visit. From Seliping we continued our journey by 4WD, stop for prayer at Petronas station on the way then reach Entulang Long house about 7 pm. After short briefing and feedback from the villagers we moved on to Sg Buri and the last one  we stopped at Sungai Liam Long house. At Sungai Liam dinner was served - prepared by teachers from Semenanjung who teached at a school near the village. Knowing that many guests were Muslim, they seek help from Muslim teachers to prepare the food. We reached our hotel at Miri about mid-night.
The view of Long House at Sungai Bong Tijar
The second day field trip was more interesting, departed about 9am from Miri airport by helicopter to Limbang area. It was quite a long journey to 3 destinations, Ulu Lubai, Long Napir, Long Mendamit. On helicopter I could see aerial view  of the rural land uses and how Sarawak had transformed its rural landscape into vast palm oil plantations.  We could see forest  only when approaching highland areas towards Limbang. 
Vast area of land in Sarawak has been transformed into palm oil plantations

It's surprising that there is a cluster school which won excellent award at such remote area in Ulu Lumbai. We can see all the colourful display of graphic materials  and phrases on corridors, walls and in the small gardens outside. From my observations of villages in Sarawak,  the best achievement that we should be proud of  is  that, although the places may be lacking of infrastructure but the basic education facilities at primary level are mostly available or accessible. In all schools that I came across in the villages, there were a few teachers from Peninsular Malaysia. The language taught at school  has been spreading to the communities at large and Malay language thus becomes medium of communication especially for visitors like me.
School facility at Ulu Lumbai village was impressive
Computer room at Ulu Lumbai Cluster School
One of the garden in the school area

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