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One Man's Meat

Published: Saturday September 20, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday September 20, 2014 MYT 7:01:27 AM

The last leg to the ‘Lost World’

Villagers in Kampung Dowokon decided to take the initiative to connect to the nearest town, but there’s more to be done.

MAKLIN Masiau holds a photocopy of a newspaper clipping that brought the hope of change to his remote village, which he calls “Lost World”, in Sabah’s Pitas district.

“When I read that a road would be built to connect my village to Pitas town, I thought it was a turning point for Kampung Dowokon,” said the 42-year-old farmer, pointing at a Daily Express article dated Aug 5, 1999 that reported the government would build a Pitas Pandan Pinapak road.

“I thought the villagers’ difficulties and sufferings would end and their quality of life would improve.”

Pitas district, according to the World Bank in 2010, is one of the poorest and most undeveloped areas in Malaysia. Maklin calls Kampung Dowokon the “Lost World” because not many people have visited it as it is inaccessible by road. The 13km Pitas Pandan Pinapak road would connect his village to Pitas town, about 185km north of Kota Kinabalu.

The villagers rely on Sungai Bengkoka. The journey might take a few hours, depending on the river’s water level.

In 2000, the government started the road project. It built 2km of gravel road. And stopped. No reason was given for the stop order.

In the last 14 years, Maklin has been knocking on the doors of politicians, civil servants and ministers to appeal to them to complete the last 11km of the project. Their standard response: “We will look into the matter and consider it.”

This year, the villagers could not wait for the promised infrastructure so they decided to build a 7.4km timber road.

A woman washing clothes in Sungai Perupok, Pitas, Sabah. Pix by Risma Robin.

The road will connect six villages – Kg Dowokon, Kg Mandamai, Kg Kobon, Kg Perupok, Kg Maliau Pusat and Kg Maliau Layung – to Pitas town. It will benefit about 3,000 villagers whose ethnicity is Dusun Sonsogon, Dusun Kimaragang and Dusun Sandayo. Most of the adults are subsistence farmers earning RM150 to RM200 a month.

“If we don’t build this road, no road will ever be built to our villages. We will build first and hope the government will upgrade it to a gravel or asphalt road,” said Maklin, a Dusun Sonsogon born and bred in Kampung Dowokon.

He managed to convince his 36-year-old friend Weltter Arrifin to lend/rent his Hitachi excavator.

Depending on terrain, the excavator operator can carve 40m to 80m of timber road a day.

“Weltter was ready not to make any money in the road project. Most important for him was for a road to be built so that the villagers’ socio-economic condition would improve,” said Maklin.

To jumpstart the road project, Maklin collected about RM5,000 from the villagers. He also received donations from the public who read about it in pitasroad.org.

The road project started on June 23. So far, a timber road, only accessible by four-wheel drive (4WD), has reached Kampung Dowokon.

“We still need to build drainage for the road. We need to level and widen it,” Maklin said.

Last week, my Twitter friends – @Desonny and @saroki19 from Kuala Lumpur and @IMPetani, @rismarobin and @petrusconrad from Sabah – visited Pitas as we were amazed with the inspiring story of poverty-stricken villagers building their own road.

In a four 4WD convoy from Pitas town, we drove for about 20km to reach a dirt road in a palm oil estate leading to the timber road. According to MyTrack app, the 7.5km journey to Kampung Dowokon took about 47 minutes with an average speed of 10km an hour.

How was the 7.5km ride?

“The last part was the scariest. I wanted to get out of the vehicle because I did not want to die. The 45° slope going up and 45° slope going down were scary,” said @rismarobin of Kota Belud.

“It was like driving on the moon.On this road you can’t tweet and drive, unlike in Kuala Lumpur,” said @saroki19.

I was in Maklin’s 11-year-old Toyota Hilux pickup truck and Maklin drove while eating langsat he bought from a villager along the timber road. We arrived in Kampung Dowokon. It reminded me of my village, Kampung Pogunon, Penampang in the 1970s.

Free-range pigs and chickens were roaming near the wooden house of Maklin’s 37-year-old brother Masdin. There was no electricity and piped water. Internet connectivity by Altel however was excellent.

That night about 150 villagers, some trekking for 4km, gathered at Masdin’s house. After a simple dinner of pork soup with banana heart and linopot (rice wrapped in fragrant leaves), the villagers told us about their plight.

Yusup Dalok, 44, said: “Since I was born, travelling to Pitas town has been difficult as we rely on the Bengkoka river. Over the years, the river has become shallow and it is difficult for us to use it.

“If someone is sick, it is difficult to go to the clinic. Without a road, our children stay in a hostel in a school (12km from our home).”

Ajim Masiau, 43, said: “Villagers have died in the boat on the way to the clinic. These are painful incidents we cannot forget.”

Zaklin Mohiling, a 32-year-old businessman, said: “I need to use a boat (and pickup truck) to transport bananas to Kudat town. If there is a road, my transport cost would be halved.”

The businessman, who quit the banana business because of the transport cost, is now thinking of continuing it because there’s now a timber road. He, however, knows it will be inaccessible when it rains.

There’s hope that the government might upgrade it.

Twitterers using #PitasRoad have tweeted to Works Minister Datuk Fadillah Yusof and his deputy Datuk Rosnah Rashid Shirlin. Fadillah and Rosnah have replied that they would look into the matter.

I tweeted them a photograph of an elderly woman washing clothes in Sungai Perupok and wrote: “With a road, her life might change economically. She might be able to afford a washing machine.”

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Columnists, Philip Golingai

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