Orang asli community in Gopeng living in poverty with no proper roof over their heads

HOME is a bamboo stick frame and an attap roof for a family of four including an infant.

When it rains at night, they have to seek shelter at their neighbour’s house.

This is life for Bah Rajis, 31, his wife Abon Bah Alang, 29, and their two children, aged six years and two months, for almost a year.

This family is among five in Kampung Ulu Jelintoh, Gopeng whose houses were destroyed in a fire on July 27 last year.

With poverty literally over their heads, it looks like their only hope to get a roof over their head hinges on the government.

But apparently, the welfare authorities are also experiencing money problems.

The Orang Asli Welfare Department (Jakoa) for Kinta district had helped the victims apply for the Housing Project for the Hardcore Poor (PPRT).

A Jakao spokesman said the affected families had to wait because there was a long queue ahead of them and that the budget was limited.

Besides Jakao, are there no more government avenues for the orang asli to turn to for help?

It is sad to see these people so helpless, and worse still, being kept in the dark.

The authorities did not even tell them how long they have to wait before help came.

The elected representatives in the area, being the bridge between the constituents and government agencies, should have a sense of urgency.

The victims are not only exposed to the harsh weather conditions, they are also living in danger.

Wild animals roaming at night can bring down their makeshift hut.

The fact that they are using kerosene lamps also poses a fire risk.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the poor families are living on tree tops in the 21st century, while the country is racing to achieve a developed and high income status in seven years.

The affected orang asli families have a source of livelihood in the village.

Bah Rajis, for instance, is a rubber tapper.

Helping them to rebuild their homes will enable them to get on with life, and it looks like this is their only option, at least for the time being.

A safe shelter is a basic need. They are not asking for anything more than that.

The village, about 12km from Gopeng town, is accessible via a 20-minute drive along a narrow and slightly winding road.

Living in a secluded area, I hope it is not a case of out of sight, out of mind, for the authorities.

I got to know about their story when my colleague, Elween, who covered the fire that robbed 24 orang asli from five families of their homes on July 27 last year, revisited the victims recently.

His story on their year-long plight appeared in The Star on Wednesday.

Having covered many assignments, the fire must have somehow struck Elween so much so that he revisited the victims to see how they were getting on.

Statistics on plans or projects for housing programmes mean nothing for poor people such as the five orang asli families.

They are struggling to live by the day, and having to do that for almost a year is torture and a wait too long.

Those who give excuses as to why the orang asli families have to continue to wait for help are either ignorant or simply insensitive.

Has any welfare officer visited them after the fire a year ago?

I am sure politicians from both sides of the divide had visited the village to fish for votes.

It is a pity that the victims did not know it was indeed the best time to seek help, because the election hopefuls would be more than happy to offer help.

Now that the elections are over, the elected representatives must help them to rebuild their homes as soon as possible.

The village is under the Teja state constituency in the Gopeng parliamentary constituency where Chang Lih Kang and Dr Lee Boon Chye are the elected representative, respectively.

Chang reportedly said earlier this week that he would raise the matter with Rural Development committee chairman Datuk Saarani Mohamad.

I think an elected representative should do more than just bring the matter to the attention of the executive councillor.

I may sound cynical but the phrase ‘dalam perhatian’ or being given attention does not make much difference.

The phrase can mean many different things, including simply informing other departments like Jakoa or Welfare Department of the matter.The departments concerned may likely reply ‘dalam perhatian’ again.

Chang and Dr Lee, who have been elected to a second term should know better the meaning of ‘dalam perhatian’.

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Lifestyle , shelter


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