‘Barefooted’ and merciful

Hard work: Volunteers and villagers loading pipes on longboats for project in Nanga Talong, Lubok Antu. Photo courtesy of Barefoot Mercy.

IF you have not heard of Barefoot Mercy, it is an organisation worth knowing and channelling your free time and energy to.

Barefoot Mercy is a non-governmental, non-profit group of individuals who are committed to help the rural poor and marginalised people of Sarawak.

They focus on matching real life needs with appropriate solutions, and then implement the solutions.

One of the dire needs of rural Sarawakians is electricity supply. They do not need golf courses or posh resorts at the moment. They just want the basics — electricity, treated water, telephone communication and roads - without which it is hard to break the poverty cycle and illiteracy.

But with them in place, other facilities such as schools, clinics or hospitals, post offices and wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) can come in, and eventually other income-generating activities and facilities to move the rural economy.

It has taken the government 50 years to provide much needed basic infrastructure for the largest state in Malaysia, and the process is still going on because there’s still a lot to do.

That is why Barefoot Mercy’s work in providing electricity to remote communities through micro-hydro electric projects deserves praise.

A young local NGO set up in 2011, Barefoot Mercy has done a good job of getting public donations and implementing micro-hydro electric projects that benefit many people in the interior.

During a recent fund-raising dinner, one of the founding members, Anna Wee, said to date, Barefoot Mercy had provided electricity for four villages namely Long Kerabangan, Long Tanid and Pa Brunut in Lawas, and Nanga Talong in Lubok Antu.

Guests could not help but be impressed when Wee pointed out that Barefoot Mercy had successfully fulfilled a basic need of these areas in less than two years and at the fraction of the price of government-funded micro-hydro electric projects.

It was a feat which Sesco could not (or chose not to) beat.

“We provided the materials such as turbines, pipes, cables and technical expertise. The communities provided communal labour in the installation process and Mother Nature provides the rest. It sounds simple but it was actually tough.

“There were many challenges, from site management and sourcing for materials to delivery by land over difficult terrain or shooting the rapids in longboats. But thanks to the efforts of everyone involved, four villages now have free electricity,” she said.

It is clear that commitment, sincerity and accountability are the key ingredients to Barefoot Mercy’s success.

To be self-sufficient, it has started social enterprise activities in its work selling “tucu” which is a natural hand-harvested salt from Ba’kelalan and selling “semah” fish from Long Kerabangan.

Wee said since Long Kerabangan already had electricity, the fish could be frozen, packed and flown to Kuching ahead of delivery based on orders.

This mechanism allows villagers to reap the benefit of direct fair-trade prices while consumers will enjoy off-market price for this valued freshwater fish.

“All proceeds will be re-invested into more Barefoot Mercy’s micro-hydro electric projects,” said Wee.

Don’t know how to build a micro-hydro electric dam? No worries, Barefoot Mercy has many other easy chores for volunteers to do as long as they have a lot of commitment, sincerity and accountability.

For those who wish to help rural communities in Sarawak, send emails to barefootmercy@gmail.com or visit its Facebook page for more information.

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