The orang asli community can only advance if they are willing to embrace knowledge and change.
MAHAT Mat Dong is gripped with flashes of the past whenever he goes back to his village in Kampung Bukit Bangkong, near Kuantan, Pahang. Every time he drives on the only laterite road that leads to his village, a settlement for the Jakun tribe of the orang asli community, he is reminded at every turn and corner of the tough times he experienced in his early years.
Mahat, 33, recalls the days when he accompanied his father and friends through the dense jungle to collect rattan, which they then sold for cash.
“I only followed my father sometimes ... during the weekends or on school holidays, but the difficulties we encountered were enough for me to decide that I did not want to follow in my father’s footsteps,” he shares.
“Those were not easy days as trekking through the rough terrain was often fraught with danger and other uncertainties.
“It was a feat even for the experienced like my father and other men,” he shares, adding that they had to live on limited supplies of provisions during such trips.
The adversities of life only strengthened Mahat’s resolve who was then adamant that he would not be trapped in a life of hardship.
“I studied hard and attained academic success and my wish is to see people of my community have an education so that they too can escape the shackles of poverty and become part of the main stream,” says the famous son of the village.
Mahat, an engineer by training, is now the senior assistant director (Mechanical) at the Mechanical Services Division, of the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) - an achievement indeed for someone from the community, which also earned him the Orang Asli Icon title in 2009.
Mahat says that his success is due to hard work.
“There are no shortcuts,” he adds.
Although his father Mat Dong Batin Dagang and mother Lee Dee had hardly any schooling, Mahat is thankful that his parents had the foresight to see the importance of education and encouraged him and his siblings to study.
Mahat was sent to SK Permatang Keledang, Pekan, where he receiv-ed his primary schooling and continued his secondary education at SM Tengku Abdullah, Pekan and stayed at its hostel.
He is quick to point out that his SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) results were not outstanding, but says that he managed to secure a place at Politeknik Kota Baru, Kelantan, where he earned a certificate in Mechanical Engineering, the first step towards becoming a full-fledged engineer.
“I did not immediately accept the polytechnic offer because I had to be far away from home. However, I realised that it was a sacrifice that I had to make, if I wanted to move up,” Mahat says.
After obtaining his engineering certificate, he worked for two years in an electronics factory in Batu Pahat, Johor, after which he was bent on earning a degree.
“I applied to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai, Johor, for a three-year degree course in Mechanical Engineering and was successful.
“I graduated with a degree in 2003, and worked with the private sector before accepting the offer to work as a mechanical engineer with the DID.”
Despite his academic achievements, Mahat feels he has not accomplished enough.
Each time he returns home or visits other villages, he is both sad and upset at the number of school-going children from the community who are not in school.
He does not want to see those in the community being left out especially in education, and this has prompted him to initiate motivational sessions with them.
He adds that the orang asli children can relate to him as they see him as a role model.
“I usually start my sessions by talking about my younger days and showing show them pictures of myself without a shirt, my dilapidated house and surroundings.
“This is to tell them that my life was no different from theirs.”
Sometimes he delivers his talks in the Jakun dialect, especially if he is addressing parents and older members of the tribe.
“Most adults normally come with a closed mind, but once I speak, they are truly amazed that children have such great talent and potential to learn and progress from going to school.”
“After all, I am from the community and when I speak, I am speaking from my own experiences which are similar to theirs. They understand, my struggles are theirs too. We have to decide our desti-ny,” shares Mahat.
As for the academic abilities of the orang asli children, Mahat has confidence in them.
There have been improved results and the dropout rate amongst schoolchildren in the comminuty has reduced.
“More parents in the community see education as an important tool for their social mobility.
“They must use the facilities and opportunities provided by the government.
“If the children succeed, the parents too will reap the rewards,” he says.
While there has been some success attained by the orang asli children, Mahat says their progress is not signifcant enough, and the road ahead is a long and arduous one.
Education starts from home and there are parents still ignorant of its benefits, he says.
“They fail to realise that they play an important role in charting their children’s future.
“Parents should be the ones who motivate and encourage their children in their schoolwork and studies,” adds Mahat.
He is disappointed that there are adults who are content with the “minimal way of life” and still fail to see the importance of sending their children to school.
“There is nothing impossible, as long as we continue to strive, we can achieve our dreams.”
It is a phrase that Mahat repeatedly uses in his address to both children and adults. It has also been his mantra to success.
In fact, he is the first orang asli to earn the professional engineer or “Ir” title, after fulfilling the criteria set by the Malaysia Board of Engineers.
Mahat’s dream is to uplift the lot of the orang asli. He is also urging others in the community to come forward and help the younger generation by reinforcing the importance of education.
“If we don’t help ourselves, who will? Only we know of our own problems,” he adds. —Bernama
This is the final instalment of a two-part article on the orang asli.
Part 1: Embracing knowledge
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