PETALING JAYA: Soo Hooi Fen made it her mission to help improve the lives of the orang asli community after her first visit to a settlement near Raub, Pahang, in 2014.
The impoverished conditions that she saw there left her feeling unsettled.
Soo, 32, felt grateful for all that she had. But she was disturbed after seeing how others were not so fortunate.
“They are fellow Malaysians but their living conditions are so different compared to people in urban areas.
“I felt the gap had to be narrowed somehow,” said Soo, who is a regulatory affairs consumer health lead with Bayer Co (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd.
The problem, she said, was how to empower the community which still made a living from what they could obtain from the jungle.
Soo got her opportunity in October last year when the Bayer headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, sent out an email to employees, inviting them to apply for Bayer Cares Foundation’s International Volunteer Programme.
The programme provides funding for projects that use innovative approaches to help solve social problems.
Soo, who has been working since 2008 with Pertubuhan Komuniti Kasih Selangor (PKKS) – which helps the orang asli in Raub – immediately started drafting a proposal.
“We only had a week and I sat down with members of PKKS to come up with a plan,” she said.
Soo said their plan was shortlisted for the final round in November last year.
“It was a personal milestone but it was also stressful because I really wanted to get the funds for PKKS,” she said.
Two weeks later, Soo said she received word that her proposal had been selected to receive 1,000 (RM4,654).
This was the first time Malaysia was getting funds from the foundation, she said.
She said they planned to use the money to buy school kits including bags, uniforms, shoes and stationery.
But she soon realised that they only had enough for 20 children.
Thus, she launched an appeal for donations and volunteers from among her Malaysian colleagues and raised a further RM5,550.
The money was enough to get school kits for 40 Year One pupils from Kampung Sg Ruai Tengah in Raub.
On March 10, Soo was among 15 volunteers who visited the Semai tribe at their village to hand over the school kits to them.
Soo said they were planning to organise a mini science fair in the village in October to motivate the pupils to stay in school.
PKKS, she said, wanted these children to be able to get decent jobs so that they could one day return to the village and help others in the community.
PKKS pointed out that none of the pupils who received the school kits had quit school so far, which is extraordinary because the dropout rate is usually quite high.
PKKS secretary (Rtd) Major Peter Yeow said the school kits had also boosted the self-confidence of the children and villagers.
“They felt encouraged because people outside their community cared about their welfare and educational needs,” he said.