Monday, 8 September 2008

Sabah And Her Forgotten People

I am a sucker for maps. I love to pore over maps, especially those designed for tourists. Here is a beautiful tourist map of Sabah. I wanted to know where Kota Marudu is after reading Dr Hams' account in Malaysiakini. Kota Marudu, it seems, is quite a tourist attraction; it has the Sorinsim Waterfall, an agricultural research station at a lake, and - surprise! surprise! - South-East-Asia's largest solar power station. And to add another feather to its cap, its annual Maize Festival which concludes with the crowning of the Maize Fashion Queen. Not many towns in Peninsular Malaysia can rival its attractions. Not to be left out, it is also wired to cyberspace.

But hidden behind this facade of a prosperous township, are the poverty-stricken, illiterate people in remote villages around Kota Marudu. Dr. Hams' account has revealed the reality of a Sabah that many, particularly those from Peninsular Malaysia, do not know, or choose not to know. His account is disturbing: a poor pregnant mother from a remote area of Kota Marudu, in her final stage of pregnancy, had to make a long trip to Kota Marudu to seek medical attention. According to the doctor, it cost the mother RM 50, the equivalent of her husband's one month's wage, to get to town. Some remote areas are even inaccessible, especially during the rainy season. And we in Peninsular Malaysia have beautiful roads serving remote and sparsely populated kampungs where teenagers ride on motor-cycles without road tax or licence, and needless to say, without lights on well lit roads. And poly-clinics to take care of their basic medical problems. No wonder the Sabahans have felt that they have been neglected all these years.

And to think that our government has spent RM 2.37 billion on Malaysian National Service since its inception in 2004. 2.37 billion and what do we have to show for it? Several deaths in the camps? How many kilometres of roads can we build in Sabah? How many poly-clinics? How many mothers can be educated on child-care and basic hygiene so that kids can grow up strong and healthy? How many kids can we educate in these remote areas? Or for that matter, how many street urchins can we help? The list is long, but as Confucius said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

Street urchins: begging in Kota Kinabalu

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