BRAINetwork in collaboration with the Pulau Banding Foundation and the Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli, with participation of the indigenous community is developing a sustainable model ecovillage in RPS Air Banun as part of the FIRST MILE PROJECT. The model village concept will be developed in accordance to guidelines provided by the Global Ecovillage Network and the ideals of the Pulau Banding Charter. We hope this will enable us to realise the dream of developing a symbiotic relationship between the human ecosystem and the biological ecosystem of the Belum-Temengor Rainforest Complex.
At BRAINetwork, we do agree that this is a pretty ambitious project, especially since there are many who say that any project is doomed to failure if it requires active participation from the Orang Asal. It is worthwhile to note that this kind of thinking is probably because there are already various mechanisms, infrastructure and facilities in place for providing quality opportunity, quality income, and quality living for the Orang Asal. All kinds of organisations periodically enter the rainforest in the hopes of changing the lives of the Orang Asal. Nevertheless, the outcome remains poor and the Orang Asal still remain at the fringe of society.
At BRAINetwork, we want to do things differently. We still have a strong, unwavering belief in the Orang Asal. We believe that empowerment is the answer. How do we do it? It’s no easy task. It takes a long time but we have had successes. While our dreams are ambitious, we always start small. Our Pusat Minda Mesra [ PMM: the Childcare Centre ] shows what the Orang Asal Youth can achieve if given the opportunity to do so. The success of PMM has given added impetus to our First Mile Project.
From 31st March to 3rd April, the BRAINetwork team of Ridhuwan, Fakhru and Gerard, together with Najmi from the Pulau Banding Foundation, visited several villages around our base station RPS Air Banun. It was an exploratory visit to see first hand, what the villages require and what we can do next to make a difference.
The team saw plenty of evidence of visits from Universities and Corporate bodies. There were mini libraries, small childcare areas and other evidence of good projects which now remain idle. There was evidence of solar energy being used, but on the other hand, solar panels were also being used for other purposes. Water filtration units remain idle as well. Our first question: HOW SUSTAINABILE IS THE FIRST MILE PROJECT?
There was evidence that the Orang Asal were resigned to a visit by yet another well meaning University, following which things will still remain the same. We need to work with the Orang Asal to make a difference in a short time. Our second question: CAN WE WORK FAST WITH THE ORANG ASAL ON THE NEXT PROJECT?
The Orang Asal live in a verdant tropical rainforest. Although originally hunter-gatherers, they now live in various villages scattered around the Temengor dam. Most of their supplies are bought from the nearest town Grik, or from boats that regularly bring supplies to these villages. They no longer grow hill padi, something their elders used to do. Attempts for cultivation were there, but largely unsuccessful mainly because of apathy, elephants and wild boars. Our third question: “THE SECOND COMPONENT OF THE FIRST MILE PROJECT IS VIABLE BUT CAN WE SUCCESSFULLY SET SET UP A SMALL SUSTAINABLE VEGETABLE GARDEN? ”
While there were many organisations that visited these villages, there was little or no data on the sustainability of these villages. Thus our fourth question was ” HOW SOON CAN BRAINetwork DO A COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY ASSESSMENT?
This visit by Ridhuwan, Fakhru and Gerard provided us with answers but also generated a lot more questions as well. A second three-day trip is planned on the 22nd of March which coincides with Earth Day where all
four issues will be addressed as we start on the second component of the FIRST MILE PROJECT. Visit us again later to see PART TWO of this project. See how the intrepid trio of Ridhuwan, Fakhru and Gerard celebrate Earth Day with the children of the Belum-Temengor Tropical Rainforest Complex and see the progress of the FIRST MILE PROJECT.