WHILE Covid-19 shut down most of the economy, especially during the movement-control order, Orang Asli tribes in villages close to Maudzam Shah in Pahang managed to weather the impact by grabbing job opportunities in jungles and plantations.
The Malaysian Insight visited four Orang Asli kampung in the Muadzam Shah district and found the villagers in good spirits as they could cushion the impact of the pandemic through hard work and with aid from civil society groups and the government.
They took the Covid-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) seriously and took extra precaution to stop the infection from reaching their kampung where there are many the elderly and children.
With the help of Global Peace Foundation (GPF), The Malaysian Insight spoke to several villagers who shared their experience during the MCO and how they came out of it almost unscathed.
GPF is a civil society group helping the Orang Asli in Pahang build water pumps, providing education to the children and raising funds to help them weather the MCO.
Pak Long, a 71-year-old from the Jakun tribe in Kg Teraling, stayed at home to take care of his youngest son, aged four, while his 35-year-old wife tapped rubber trees.
Kg Teraling folk are in good spirits as they found jobs which helped cushion the impact of the MCO, he said.
The couple own a small plot of land filled with rubber trees, which are their main source of income.
“Of course, we were a bit stressed and worried, who wouldn’t be, right? We were mostly worried about contracting the virus, so we rarely left our village to go out into town,” he said.
Pak Long said when the MCO was implemented between March 18 and June 9, merchants stopped coming to the kampung to pick up their forest produce.
“The ‘tauke’ stopped coming for a few months due to the MCO. Initially, we were very worried but then the villagers were offered jobs at a nearby watermelon farm.
“We also started receiving aid from groups. So, we were very grateful.”
Pak Long said the watermelon farm even offered jobs to Orang Asli children who could not attend school.
The job requires villagers to cross-pollinate watermelon flowers and harvest the fruits.
Working from 8am to 5pm with intermittent breaks, an adult could make RM40 a day, while a child gets RM35.
Pak Long said the villagers are free to choose whether they wanted to work or not.
Work at watermelon farm
All his family members worked at the watermelon farm along with other villagers.
Pak Long’s wife and children could reach the farm easily as it is next to their kampung.
Aside from the GPF aid, they also received help from the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) and Bantuan Prihatin (BPN) cash aid of about RM1,600.
“Even though our main source of income was disrupted, we were very lucky,” he said.
Pak Long, however, is relieved that the restriction is now over, as his family can resume their normal jobs.
Another villager, Lina Atan, 28, said her life before and during the pandemic remains the same.
The mother of five is also a rubber tapper but, like Pak Long’s family, she worked at the watermelon farm during the MCO with four of her children, from 7am to 9am, earning RM20 per person.
Throughout the MCO, she was mostly concerned about the virus spreading in their kampung.
She worked on the farm with her children for about two weeks before deciding to look after the children at home.
“I was more concerned about the virus than anything else. But to say my lifestyle has changed, I would say no. My life has been the same despite the pandemic,” Lina said.
Sticking to SOP
Another Kg Teraling villager, Salmah, who was busy washing dishes in the compound when approached, told The Malaysian Insight she was happy during the MCO because all her children were with her throughout the period.
The 40-year-old has six children and two grandchildren. Her children work in different states and it just so happened when the MCO was enforced, they were all with her.
“They could not go back. So, like the rest of the villagers, they decided to work on the watermelon farm,” Salmah said.
Even though she was worried about the virus, she just made sure her family adhered to rules, such as wearing a mask every time they left for work.
The villagers also avoided making frequent contact during the MCO.
Other Kg Teraling villagers echoed the concerns of Pak Long, Lina, and Salmah.
While they were able to sustain themselves, other Orang Asli villagers were not so fortunate.
Pak Soh from Kg Terubing lost RM2,000 during the MCO as merchants could not pick up his forest produce for several months.
“I was very sad when the MCO happened because I was already living in hardship, so the enforcement did not help my situation,” Pak Soh said.
The 45-year-old owns a rubber and lemongrass plantation which he handles on his own.
During the MCO, however, Pak Soh was fully dependent on outside help as he could not support his wife and four children.
Pak Soh told The Malaysian Insight that whenever he received cash aid, he would stretch it until the end of the month.
GPF stepped in with food aid for Pak Soh and the family.
Post-MCO, Pak Soh said merchants have started buying from him again and hope there won’t be another lockdown as it would hurt him even more.
Reports emerged during the MCO that many Orang Asli villagers were affected badly.
Director-general of Jakoa Prof Dr Juli Edo said in April (https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/04/09/jakoa-struggling-to-deliver-aid-to-orang-asliduring-mco-due-to-transport-m/1854945) that Orang Asli villagers across the country could not access aid during the MCO.
A majority of the Orang Asli are daily wage earners who sell rubber, oil palm, forest or farm produce.
The MCO left them vulnerable as no one picked up their produce. Furthermore, some Orang Asli kampung are deep in the jungles, making it hard to reach them. – August 21, 2020.
Written by Aminah Farid
Published on 21 Aug 2020
Article reposted with permission from: https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/267833