When I was in primary school — or was it in Form One or Form Two? — I had learned from a geography lesson that Ghana was the world’s biggest cocoa producer. I said, “Wow”.
I had wanted to visit Ghana ever since because, according to villagers in Tandek, my birthplace in the northern part of Sabah, I could reach Gana in three days of trekking through the jungle.
It was only years later that I realised that Kampung Gana and Ghana were two different places. And it was not until 2004 that I finally managed to set foot in Kampung Gana, which is now a resettlement scheme for several hundreds hill tribe families.
Here is my story from that visit. Too bad I’ve lost all the pictures from that trip when the hard disk on my old computer conked out.
Kampung Gana – A Real-Life Strategy Game To Eradicate Poverty
KOTA MARUDU: “Sejak aku berkelana, tiada yang tahu, apa yang ku cari” (Ever since I’ve been wandering, I know not still, what is it that I am looking for), so goes the lyric of a dangdut song that wafts through the planks of a small wooden house in Kampung Gana, a remote resettlement scheme here.
The song by Indonesian dangdut singer Rhoma Irama grew louder as I approached the house on the southern edge of the scheme.
Closer inspection revealed that a portion of the house — the living room if it can be called one — has been turned into a sundry shop where a diminutive woman of 35 sells some basic goods. A crate of carbonated drinks lies half empty on the rack.
“People like to listen to this song. It suits the surrounding,” said the owner, Rondiwul Sogulai, who hails from Kampung Sonsogon Paliu, about two days walk from Kampung Gana.
She started the shop in 1999, two years after she moved into the scheme. “It is not so profitable but that’s all right as long as I don’t suffer losses,” she said.
Relocated after much persuasion
Like the 200 other families, who are either among the state’s poor or hardcore poor, she was relocated to Kampung Gana after much persuasion.
She had lived deep in the jungle in the northern part of the Crocker Range where the people used to wander the woods to hunt or gather its produce for daily subsistence.
Hundreds of others, who are still skeptical of what the scheme can do to change their life, are staying put in the jungle and continue to live in dispersed hinterland locations.
Those who did move had found a permanent home and wander the jungle no more but have they found what they were looking for?
Life almost the same
“Life is the same as far as I am concerned, only slightly better for the children because they can now go to school,” Rondiwul said.
She cannot read much for she has never been to one.
But she did manage to learn about money, the basic principle of buying in bulk at a certain price and selling at a friction higher, and of simple profit and loss calculation.
Those who are familiar with computer games will probably see how close this settlement comes to resembling an “empire-building” strategy game where a player needs to introduce an array of elements into a scenario to move a civilisation.
Among these elements are the creation of farms to feed the community, learning centres to enhance knowledge, marketplace, access roads for trade caravans to ply — all of which result in increasing their ability to utilise the resources around them.
These basic elements are already in place in Kampung Gana but they are still in bad shape, to say the least.
Coordinator of the Gana community forestry project Naan Ibrahim, 52, said that at the moment the economic activities among the villagers are still in the early trial-and-error stage.
“They plant some tapioca, corn and hill padi but only on a small scale…these are for subsistence only. They hardly have surplus to sell,” he said.
The 200 families who have so far agreed to move into the scheme are also constantly at the mercy of the weather.
“Rain is good for us because it gives us the water supply and waters our plants but it can also cut road links because rivers would become swollen and the road muddy and slippery,” Naan said.
Those who drive to Kampung Gana have to cross rivers, which is only possible during the dry season.
But this resolute man refuses to give in to the difficulties he faces in the scheme.
The guy from Tambunan who asked to be transferred back
“Actually, I was transferred from this village to my hometown in Tambunan in 2000 but two years later, I asked to be transferred back to Kampung Gana…I could not abandon these people, not when things are still in the process of settling down,” he said.
To enliven the spirit of the people, he has started a small orchard and hill padi plot at the front and back of his house “if only to show that there are things that we can do on our own to make life better”.
Ray of hope
The primary school, Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Gana, which has 245 pupils, is good though and looks similar to other primary schools near towns.
SK Gana headmaster Junick Umboh said the school started taking in pupils in 1999.
“At first there were problems because some of these pupils started their Year 1 at high age, say 10 years old. So after learning the basics, we quickly moved them to higher classes according to their age but they had trouble catching up with their studies,” he said.
But they were in high spirit to go on schooling and this, coupled with dedication from the teachers, might just be Kampung Gana’s best hope yet for the future, he said.
Still a lot needs to be done
On the scheme, he said there was still much that the government could do to make it a success.
“First, you have to facilitate easy movement of people by building good access roads which are passable irrespective of the weather. Then bring in telecommunication facilities so that you can communicate with the outside world,” he said.
In a way, the authorities in Sabah are playing a strategy game, a real-life one at that, with the ultimate aim of freeing the people from of the clutches of poverty.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and Kota Marudu member of parliament Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili, who visited the scheme recently, admitted that much still needed to be done there.
“We will ensure that what we have planned for this scheme will see a successful implementation,” he said.
Survey works for padi plots for each of the families had now been completed and so did the survey on the Kampung Talantang-Gana road, Ongkili said.
There was also a proposal to plant rubber and to turn Kampung Gana into the state’s main producer of organic vegetable.
“The Agriculture Department has conducted trials and found that this place is suitable to produce organic vegetables…plant anything and it will grow,” he said.
This resettlement scheme will be a test of the government’s determination to wipe out hardcore poverty — those with a household income of RM300 or less a month — by the year 2010.
In the meantime, residents like Rondiwul will have to make the best of whatever is available.
[This article was published in Bernama and several local newspapers in May 2004)