HIDDEN away in the jungles of Matu along the mighty Batang Igan are several longhouses that have stories to tell about the reality of life away from the modern comforts of urban centres.
Constant travels are possible only by boats as there are no roads to the outside world – not even to their closest neighbours.
Some staff members of Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS) recently experienced the facts of life in these places as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme.
Travelling in three boats driven by hired boatmen, they brought along a media crew and went first on a 15-minute journey from a jetty in Matu to Rumah Panjang Jarit in Teluk Deloh.
The purpose was to check on the newly built Tabika Kemas Rumah Muring, one of eight completed projects carried out by PETRONAS, a project requested by Jemoreng assemblyman Datuk Dr Juanda Jaya.
The CSR project and a media trip also became an inspiring one. The living conditions in the area probably taught everyone to be compassionate and kind.
Teachers are often described as superheroes to educate, elevate and entertain students regardless whether they are teaching preschools, primary schools or secondary schools.
There is an unspoken expectation of who and what a teacher is.
The expectations of a teacher can be very high, especially when a teacher has taught for many years.
There was one who caught our attention.
Winds and waves, not a hindrance
Dadra Janes, 37, who hails from Mukah, has been teaching in Rumah Panjang Jarit for 11 years.
She has been using a boat to travel back and forth every day to teach her students.
She parks her car at the jetty named ‘Jeti Kebuaw’ and takes the boat to commute to her work place.
“I use the longhouse’s boat, it doesn’t take too long for me to arrive – slightly only more than 10 minutes to arrive.
“However, if I were to travel from Mukah, it takes an hour from where I stay,” she said.
Reflecting on the early days of her posting, she admitted that she was afraid to commute by boat.
“When I first took the boat, I was afraid of the waves and I told myself never again am I going to do this,” she laughed.
However, she said it is her responsibility, so she continues to persevere regardless of the waves and storms which threaten to break her spirit to teach.
“The residents of the longhouse would remind me often to be safe, be careful of the waves and the strong winds.
“Sometimes, it is much worse if it is not raining but the wind is strong, it can be very scary,” she said.
Sowing seeds, for good fruit
PETRONAS’ CSR programme is sowing seeds for the next generation, creating space for children in the interior to learn.
A conducive learning environment is now available and the students who used to study in the ruai now do not need to sit under a hot and uncomfortable environment.
Certainly, the impact of the programme will only be known in years to come, but PETRONAS is hopeful that the people will enjoy the fruits of the company’s efforts.
‘Cikgu Dadra’ – as she is popularly known – previously taught in the ruai since 2011 until 2019.
The experience of teaching and learning there was challenging for both herself and the students.
“The conditions of the ruai made teaching very difficult.
“So when the tabika (kindergarten) was in construction, I was very excited to teach at the end of 2019 and could not wait for its construction to be completed.
“After the tabika was completed, I was ready to move all the materials and start immediately.
“Please don’t ask me what my spirits were like from 2011 to 2019,” she said.
A sighed expression was shown, explaining the difficulties faced in the ruai during those nine years.
“In the ruai, it is an open space, so the students would often run around, I would often need to run and go after them to bring them back to class.
“I am thankful to the parents who have made teaching easier; they are helpful and they show great cooperation,” she said.
Reflecting on her first week as a teacher, she said: “I cried in my first week, then after that week, I never cried again. During the pandemic, I created a WhatsApp group with the parents and once a week I would prepare the materials and have them distributed to the parents for the students to complete.”
Elaborating further, she said the newly built Tabika Kemas Rumah Muring had a capacity to take in 25 students.
She said the reason why most parents here do not send their children to the tabika is because of the distance.
“Usually parents will choose the nearest school,” she said.
Asked if the internet connection is good, she responded positively.
“Here the internet is good, I am able to access materials online on my computer. However, if there isn’t an internet connection, I am still able to teach,” she added.
There is hope, for good tomorrow
There was the spirit of camaraderie from members of the media, the district offices and PETRONAS to the residents of the longhouse.
There is hope for Rumah Panjang Jarit. Hope for good education, hope for accessibility and utilities.
Cikgu Dadra was among the hopefuls too – hopeful that early education from a preschool stage will enable the children entry to primary one, with good preparation.
Asked what her message to the younger teachers sent to teach in the interior was, she firmly said: “You must be strong-willed. That is the only way, physically, spiritually and mentally strong.
“Strong enough to carry heavy things and strong enough to carry yourself through the fears that you will face in the interior.
“I carry things around here, I also cut the grass, everything is an individual effort, it is a different experience compared to the city; in the city you drive and park your car in front of the tabika, that is not the case here.
“We cook the food for the students, both myself and the teaching assistant. As for the boat fare it is RM6 for two days (back and forth).”
She thanked parents in the longhouse for being supportive of the activities organised as well as the food and help provided.
“I would also like to thank PETRONAS for setting up this new Tabika Kemas for the residents of Rumah Panjang Jarit.
“For 11 years, this has been a gift for us all and I can’t thank you enough for doing so,” she said.