In 1964, when then Krian assemblyman and Local Government Minister Dunstan Endawie Enchana (later Datuk Amar) visited Nanga Assam School, Saratok, he introduced me to Awang Hipni Pengiran Anu.
“This is my naughty cousin Tawi,” he said while standing next to my desk in our Primary 3 classroom.
Awang Hipni, who was also a minister, patted my shoulder and said: “You must do your best and go to university.”
Those words are still fresh in my mind and have become inspirational since. The ministers under Ningkan were my initial influencers.
Pertaining to education development in the longhouse, thus far I haven’t come across any specific figures of interest pointing to the success of the ‘one family, one graduate’ mission (at the very least).
When this idea was mooted, I was outside the country but was aware that it was the brainchild of our leaders at that time, namely in the late 80s.
By then, our Kedap longhouse in Saratok already had a good number of graduates but still not enough to qualify for that figure of one graduate per family.
After over 20 years, Kedap has not fully achieved it unless the extra ones from the families can be ‘transferred’ with the total being divided by all — equally done just like when we equally shared fruits and catch in the past.
I come out with this point as there are still some families who have nothing to contribute to improve the number of graduates in our longhouse, not only for now but very unlikely in the future.
But there are families with up to five or six graduates — and why not when the patriarch (now deceased) held a Master of Science degree and all his five children are graduates and now a few of the grandchildren have graduated or are undergraduates.
Another family has produced four graduates while a few have at least two graduates. One special family, led by a Datuk, himself a diploma in public admin graduate from an English university, has graduates comprising an accountant, a lawyer, an engineer, a teacher, an IT specialist and another degree holder from Unitar.
I led my own family in getting a degree back in 1979, the first product of Nanga Assam School to own a degree, thanks to the early encouragement aforesaid.
My intention was to be the role model for my own family, for relatives as well as the whole longhouse.
This role model phenomenon is perhaps the most vital part to ensure the success of such aim but must be done with sincerity and commitment.
Fellow Ibans must rid of their kepapas (selfish and envious or jealous notion), once quite a typical characteristic of some longhouse folk.
It is this role model that can certainly make university graduation an infectious passion for longhouse kids.
My uncle Datuk aforesaid was my role model and guarantor for my federal scholarship for a teaching degree while my late cousin was not my education role model as he obtained his Master degree while serving as information attaché in India long after I graduated but he was a role model in other ways.
There is no need to go into details pertaining to my own family and that of my brothers and our deceased sister but all in all, we have umpteen graduates in various fields such as teaching (nine), engineering (four), management (one), international relations (one), IT (two), culinary science (one) plus some grandchildren who are still pursuing their studies in universities and colleges,
Our cousin next door who failed his Sarawak Junior has four children who are all graduates but his three brothers are not as successful. Even their maternal first cousin, a just-retired Unimas professor is not taken as a role model.
Further upriver, namely in Tanjung Sikup and Munggu Embawang, there is similar success for my first cousins and their children. For example, a male first cousin has a son who is a graduate teacher while his sister is a graduate teacher too and said I was her idol and role model.
She has played a big role in getting our niece to graduate, the third in the family, while our male maternal first cousin has produced three graduates from among his children.
However, not all families have children who are graduates but this will certainly change in the near future, thanks to the existence of role models and influencers.