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Looking into the concerns of the aborigines

The Star Online and The Star Education





Temiar Web

NOT MANY students today would be keen to spend time looking into the concerns of the aborigines or orang asli in Malaysia.

However, that’s just what several KDU students decided to focus on recently when they embarked upon a research project.

The results?

They found out that the orang asli – a small and somewhat forgotten community – are still plagued by problems such as poverty, social stress, loss of culture, lack of development in key areas and health problems.

The students' two-month long “Orang Asli Social Awareness Campaign”, which began in September, finally ended recently with an exhibition and cultural performance organised by students pursuing a communications degree under the American Degree Programme (ADP).

Aptly themed The Forgotten People of Malaysia, the cultural extravaganza was the culmination of months of hard work. Featuring 15 orang asli dancers, musicians, a storyteller and a poet, the exhibition and performance was organised in collaboration with Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli, the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, Museum Orang Asli and Koperasi Orang Asli.

Initial research findings suggest that although most young people were not well-versed about the plight and problems faced by the orang asli, a good majority were keen to find out more about the community.

The students were keen to share some of the insights they had gleaned from their project. Many felt that previous campaigns to raise public awareness on the plight of these “forgotten people of Malaysia” lacked in-depth coverage on their plight and serious concerns.

The students explained how work on their project had started with a comprehensive literature review on the way of life, culture, arts, crafts and problems faced by orang asli. When a seminar on the orang asli was then held at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, the main organising committee of 15 students had been quick to take advantage of the situation by attending the seminar.

They had then kick-started the campaign by inviting the director of the centre for orang asli concerns Dr Colin Nicholas, to discuss the issue with students and staff of KDU.

In order to authentically capture a slice of reality and get to know the community well, the ADP students decided to live with them and interact with them on a more personal basis.

To do this, they had visited an orang asli village and stayed there over two weekends.

The students’ mission to “do something” for this community of marginalised people had continued with a week-long fund-raising project in early October. Activities held included a food sale, jumble sale and a car washing campaign. The students' efforts raised close to RM2000 and several bags of clothes for the orang asli.

The project has seen the students learning much more than what textbooks or lectures could have taught them. Besides experiencing a totally new culture and learning about teamwork and the importance of cooperation, the students also honed organisation skills.

They also learnt to become more caring and responsible. Working on the project together has provided the students with many opportunities to be proactive and, at the same time, sensitive to the needs of others especially those of the underprivileged. Most important of all, the students have also learnt to be passionate about creating, if not a better world, then at least a better Malaysia.