Photojournalist, ECM Libra Foundation stand by report on poor Orang Asli living off landfill

An Orang Asli woman is seen scavenging through the landfill. ― Picture by SC Shekar
An Orang Asli woman is seen scavenging through the landfill. ― Picture by SC Shekar

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 15 — Freelance journalist SC Shekar said he has video and photographic evidence to support a news report on an Orang Asli community in Bandar Muadzam Shah, Pahang who have been forced to scavenge at a landfill for a living in the 21st-century, bereft of basic amenities like piped water and electricity.

Shekar said he stands by the article first published by Malay Mail yesterday, after national news agency Bernama reported a denial by one of the Jakun community tribesman earlier this evening.

“I have been documenting the community for the past 10 months. I saw children working on the landfill, collecting rubbish. That broke my heart. It might probably have been going on for more than that.

“Whatever is taking place there is true. And I am not the only one who knew it. I have documentary evidence in the form of videos and photographs and interaction with the community,” he told Malay Mail when contacted tonight.

Throughout that time, Shekar said he did not see any evidence of the Orang Asli Development Department, better known by its Malay acronym Jakoa, caring for their welfare.

Shekar said he has helping provide the basic necessities like food and milk to the Jakun community who live in a settlement near Bukit Ibam, Bandar Muadzam Shah and not “at the dumpsite in Jalan Bukit Ibam” as reported by Bernama, along with the Global Peace Foundation, a Malaysia-based International non-governmental organisation that has been doing work with the community since last year.

“I know the Orang Asli man who give the statements through Pahang Jakoa. He is a very good man. He just needs to survive.

“But why did Jakoa wait to speak now, after the matter has gone out in the newspaper? Why not earlier when they needed help?” Shekar asked.

Bernama reported 55-year-old Mahmud Dom as representing the group of people who were photographed at the dumpsite saying they were there only to look for cans, bottles and scrap metal that could be resold as recyclables to supplement their income.

Mahmud told the national news agency that he did not know the intention of those who made the allegation and described it as being disrespectful of his community, besides besmirching Jakoa as well as Pahang and the nation.

The original article was also made possible with the aid of ECM Libra Foundation, which funds and undertakes charitable work, particularly in education, with indigenous communities, in both east Malaysia and the peninsula, in particular the Orang Asli.

In a statement to Malay Mail tonight, ECM Libra Foundation chairman Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan backed Shekar’s report, saying he had personally visited the area and witnessed the deplorable living conditions of the Jakun community in Bandar Muadzam Shah.

He also said that the landfill concession holder, Greenviro Solutions Sdn Bhd, which took charge only last December, has agreed to work with him to find solutions for the affected Orang Asli.

“Greenviro Solutions Sdn Berhad wrote me an email yesterday saying they wanted to work with us to solve issues facing the OA on their landfill which they inherited. And I will work with them to do so,” he said.

Like Shekar, Kalimullah too said the Orang Asli interviewed by Bernama had been under pressure to do so.

Kalimullah, a former journalist, said he knew the Orang Asli headman and knew that the community were forced to work as scavengers to make their living.

“I can understand why the headman is backtracking from what he told us. Poor people under pressure have little choice.

“The officials — in this case Jakoa — by pretending the problem doesn’t exist — doesn’t make it go away. By pretending it doesn’t exist will only ensure the Orang Asli will die a slow death.

“Nowhere did anyone say they live on the landfill. They told us they ‘live off the landfill’. I spoke to the headman myself. Their settlement is about 10 minutes away — with no running water and no electricity. That’s a FACT,” he said.

Kalimullah said Jakoa has not been doing its work.

He affirmed the foundation’s commitment to continue providing welfare aid to other Orang Asli settlements that he said have been “forgotten” by Jakoa.

“Their houses have no running water and electricity. That’s a FACT. And it’s easily checked by a reporter willing to go to the ground.

“As far as I am concerned, the ECM Libra Foundation will provide them assistance as we have done over the last decade with many Orang Asli settlements in Perak and Negri Sembilan — WITHOUT any help from Jakoa,” Kalimullah stressed.

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