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Rediscovering Our Voices - Joyce Shamini

The Iban word for ‘voice’ is ‘nyawa’, which happens to coincide with the Bahasa Malaysia word for ‘life’. This is probably telling of the Iban’s value in regarding their voice as essential to life. Yet for years, the people of Rumah Ugop, Kuala Sigu though having pleaded with various authorities and cheered to pledges to improve living conditions by politicians, their voices remains unheeded, their lives tattering just slightly beyond the brink of survival.

One of the key concerns the people of Rh Ugop has voiced out on is something we city kids always take for granted - access to clean water. When the Impian Sarawak team first arrived in the longhouse, we noticed the rows of water storage tanks lining the back of the longhouse, waiting to be filled by the occasional rain, now even more scarce due to the season’s dry spell. Throughout our stay, there was the daily inquiry on whether the river is clear enough to bathe or do laundry, the conscientious monitoring of our tank water usage, and then also the barely suppressed excitement of the villagers as they await the completion of Impian Sarawak’s project.

The project’s goal was to channel water via gravity-fed water pipe from a stream 4 kilometers into the jungle to the longhouse. This was by far Impian Sarawak’s most ambitious project, one that the seasoned project managers agreed would have been an impossible feat if not for the resilience and fluid teamwork between the locals and volunteers.

More than just having made the lives of the community of Rh Ugop easier now with access to clean water, the Impian Sarawak project has snowballed into greater significance. Life-long bonds were fostered between the locals and volunteers as they work hand in hand by day and then poco-poco* together by night. The children, after interacting with the volunteers are now inspired to go back to school and complete their education. Most importantly, the people of Rh Ugop have found their voice again, their livelihood, thanks to the empowerment that the Impian Sarawak initiative has sparked within the community!

*a variation of Indonesian line dancing popular amongst Ibans.