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These Incredible Malaysians Are On Mission To Save Starving Bajau Laut Communities In Sabah During MCO

These Incredible Malaysians Are On Mission To Save Starving Bajau Laut Communities In Sabah During MCO

Living in constant state of survival.

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“It’s not easy, but we must get it done.”

Those were the inspiring words written by avid traveller and philanthropist, Khairul Jamain, who’s part of the Misi Cemas Pulau 2.0 initiative providing humanitarian aid to the isolated floating villages and island communities in Semporna, Sabah.

These communities have been severely impacted by the nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) enforced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Organised by a local non-governmental organization (NGO) Impactive Malaysia with the aid of other groups such as Scuba Buddy, Cerita&Co and Harmoni Malaysia, the project aims to provide food, supplies and any assistance necessary targeted towards the Bajau Laut communities living in the area.

Through crowdfunded donations made by everyday Malaysians, the mission endeavours to provide aid to over 400 families scattered across 5 islands around Semporna.

Basic supplies were ferried from village to village in boats with the mission team maintaining hygiene and physical distancing practices.

On social media, Khairul shares detailed narration on the mission’s huge undertaking along with his personal experiences with the people in Semporna and the suffering they face from extreme poverty and the lack of basic infrastructure.

I feel personally affected by what’s happening because I’ve lived with the Bajau Laut community and understand their situation. Even before the MCO, they lived from hand to mouth.

Khairul Jamain via Facebook.

Khairul also tells of how many of the people from these communities are burdened with statelessness or not having formal citizenship status with a country.

He also revealed that a majority of the people living there have yet to receive any form of help from the government since the start of the MCO period.

Undocumented nomads

Historically, the Bajau Laut community – also referred to as Sea Nomads – have been carving out a living around the open waters and shores of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Read More: Malaysia’s Floating Villages: The Danger Of Living On The Water

Homes on wooden stilts build directly on the water.
(Matthieu Paley/National Geographic)

Many are considered stateless individuals as they do not possess proper documentation or identification and are classified as illegal immigrants by the Malaysian government.

As no credible data on their populations exist, estimates from 2018 place around 500,000 stateless people living in Sabah.

Unfortunately, these stateless individuals are often persecuted by the law and are also seen as an eyesore by local authorities, where some even take it as their prerogative to keep them from “misbehaving on our streets“.

Read More: Terror At The Border: Why ESSZone Is Still Around 7 Years After Lahad Datu?

Covid conundrum

With Sabah becoming the epicentre for recent Covid-19 outbreaks in Malaysia, concerns arise on the impact that the pandemic would have on these vulnerable communities.

Reportedly, medical workers have been experiencing difficulties in conducting coronavirus screenings and tests within these communities as people would flee in fears of being arrested by the police.

A family smiles for the camera after receiving aid.

Confusing standard operating procedures (SOP) and guidelines have also hindered efforts to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic there.

Speaking to TRP, Khairul explained that these secluded communities are in a constant state of survival due to the events of the Covid-19 lockdowns.

The MCO prevents them from going out to sea and consequently affects their income. Shops are not only far away, but could only be reached by sea and by land and would be costly for them who are struggling financially.

Khairul told TRP.

Besides providing aid and supplies, Khairul and the team also worked on educating people about Covid-19 and the importance of hygiene and physical distancing, besides teaching the locals basic life skills like reading, writing and how to count.

Khairul giving kids a lesson on his mini chalkboard.

Misi Cemas Pulau 2.0 is the second iteration of the charity project which began in April 2020 and managed to distribute some RM30,000 worth of supplies to those in need.

For “phase 2”, the team had successfully collected more than RM21,000 worth of donations from the public and sent aid to around 450 families off the coast of Semporna.

Learn more about the charity program and Khairul’s uplifting journey on his official Facebook and Instagram account.

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