JUNGLE TALES: A JOURNEY INTO KAMPUNG ATOK
Written by Arran Hashim, Co-founder and a Project Coordinator for Project KampungKu.
A thick mist descended upon the volunteers as our boats docked upon the muddy embankment of Kampung Atok, the installation site for Project KampungKu 2020. It had just finished raining, and the moisture in the cool September air glistened in the evening light as our precious cargo of photovoltaic cells, solar lamps, and food supplies was unloaded. As we unpacked the boats, a landing group of Kampung Atok asli arrived — curly-haired folk with kind eyes and polite smiles — who immediately swung into action. Before we knew it, they scooped the equipment and supplies out of our hands and nimbly ascended the steep hill towards the village. By the time we reached the entrance of the village, a procession of Kampung Atok asli of all ages had gathered, ushering us in without a moment's hesitation.
Kampung Atok is a quaint village community located approximately 45 minutes downstream from Kuala Tahan, a fishing village facing the main entrance of Taman Negara. It has a total population of 123 people distributed among 23 modest homes. As we wandered through the village, we spotted many young children; a population demographic which Project KampungKu emphasizes supporting. As we waved our hellos, Roslan, our orang asli liaison, was quick to remind the group that many of these children were of school-going age but lacked the proper lighting infrastructure to study at night. In addition to enabling night-time village navigation and income-generating activities, Project KampungKu exists to support orang asli children by providing artificial light — an important tool for studying at night After a few minutes of walking among the jungle homes, we reached a clearing with a long table and two benches — the village’s focal point — where we established a temporary base of operations.
As soon as we unpacked the equipment and food supplies, we got to work on distribution. The volunteers began going door-to-door to explain how to assemble the solar technology and best practices to maximize their longevity. Matriarchs were in charge of many of these households, who paid close attention as we discussed the installation process. After a short while, the shy faces of young children began poking out from behind their mothers' colorful gowns, interrogating the panels and lamps with furrowed brows. With a press of a button, the solar lamps came alive, and their reservations immediately evaporated. With reassuring smiles from their mothers, they examined the technology with inquisitive fingers, surveying the solar lamps' hard yellow plastic with great curiosity. But after a short while — like most young children — they lost interest and busied themselves with other activities.
It was getting dark by the time the installation phase came to an end. After handing off the last solar panel and lamp, we organized the volunteers and a few willing Kampung Atok residents for a group photo commemorating the occasion. Looking around, I saw a sea of happy faces with bright smiles — bright enough to light a room! After the last photo was taken, we knew it was time to leave. We warmly thanked the village chief for his hospitality and waved our goodbyes to the scurrying children busy at play. As we began trekking back towards the boats, the solar lamps lit up one-by-one in each household, illuminating our path like runway lights. By the time we settled into the hardwood seats of our boats, the storm clouds overhead began raining wispy raindrops that pattered gently onto our skin.
As our boats pulled away from the riverbank, we reflected on our brief but amazing experience in the jungle. Like the explorers of old, we felt as though we journeyed through uncharted territory — the place where the Yellow Meranti grow wild, and Helmeted Hornbills roam free. But alas, the joy of our experience was short-lived. As our riverboats meandered towards Kuala Tahan, leaving behind the newly illuminated Kampung Atok, we were somberly reminded of the threats facing this beautiful natural world. Just outside the bounds of Taman Negara, logging runs rampant, and the impalpable force of global warming remains inadequately challenged. As long as these destructive forces prevail, I fear communities like Kampung Atok will always be at risk — a risk we Malaysian's have a responsibility to mitigate.
Project KampungKu is a series of renewable energy projects dedicated to proving personalized solar solutions to orang asli communities across Malaysia, organized by the Ecotourism & Conservation Society Malaysia (ECOMY). For more information, please visit www.ecomy.org.