Words by Hamza Delbar
Photos by Hamza Delbar
Today, we had the immense pleasure of meeting with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) that will be accompanying us throughout most of our journey in Sabah, especially in the rural areas.
Puan Anne, the executive director and Nasiri, a PACOS Trust employee welcoming us to the PACOS Trust headquarters
PACOS Trust is a community-based organisation dedicated to supporting indigenous communities in Sabah, Malaysia. Although it has only been recognised as a legal entity in 1997, the organisation has been active since 1987. Puan Anne Lasimbang, the executive director of PACOS Trust, has started the work as part of a student movement to empower indigenous communities in a land that is so rich in resources such as oil and gas, oil palm, rubber and timber among others. But Puan Anne said that the development has been urban-centric which has created a significant gap in socioeconomic opportunities, leading then to a situation where the level of poverty rose among the indigenous communities and a consequential amount of land being given to foreigners. Therefore, the organisation has three main missions. Firstly, ensuring that the indigenous community has legal title to their customary land and the right to use resources from other traditional areas. Secondly, strengthening indigenous knowledge systems in the management of their resources and finally, reinforcing positive values, culture, language and belief systems of indigenous people and improving livelihood opportunities.
Puan Anne explaining the objectives of PACOS Trust in the welcoming session
However in our session with them today, we have discovered that there is a mountain of obstacles that Puan Anne and her organisation face everyday in attaining their goals. One would think that the government would easily fund their cause but it is not the case. As an NGO, they have to constantly lobby to both the local government and international government to finance the work that they do. So much that, most of their funding today come from private companies who want to invest in the indigenous community as part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). When asked about the issues of conflict of interest when accepting money from corporations such as Shell, Puan Anne mentioned: “As long as they do not tell us how to do our job, we can accept their money”. There is also major advocacy from PACOS Trust to establish the indigenous court system (which was present before the British took over Malaysia), and make it recognised to the same level as civil courts and Sharia courts are recognised in Malaysia. However, Puan Anne, acknowleged the fact that at the moment, the indigenous court system is in no shape to be recognised as such as its proceedings has yet to be codified. But she believes that a acknowledgement of the indigenous court to the same level as other courts systems in Malaysia is critical in the struggle of land rights for the indigenous community.
Among the dozen different programs that PACOS Trust offers, from training in Community Organisation to Land Rights Program passing through socioeconomic development, Puan Anne stated that the most effective practice of the organisation until today is a combination of the awareness campaign and the provision of quality education to the indigenous community as the people are now aware of their rights and know of the procedures. Today, we had the immense pleasure of meeting with the non-governmental undertake in case their rights are being stumped, which is then made possible through the education provided to them. She added that the policy that made education compulsory, with the Community Learning Centres initiative playing the prominent role, helped in breaking the cycle of poverty in rural areas as schools are now more accessible to the population in rural areas which allow them to obtain better opportunities in life and thus improving their socioeconomic standards. The most challenging aspect for PACOS Trust according to the executive director has been in helping the indigenous community in developing their economy, especially in terms of the quality and marketing of their products in such a way that their products will be desirable outside their community.
Hamza is a Mauritian that fell in love with Malaysia. He does not believe that Malaysia is a great country. On the contrary, he thinks there is so much that Malaysia needs to achieve especially in regards to political freedom but nonetheless he finds himself at home here and cannot go too long without Banana Leaf and Nasi Lemak.