The children from the other side – report 2
A day to remember
We went for another round trip as we still didn’t manage to discover a couple parts of the island. That is when we came across a sweet local lady to interview named Rita. During the conversation, we discovered that the island was actually divided into four parts, namely, Pulau Gaya, Pasir Putih, Pondo and Lok Urai. We only found out about the four parts of the island on our second trip. Pondo happened to be the place we were standing right at that moment and we had to hike through a forested hill from Pasir Putih to reach there. As painful as it was to see landfill trash covering 90% of the beautiful island, it couldn’t beat the feeling we got after watching a child probably as young as 5 to 6 absorbed in inhaling and exhaling a transparent plastic bag full of yellow thick gum. It was such a devastating sight as no one seemed to care and it seemed like a normal sight for everyone, except for us.
Rita told us that Pondo was the only area on the island which had not yet received any electricity or water supplies. She said that “it was promised to us and we were waiting but it never happened.” We could see that that area was under-developed compared to the previous village we went to. We started to compare the villages sub-consciously. For instance, like how the weathered plank in Pondo was terrible. It wasn’t really maintained well, there were holes and it wasn’t nailed down properly. Sometimes, it felt as if we were walking on a tightrope because we were literally just walking on a piece of plank. It felt like we were going to fall into the water at any moment and it became something that we anticipated – luckily, we didn’t.
Picture description: The poorest village on Gaya Island called Pondo.
The houses there were slightly smaller. Some of them were made of thin aluminum walls left to rust. Most roofs had holes in it and some houses were the remains of a huge fire that broke out in kampung Pondo in the year 2014 which had nearly wiped half of the village. It was the opposite of a beautiful sight. We noticed that there were a lot of kids walking barefoot, not giving a single care about the risk of getting tetanus and parasitical infections. The place was full of rusty objects and covered by plastics, mainly bottles and a scattered electronic devices like age-old televisions and radios.
We walked further to the edge of the village and stumbled upon a rare viewpoint. There it was, in front of us, a city full of skyscrapers. It was surreal to see the huge contrasts between the city and the island. It wasn’t that far nor close either, divided by the South China Sea. According to a source, about a million years ago, the island used to be a part of the mainland, but due to the climate change and the melting of the ice, it brought changes to the sea level, therefore resulting in cutting parts of the mainland to form the islands of Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug Island. The exposed sandstone of the coastline forming the cliffs, caves, honeycombs and deep crevices were evidence of the natural phenomenon that happened years ago.
picture description: A little boy is happy about a visit of someone from abroad.
Behind us was a hill of cemetery. The whole area of Pondo was surrounded by it. We were discussing how difficult it would be for them to get emergency help as we didn’t see any nearby clinic or hospital around. That’s when we saw a kid making a boat out of plastic bottles and a gunny sack. The first thing that came in our mind was “how creative!”. We realized that what we saw around us may seem like a place full of trash but like they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. He was basically using what he could find around him and made it into something useful.
It wasn’t only that – carrying a camera and using it seemed foreign to the village people. As we were deciding to go back to the mainland we passed by a random wedding and a relative of the bridal couple spontaneously invited us. We had the chance to enjoy delicious food and fresh juices. Even so, despite all the bad things that we saw, we experienced something good and especially the kindness of the poorest was the most touching.
Text by Elisheeba Malakhi