Gift Of Knowledge

Gift Of Knowledge - Year 2008

The recipient of the ESU Gift of Knowledge Book Donation for 2008 was SMK Bario, in Sarawak, (which is also the partner school for the ESU Epal Program).  On behalf of the ESU Malaysia, committee member Datin Shalini Ganendra and family, visited SMK Bario.  The school staff and students were gracious hosts.  The visit , which was from July 18 – 20, 2008, created a lasting impression on the whole family. 

The student body of 160 children are enthusiastic and generally diligent.  Though facilities are very limited, the school administration has fostered comradarie, hope and goal orientation in the school spirit.  The single story buildings are surrounded by beautiful landscaping, and are clean and well maintained.  A number of projects are underway to improve atmosphere and results, thereby motivating the students even more. 
The ESU Malaysia believes in the students of SMK Bario!

The Project

The following three essays on the trip are by the Ganendra children (Jerry - 13 years; James - 11 years; Juliana - 6 years).

Our Visit To Bario
Isolated, guarded by armies of towering green giants. Secluded, surrounded by sheet after sheet of breathing ocean. A bubble, sheltered from the turbulent cyclones of the outside world. This ‘bubble’ is located on the eastern perimeter of Malaysia. Due to its location near the equator, Borneo is generally very warm and humid, yet this ‘bubble’ can reach 18°C when the sun is not watching. However, it is not in the highlands- it is elevated only 1,000m above sea level. I would like to call this bubble Bario, unique in its climate, its traditions, its warm, friendly inhabitants (both human and inhuman), and very importantly, its food.

My mother, on behalf of the English Speaking Union of Malaysia, started an E-pal program between SMK Bario and a school in Florida,  USA. Since this project was so successful, we were invited as guests of honour to the school, at the invitation of Principal Encik Cheong. Our journey started on the 18th of July 2008 at 10:00 am when we arrived at Miri.

The only way to get into Bario is by flight.  One has to take a twin otter (a miniscule 20-odd seater rotary plane) over the dense Borneo jungle. Meandering snake like rivers and stagnant ox-bow lakes cover the rainforest.

After cutting through the walls of the bowl surrounding Bario, the plane experienced some moderate turbulence before landing smoothly on the airstrip.  We then got onto a reliable 4WD truck and drove to SMK Bario.

My brother,James, Encik Chong and I traveled at the back of the truck – open air (which was great fun!).  As we went through the small, modest gates of SMK Bario, we were greeted by a harmonious orchestra of bamboo flutes.  We then shook hands with all 180 persons (students and teachers) of SMK Bario before heading up the ‘diamond path’ to our living quarters.  The residence consisted of 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, dining and sitting rooms.  We were treated with such great hospitality.

During our stay, we visited numerous majestic long houses – some of which housed more than 100 people.    Encik Chong and we were the guests of honour at the SMK Bario English night – which was fantastic, showing  great talent of the students.

Four memories in particular, have been etched in my mind.
1.    The freezing cold duck baths – refreshing and definitely a morning wake up.
2.    The food – of which my favourite dishes were:  the pounded, glutinous, red and Bario rices: the barbecue babi hutan (really tender and delicious): the pineapple shoots (nice texture and flavour), the Doh Reh (a soupy, bitter, vegetable).
3.    The salt mine in the jungle:   We walked  5 km into the jungle to visit the salt mine and the drying camp. 
4.    The abandoned hydroelectric dam project:  We crossed white water numerous times, which was exhilarating, challenging and fun, before we saw the great and tragic failed project which had cost millions of ringgit.

We then exited Bario the same way that we came – driving on the rugged path to the twin otter, seeing the same breath taking views, including a rainbow!      Bario was definitely a trip which opened my mind to really energetic and healthy visits, with eco-friendly activities and different culture. Thank you!

Jerry Ganendra    
(Age: 13 years)