Ten-year old Hazim Rahman was an excited boy.
His excitement was not so much because he skipped school today but the lad was grinning from ear to ear all morning in his best clothes since he and his family was upbeat on the prospect of meeting an Orang Besar later in the day.
The orang besar he was referring to was Mohd Shafie Apdal, Minister of Rural and Regional Development who was scheduled to make his first visit to Agropolitan Project in Gahai, better known as Agropolitan Gahai or simply Gahai located some 20 km away from Kuala Lipis in the interior of Pahang.
Shafie visited Gahai being the second such project implemented by the ministry since last year. The first was at Pulau Banggi, named Agropolitan Pulau Banggi located off Kudat, Sabah in 2008.
Hazim’s father was among the 80 hardcore head of families (ketua isi rumah or KIR) of Agropolitan Gahai relocated from their original kampongs into a more organized daily living by the Rubber Institute of SmallHolders Development Authority (RISDA) which is an agency under the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development.
The selected head of families moved into Gahai a year ago when the project opened its gates to participants with the primary objective of elevating hardcore poverty among the rural folks in deep the interiors of Malaysia, especially those believed to have been marginalized by development.
Since then Gahai has been among the buzzwords in meeting rooms and discussions at the ministry, towards certain extent in the state of the project. From hardcore poverty the ministry hopes to reduce the statistics gradually, meaning that efforts are in place to eliminate hardcore poor to being poor and eventually set them free from the shackles of the haves-not.
Since the corresponding period last year, of the 80 heads of family 50 of the Gahai folks have been making a steady and decent living, like having fixed salaries of around RM 350 and RM 700 monthly from their daily chores in the rubber estates, pineapple plantations, as tailors, van drivers and kindergarten handlers.
About 40 percent of them were enjoying income of more than RM 700 a month, taking them on the right track to a better tomorrow as promised by the government in general and the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development specifically.
This self-help community formed a committee among themselves to meet and discuss problems and handle progress, bounces ideas on how to elevate their social well-being by venturing into other economic activities while waiting for the right time to tap rubber trees in the year 2011 and to harvest pineapple late this year.
The 50 head of families were the inhabitants of the Program Bantuan Rumah (PBR) or Housing Aid Programme while the remaining 30 of them were shareholders of the scheme being old and no longer able to be active in economic activities.
These are the primary roles of the ministry at best – provide houses, build roads, light up their homes with electricity and supply clean water into their lives some through projects like agropolitan while the ministry was also entrenched into other projects to increase the income of the rural folks.
Among the projects is the Program Peningkatan Pendapatan, Program Latihan Kemahiran dan Kerjaya (Skills and Career Enhancement Programme) and Program Pembangunan Modal Insan or the Human Capital Development programmes.
Due to the various programmes implemented by the ministries on a 365/24-7 work culture and regime, the senior officers and officers of the ministry have been consumed with tones of work around the clock and committed to deliver the best for the rural folks.
Ten years ago these projects were pipe dreams to the haves-not while half a century ago the ministry sets out to combat poverty with a commitment to strive and help the almost forgotten community in our country.
Now they have a hope for a promised future and no longer darting from hand to mouth and eking out a living from unproductive practices of over the years. Things have never been the same for the officers as well as their subjects.
The bottom line of this agropolitan project was to enable the participants of Gahai to obtain income of around RM 1,050 and RM 1,200 to finally break free from abject poverty in the year 2011. The mission is already on track towards this objective.
The RM 8.5 million agropolitan was officiated by former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on July 31 last year after a series of development of the components of the project -- water supply, electricity, roads and other amenities in 2007, covering an area of about 223 hectare.
In a nutshell, an agropolitan project was meant to be an agriculture township which was developed through the various agricultural activities and agricultural-related businesses.
Two objectives -- to eradicate hardcore poverty through economic upliftment and elevating them from the poverty line as well as fast-tracking the development in the rural, remote and the neglected are the pillars of the agropolitan project.
Agropolitan is a project under the Program Lonjakan Mega Luar Bandar (PLMLB) or Rural Mega Uplifting Project, one of the attributes of the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development.
To date the ministry has been developing several agropolitan projects, namely – Chemomoi in Pahang, Kampung Gana in Sabah, Batang Sadong and Batang Lupar in Sarawak and has identified new sites for such project, among them in Sedili, Johor and Kedaya Telang Usan in Sarawak.
Hazim finally met with Shafie at the end of the minister’s visit, right in his house when the “Orang Besar” came a calling while touring the vast project to see for himself the real progress taking shape in this part of the country.
The not-so-shy lad managed a “terima kasih” to the minister, again grining from ear to ear in his best clothes which were already partly sprinkled with sweat of having to queue with the rest of his contemporaries in the dewan nearby to meet with the “Orang Besar”.
Hazim smiled, saying softly that “satu hari nanti saya nak jadi orang besar macam dia”, pointing to Dato’ Shafie who was smiling in a hearing distance.
* This posting was part of the article written by Dato' Abd. Jabar Che Nai, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development, Putrajaya and appeared in The Star newspaper on Oct 3, 2009, N32