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Catching up with the highlanders

on 05 Disember 2011.

The Kelabit people in Bario Highlands, one of the most remote areas in Sarawak, now have their own community radio station, the first such station in the country.

IT was his turn to be the deejay for the night and former photojournalist Scott Apui did not expect anything unusual to happen at the community radio station on the Bario Highlands.

But when he picked up the long-distance call, the usually cool guy became all flustered and his headphone slipped down his face. As he flipped it back in place, the headphone fell backwards this time while his shoulder-length hair tumbled forward over his face. It was a hilarious sight.

It is easy though to understand why Apui, 44, could hardly contain his excitement. The caller was none other than Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and the man behind the Government Transformation Programme undisputedly the most famous Kelabit today.


In tune: The three women deejays (from left) Connie, Esther Saloma and Lucy are among the six pioneer broadcasters of Radio Bario.

It was a historic call indeed for the community, because the very minute Idris' call came through the station on Nov 14, it showed that the Kelabits living in the most remote mountainous area of Sarawak are no longer cut off from the world and out of reach.

For the Kelabits, the launch of Radio Bario FM, Malaysia's first community-run radio station a month ago, is another achievement in a string of success stories that began over a decade ago. It also signifies how far the Kelabit community have arrived in their efforts to bridge the digital divide.

Station manager Stanley Isaac, 63, a retired teacher, was obviously overwhelmed with Idris' call and also that from another prominent Kelabit Sarawak deputy state secretary Datuk Ose Murang.


“As a Kelabit, I am really touched because these long distance calls have come through. The Datuks are so far away, yet so near to us because we can hear their voices live' over the radio broadcast,” Stanley enthused.

Idris congratulated the community for the launch of Radio Bario and also their support and participation in the eBario project.


“It is a good platform for us to communicate with each other,'' he added before continuing the conversation in Kelabit dialect.

Indeed, the lives of the Kelabits began changing in 1999, when the eBario project was initiated by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) and became a springboard for the highlands community to connect with the outside world.

The eBario project not only liberated the Kelabit people from their isolation, it casted the limelight on them and brought world attention. In 2001, Bario was accredited by World Teleport Association as one of the top seven intelligent communities of the world.

Today, the Bario Highlands have fibre optic link and WiFi access, telecommunication facilities, eLearning and eHealth facilities as well as solar powered electricity supply. There are also concrete roads and a new airport. The highlands have also emerged as one of Sarawak's most popular rural tourist destinations, with more than 20 homestay outfits to cater to guests.

Radio Bario FM is one of the projects initiated by eBario Sdn Bhd which also manages the eBario Telecentre. Both projects are funded under the International Fund for Agricultural Development under their Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility. Costing about RM50,000, the Radio Bario FM project is operated mainly by the Kelabit people for the community.

It took eBario Sdn Bhd three years to get government approval for the radio station licence. It also collaborated with a UK-based company, RadioActive Ltd, a company that has strong records in setting up community radio stations.

Unimas vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Khairuddin Ab Hamid, the man behind eBario, launched the radio station by hitting a tubong a traditional instrument used by the Kelabit community to relay information in the past.

The six pioneer broadcasters are retired educationist Connie Aping, her sister Lucy Terang, evangelist Stanley Beraok and his wife Esther Saloma Jalong, a Penan from Long Main and Scott, a wine salesman who also manages his father's homestay lodge in Bario.

The interesting bunch have been keeping the Kelabit community within a 20km radius of the station glued daily with news reports, current issues, story-telling for children and a women's programme while spinning tunes ranging from blues, slow rock, country and western to gospel songs.

For most of the Kelabit population in the highlands and the deejays themselves, having their own radio station broadcasting in their local dialect is something beyond their dreams.

“Life has suddenly become very interesting here. Now we have to be on the alert with all that's going on outside Bario and in our own community here. We are also reaching out to our Penan brethren,'' Lucy, a pastor, shared excitedly.

She is thankful for the eBario project, which has brought them connectivity, saying: “It has opened up our world and changed our lives for the better.”

Extracted from thestar.

Arkib Berita

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 94300 Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia Telephone: +60 82581000/+60 82581388, Fax: +60 82 665 088, Email: corporate@unimas.my
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