MALAYSIA - Maklin Masiau holds a photocopy of a newspaper clipping that brought the hope of change to his remote village, which he calls "Lost World", in Sabah's Pitas district.
"When I read that a road would be built to connect my village to Pitas town, I thought it was a turning point for Kampung Dowokon," said the 42-year-old farmer, pointing at a Daily Express article dated Aug 5, 1999 that reported the government would build a Pitas Pandan Pinapak road.
"I thought the villagers' difficulties and sufferings would end and their quality of life would improve."
Pitas district, according to the World Bank in 2010, is one of the poorest and most undeveloped areas in Malaysia. Maklin calls Kampung Dowokon the "Lost World" because not many people have visited it as it is inaccessible by road. The 13km Pitas Pandan Pinapak road would connect his village to Pitas town, about 185km north of Kota Kinabalu.
The villagers rely on Sungai Bengkoka. The journey might take a few hours, depending on the river's water level.
In 2000, the government started the road project. It built 2km of gravel road. And stopped. No reason was given for the stop order.
In the last 14 years, Maklin has been knocking on the doors of politicians, civil servants and ministers to appeal to them to complete the last 11km of the project. Their standard response: "We will look into the matter and consider it."
This year, the villagers could not wait for the promised infrastructure so they decided to build a 7.4km timber road.
The road will connect six villages - Kg Dowokon, Kg Mandamai, Kg Kobon, Kg Perupok, Kg Maliau Pusat and Kg Maliau Layung - to Pitas town. It will benefit about 3,000 villagers whose ethnicity is Dusun Sonsogon, Dusun Kimaragang and Dusun Sandayo. Most of the adults are subsistence farmers earning RM150 (S$58.65) to RM200 a month.
"If we don't build this road, no road will ever be built to our villages. We will build first and hope the government will upgrade it to a gravel or asphalt road," said Maklin, a Dusun Sonsogon born and bred in Kampung Dowokon.
He managed to convince his 36-year-old friend Weltter Arrifin to lend/rent his Hitachi excavator.
Depending on terrain, the excavator operator can carve 40m to 80m of timber road a day.
"Weltter was ready not to make any money in the road project. Most important for him was for a road to be built so that the villagers' socio-economic condition would improve," said Maklin.
To jumpstart the road project, Maklin collected about RM5,000 from the villagers. He also received donations from the public who read about it in pitasroad.org.
The road project started on June 23. So far, a timber road, only accessible by four-wheel drive (4WD), has reached Kampung Dowokon.