By Syazwana Amir, Annabelle Lee

Unlike some of their counterparts who have been able to sustain themselves by foraging the forest, the Mah Meri people in Kampung Orang Asli Pulau Indah have had to depend on handouts during the movement control order (MCO).

Most villagers are fisherfolk who have not been allowed to go out to sea since March 18 and thus have no income to feed their families.

Located just off the Persiaran Pulau Lumut thoroughfare in Port Klang, the village is barely noticeable from the main road except for a brown signboard.

Beyond the large trees by the roadside are rows of houses where more than 80 families live.

Earlier this week, Malaysiakini observed as Klang MP Charles Santiago and his team went into the village to top-up on food supplies.

The Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) and Rural Development Deputy Minister Abdul Rahman Mohamad had distributed essential foodstuffs to the same area several days before, but Charles opined that the quantum given was simply “not enough”.

According to the lawmaker, the government had provided each family “RM40 to RM50” worth of items including a bag of rice, salt, sugar, one pack of instant noodles and one can of sardines.

That day, his team gave each household two bags of rice, two packs of cooking oil, two packs of instant noodles, three packs of biscuits, two bags of dried bee hoon, two cans of sardines and two cans of creamer.

With the MCO now extended to April 28, Charles said that the indigenous communities here needed more than food to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The people here have no idea how to clean their hands, how to keep safe, how to be hygienic in this time. And none of them have soap in their house. We have to provide soap.

“The government must educate its people, especially the vulnerable community on how to use soap, how to use detergents, how to use sanitisers in order to keep themselves clean. This is basic, I would think, but I think that is not happening.

“Basically this is a call for Jakoa to buck up before people start dying,” he told Malaysiakini after distributing foodstuffs.

No one from Kampung Orang Asli Pulau Indah has contracted the virus. A boy in Cameron Highlands and a hospital worker in Perak are the two Orang Asli Covid-19 cases.

Moving forward, Charles (below) said his team will return to the village during the week to distribute soap, facemasks and hand sanitisers.

In response to Malaysiakini and KiniTV, Jakoa explained that it had distributed food to the villagers twice since the MCO began.

After undercounting the number of families on April 8, it said it had brought food packs to all 84 households two days later on April 10.

A Jakoa spokesperson later told Malaysiakini that the government agency was appreciative of lawmakers who chipped in to assist the Orang Asli community.

A meal a day to save food

Intan Pendek, the village’s tok batin or chief, said he was grateful for food supplies from both Jakoa and Charles.

The Mah Meri in the village earn a living by selling their daily catch to middle people.

Household incomes average at RM600 per month, meaning most lived in poverty even during non-MCO times.

But with fishing boats moored on the shore over the past month and little forest around them, whatever savings families had were being emptied out for food.

Intan (above) shared that he and his family have begun having just one meal a day to stretch out the food in his larder.

“If the Malays can fast, we can too. We eat once a day, we need to save (food),” he said when interviewed at his house.

Intan said he looked forward to receiving soap, hand sanitiser and facemasks from Charles as few in the village had these items.

No job, no connection

With three children, Zamri Johari and Noraini Abdullah have also been feeling the pinch after not being able to go out to sea for the past month.

Even if they managed to catch crabs or prawns from nearby streams, the fisherfolk couple told Malaysiakini that demand for seafood was low during the MCO.

They were now surviving on foodstuff handouts.

Food aside, the parents said they were also concerned about the technical challenges their oldest daughter was facing in preparing for her SPM examinations.

“I have internet data on my phone but I don’t have much connection (here in the village).

“Her teacher has sent us some homework for my daughter but I can’t even see it,” Zamri said, pointing to his mobile phone.

Already facing challenges to put food on the table, Noraini explained that they would not be able to afford more internet data should Zamri run out of it.

Video interview: