Less than 24 hours after wrapping up a very intense month-long final exam period, I flew to my new home for the summer – Subang Jaya, Malaysia. I am now nearing the 1-month mark of living here, where I am interning at the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC). As described by many other interns in their respective blogs, this month has been one of adjustment – familiarizing myself with my new home, making new friends, building relationships with locals, learning how to get around using the LRT/MRT, learning customary practices, and of course learning Malay. 

What I find interesting about this adjustment period is being able to draw similarities and differences between my life here and my life back in Canada, and more particularly to the strong Filipino influence I had growing up.

For instance, it is common both here in Malaysia and the Philippines, to eat with a spoon and fork or better yet, your hands. In the Philippines, we refer to this as “kamayan” or “kinamut” which is the traditional method of serving meals on banana leaves and eating with your hands. It is quite common in many Southeast Asian countries to eat with your hands but so is eating with a spoon and fork which is a product of centuries of colonization in Southeast Asia. Another similarity is that some Malaysians in the state of Sabah speak Bisaya, which happens to be the native language spoken in my hometown of Cebu, Philippines.

As the first CAPI intern at COAC, I (and those around me) were not entirely sure of what to expect coming into this internship. Some days are spent in the office while others are spent following my supervisor as we travel to different cities and towns to attend workshops, roundtable discussions with other NGOs, meet with researchers, and to rural areas to visit kampungs (villages). Most people don’t know what I have been up to so I wanted to spend the rest of this post sharing just a few of the many interesting events I have been able to observe/participate in within this first month:

EFT Roundtable: Participated in a national-level roundtable discussion/workshop on social safeguards for the Government of Malaysia’s Ecological Fiscal Transfer (EFT) Program, alongside organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the British High Commission.

NGO Stakeholder’s Meeting: Participated in a stakeholder’s meeting to provide feedback on an agreement between a private contractor and Orang Asli tribes (the Indigenous peoples of peninsular Malaysia) on compensation issues and resettlement (better described as forced displacement) due to a large dam being built on Orang Asli lands affecting numerous kampungs.

Kampung Visit: Visiting Kampung Berengoi-Mesau (one of the settlements of the Temoq group – a sub-ethnic Orang Asli group. This was a 7-hour drive from the city, with the final 2 hours being off-road, as we drove deeper into the forest in Pahang. The kampung is currently dealing with a land-rights case related to the state government allowing a corporation to perform logging activities, causing massive effects from deforestation.

Law Seminar: Attended a seminar discussing freedom of religion & belief led by an American judge currently sitting on the Appellate Court of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Sarawak Visit: Visited the Malaysian state, Sarawak, on Borneo Island during Hari Gawai Dayak (an annual festival to give thanks and mark a bountiful harvest) to learn more about the Iban, Bidayuh, and Orang Ulu peoples who celebrate the holiday.

Community Organizer Training: Attended a full-day session hosted by PACOS Trust and COAC for Orang Asli youth participating in a 2-month long training program to gain skills needed to become community organizers for their respective villages.