GEORGE TOWN: Odd-job worker Rosman Darus and his family are no strangers to hardship, living on a pittance for the past four months in a tiny home deep inside an oil palm estate in rural Penang island.
The house has no electricity supply, and is furnished with items salvaged from the scap heap.
Rosman, his wife and their three young children have lived there for four years after having to leave their home in Balik Pulau for failing to pay three months’ rent.
For the first five months, they lived in a chicken coop at a small family-owned plot of land in Kampung Sungai Pinang, north of Balik Pulau, until zakat authorities built a brick house for them.
Rosman’s wife Suzana Mansor, 37, had been the sole breadwinner, working as a cleaner at Penang airport. But she left in 2016 to deliver her third child. Rosman, 47, took up odd-jobs in the village, earning RM15 a week for two years until he found work as a garbage collector with a contractor to the city council, earning RM800 a month.
Suzana then worked as a chicken seller, fetching the birds on a beat-up motorcycle, usually with her two kids in tow. She earned about RM30 to RM50 a week in commissions. But that ended when the movement control order restrictions came into force in March.
Rosman lost his side income from cutting grass and other menial jobs but continues to work as a garbage collector. They have to struggle on without his wife’s income.
They gave up their eldest child, a 12-year-old son, to be cared for by his aunt in Sarawak, as he suffers from a learning disability. The two other children, aged 5 and 7 are with them.
“Sometimes we have no choice but to give our kids condensed milk mixed with water, as we can’t afford to buy milk all the time,” he said when met by FMT yesterday.
Suzana yearns for reliable electricity and repairs to her home. “It has been four years without electricity,” she said. “We have candles only.” Tenaga Nasional are unable to lay power cables to their home across the neighbouring oil palm estate without the approval of the estate.
She said Rosman, an adept handyman and electrician, had laid a make-shift cable to draw power from another kampung house 400m away but their power supply is often interrupted by wild animals such as monkeys and boars and by bad weather bringing down the cables.
All they have is an old fluorescent bulb for lighting, a small radio and a beat-up fridge and washing machine. Nearly all their appliances and furniture have been salvaged from dump sites over the past year. They use discarded smartphones with cracked screens that Rosman has repaired.
A discarded solar panel powers a small row of Hari Raya lights, also taken from a dumpster, at the front of their home. “We don’t have TV, we listen to the news on the radio. When we have enough mobile data, I let my kids watch YouTube. We don’t have enough money to put food on the table,” Suzana said.
The concrete floor of the house has sunk, and the roof leaks. Rosman placed metal bars in the attic, which is used as a shelter when flood waters rise to at least a metre high.
Their soggy, thin, mattresses in the hall, and watermarks on the wall, are proof of the floods. On the floor lie jars containing a half-loaf of bread and old biscuits, food kept aside for hungrier times.
“Every night we are bitten by swarms of mosquitoes. We do not have a fan. And every other week, there is a giant cobra that comes to visit. We had a close call once, when my two-year-old daughter was playing outside and the snake came so close to her. Rosman threw a cangkul at it and it zigzagged away,” Suzana said.
Suzana said she has dreams of opening a small roadside food stall, to sell laksa and other dishes. But without enough money and someone to mind the children, it was not possible. “One of my kids is hyperactive and is difficult to control,” she laments.
She said all she wants now was help to fix her dilapidated home and to build flood barriers.
Until times improve, they have some relief from donations brought by a generous group of people led by tuition teacher Vimalan Chandrasegaran and Khoo Lay Guat who brought milk powder, diapers, Hari Raya cookies, and a standing fan.
To Rosman’s joy, they also brought a petrol-engine grasscutter, so that he could earn additional income.
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