By Ahmad Muliady Abdul Majid
LABIS (Segamat) (Bernama) -- Yem Saebon cannot imagine what his life would be like if he did not join the Felda settlement scheme 28 years ago.
The 62-year-old had poured his blood, sweat and tears to build a life for his family at Felda Maokil, near here.
Before he became a Felda settler, Yem used to work as a shop assistant. It was a job that barely allowed him to put food on the table, let alone plan for his family's future.
"However, life was not all that easy when I first joined Felda in 1990. My wife and I and our four young children lived in difficulty. There was no water or even electricity supply back then," said Yem, who was from Sagil, Tangkak, about 55km away from Felda Maokil.
At the time, Yem was one of the first settlers at Felda Maokil so when his family first moved in. The oil palm trees at the surrounding plantations were still young and had yet to bear fruit.
In order to survive, Yem had to depend on the RM300 monthly loans from Felda for about three years. With the money, he was able to buy basic necessities for his family such as rice, sugar and milk.
The loan is then paid back in instalments after settlers get returns from the their oil palm tree harvests.
Things are much different for Yem and his family today.
"Our lives have improved a lot, what with the various aid given by the government through Felda," he told Bernama when met at Felda Maokil recently.
Felda Maokil, located some 18km off the nearest town of Labis, was first developed in the 1980s.
It was named after Gunung Maokil, a 605-metre-high mountain near here that can be seen clearly from the North-South Expressway. The mountain is located within the Gunung Maokil Forest Reserve which stretches from Labis to Pagoh.
There are around 5,000 settlers at Felda Maokil 1, 2, 3 and 4. All four settlements are today equipped with various facilities.
Other facilities include surau and mosques, police station, primary, secondary and religious schools, community halls, football field, children's playgrounds and even a 1Malaysia Internet Centre.
Tarred roads connect Felda to nearby villages as well as cities like Segamat and Muar, which are located 48km and 105km away respectively.
After years of toiling away on four-hectares of land, Yem and his wife Jamilah Haron, 56, can today reap the rewards of their hard work.
The couple managed to raise 10 children on their humble income as Felda settlers. Some of them were university graduates, entrepreneurs and private sector workers while two were still studying in institutes of higher learning.
Yem said the younger generation at the settlement today was very lucky as they did not have to endure the hardships faced by the earlier settlers, as the government had equipped Felda settlements today with a number of amenities.
He also hoped that they would realise that the comforts they enjoyed today would not have been possible without the government's effort in developing Felda settlements.
"I hope the youths would appreciate the effort of the government in creating a place for their parents to earn a living and provide for the comforts that they enjoy today," said Yem, who is a member of the Felda Maokil UMNO branch committee.
FLY THE FLAGS
This writer could not help but notice that Yem had both the UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN) flags flown in front of his house.
Yem said that it was a symbol of his gratitude and loyalty to both UMNO and BN.
"Perhaps some might consider me an overzealous supporter but I personally don't think that we need to wait for election season to fly these flags.
"There are some here who are simply not grateful for what the government has given us, but I am certain that the earlier settlers of Felda Maokil will always remain loyal to BN," he said.
The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak visited Felda Maokil in early February but Yem was understandably still excited about the visit.
"His visit brought a lot of excitement. I don't think I would be exaggerating when I say that the atmosphere was almost like Hari Raya," he said.
Najib, during the visit, reminded Felda settlers that despite the progress and development they enjoyed today, they still needed to prepare for a paradigm shift if they wanted to retain their competitive edge.
In an event that day, 721 Felda Maokil settlers received ownership grants to 80.93 hectares of housing site and 3,165.8 hectares of plantation land.
Settler Tumiran Musjojo agreed that the BN government had done a lot for Felda settlements.
Tumiran who briefly supported the Opposition admitted to his regret: "I have since rejoined UMNO after being let down by the other party that had failed to fulfil its promise during the 13th GE," said the 60-year-old who hailed from Kampung Parit Separap, Batu Pahat, nearly 70km from Felda Maokil.
The father of six said that the facilities available at Felda settlements today was testament of the government's contribution to Felda, with the latest being a housing development for the second-generation of Felda settlers.