Orang asli teenager in orang asli reservation of Lubuk Lenggong in Baling, Kedah. NSTP/AMRAN HAMID

BALING: Batin Razali Kulim, 40, looked wistfully into the horizon. He is worried about the future of his people.

Drugs and alcohol are rampant in his orang asli village and many youths have become victims to the menace.

Batin Razali is the head of the Kensiu orang asli tribe which is located at the orang asli reservation of Lubuk Lenggong in Baling, Kedah.

“The Kensiu tribe currently consists of 87 families and 345 people altogether. Our village is surrounded by other Malay villages and our people have integrated well with the community.

“Our children go to normal schools and our youths find work in the estates and in nearby small towns. Some still go to the jungle and get herbs, woods and animals and sell them to nearby businesses,” he said.

Batin Razali is aware of the importance for the Kensiu to embrace modernity. However, a negative side effect of modernity is the influx of drugs and cheap alcohol into the community.

“I think the influx of cheap alcohol and drugs started to enter our village in the early 90s from the surrounding areas and towns. Many of the youths started getting hooked through curiosity and influenced by their friends.

“Thankfully the police and Jabatan Kebajikan Orang Asli (Jakoa) were quick to act and made many raids, yet the problem still exists until today and that makes me worry for my people,” he said.

Batin Razali believes in looking for another approach to deal with the drugs and alcohol abuse aside from the welcomed raids against the criminal elements providing the drugs and cheap alcohol.

“There have been many raids by the authorities yet the problems still persists. After the raids, the suppliers will disappear. But once things are quiet, these people appear again,” he said.

“Recently, an NGO, Sahabat Jariah Malaysia (SJM) collaborated with the Deputy Prime Minister's Office to hold a meeting to discuss and come out with a plan to help the Kensiu to fight the drug and alcohol problem.

“Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Mohd Salmi Mohd Suhud also came to the village to look at the problem first hand and to seek a permanent solution to the problem,” he said.

The big result of the meeting was to choose a more psychological approach to solve the problem.

“That meeting was an eye opener for me. It shows the government is serious about helping us.

“They said the tribe needs to have a change of mindset. The solution is to change the mindset of the Kensiu people so we can say no to drugs and alcohol. If there is no demand for drugs and alcohol, we can help stop the supply,” he said.

The psychological approach is to win the hearts and minds of the Kensiu people.

This is where Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah’s Head of Psychiatry Department Dr Omar Ali comes into the picture.

Dr Omar said drug and alcohol abuse is a common threat in indigenous communities worldwide.

“Native Americans, the Australian aborigines and many other native communities around the world have an alcohol abuse and drug abuse problems.

“One of the best ways to deal with the native communities is through winning their hearts and minds.

“We need to build trust, once they trust us, they will listen and open up. Then we can help. Merely lecturing them will not work,” he said.

According to Dr Omar, the Kensiu tribe is not yet in critical stage but alcohol abuse amongst pregnant Kensiu natives is worrying.

Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah’s Head of Psychiatry Department Dr Omar Ali comes into the picture. NSTP/SHARUL HAFIZ ZAM.

“Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

“The type of alcohol consumed by the Kensiu is the cheap self made variety which has a high percentage of alcohol content. If it is brewed with methanol then the effect is much more severe.

“We take this as a priority because it involves the future generation of the indigenous tribe. The Tok Batin also sees this as a worrying trend in the community,” he said.

He said while it is good that the authorities conduct regular raids but it is more important if the community abstains on their own free will.

“The supplies are appearing because there is a demand for them. But what if the natives themselves are informed enough and have their own stand to say no.

“Our approach is to engage the community on a regular basis. The goal is to build trust. This will take time. You won't get the result overnight,” he said.

On the drug problems here, Dr Omar said sniffing glue was the main problem.

“Glue sniffing is on the rise for the simple reason that it is cheap for them to obtain.

“Meth addiction is not rampant because it is expensive. Regardless of the type, the dangers of glue sniffing should not be taken lightly.

“Sniffing glue can be life-threatening. Even if the result isn’t fatal, the risks associated with glue sniffing includes brain damage and severe breathing problems,” he explained.

Dr Omar said his team from Hospital Sultanah Bahiyah as well as Hospital Sungai Petani are organising regular engagements every month.

“This is a soft approach. Personal engagement with them will be more effective.

“This is a small group of people and they are shy and timid in nature. To come in with an army will not be conducive.

“We need to win their hearts and minds. The Kensiu tribe is one of the oldest native tribes in the country. We want to show them that we care and we want them to grow and be a successful community. We will spare no expense in helping them,” he said.

Native communities in orang asli reservation of Lubuk Lenggong in Baling, Kedah. NSTP/AMRAN HAMID

With dedicated and concerned individuals like Dr Omar and Batin Razali, the Kensiu tribe has a high chance of breaking the drug and alcohol abuse curse on their community.

Batin Razali hopes that his people will change for their future and be an effective contributor to the growth of the country.

“The Kensiu has survived this far, let's fight these abuses because I want my grandchildren to continue to prosper and share the country’s wealth and development,” he said.