The Sonsogon Solar Lamp Project

Villagers Receiving Their Solar Lamps

Solar lamp is a great source of light at any remote areas in the world.

Sonsogon Magandai is best described as a small hamlet with about sixty odd houses in the middle of nowhere. If one is to ask the whereabout of this village, the average Sabahans will have trouble pointing to the correct location in the Sabah Map. There are probably still a dozen or more of these very remote areas in the northern most state of Malaysia, and Sonsogon Magandai is definitely one of them. Although it is situated in the district of Kota Marudu, north of Kota Kinabalu, an average journey from the state capital will take up to nine hours. Some part of the journey includes some of the most inhospitable conditions for the average cars, uneven gravel plantation road, muddy dirt road with deep holes, steep hill terrains and some knee-high river crossings, that is when these rivers are not flooded. Even this endeavour will only be possible when the weather permits. During the Monsoon seasons when heavy donwpour is a common sight, the last ten to fifteen kilometres of this road are almost inaccessible even with a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Early Morning Mist At Sonsogon Magandai

An Ariel View Of Sonsogon Magandai A Cluster Of Houses At Sonsogon Magandai One Of The River Crossing

Scenic View and Basic Living

Even though the journey to Sonsogon Magandai is as tough as it gets, upon reaching this small hamlet which is located in a valley, one can immediately feel the peace and tranquility of the place. Industrial noise is totally none existent here, since there are no roads or factories in the immediate vicinity. Unlike big cities in the tropic, the day time temperature here is very pleasant. This effect is most probably due to the surrounding greenish rolling hills with their secondary forest intact. As modern research suggests a single tree can produce the same cooling effect of 10 room-size air conditioners operating at almost a full day. The setting of the hamlet in a forest environment also makes this place very picturesque indeed, a big contrast to the many palm oil plantations along the way which is very much considered an eyesore by the general public.

The largest ethnic group of Sabah is the Dusun tribe, and it is not a surprise that most of the villagers from Sonsogon Magandai are made up of this local groups. Throughout the State the Dusun people have lived in a farming community   with rice as their major crop for many generations. But the Sonsogon Magandai groups who are a little exceptional are predominantly hunter gathered, they only adopted the farming lifestyle in the last few decades. Many of the villagers still have a lot to learn on being a farming community.

Most of the villagers built their houses not too far from the small river that cuts through the hamlet, most likely for an easy passage to the water source. These houses are made from simple wooden planks and bamboos, with dried leaves as roof-tops, although one can see a few worn out zinc roofs in use. Peek into the average houses, and chances they are empty. Furniture like chairs, tables, cabinets, and beds are just not around. All activities are done on the floor. Electrical appliances like light bulb, fan, refrigerator, radio and television-set are also no where to be found, since there is no electricity provided by the government in this area. One can say life here is basic to the core.

An Average House Interior

Villagers Playing Sepak Takraw The Main Bridge Of The Hamlet Houses At A Hill Slope Across The River

Apart from having no electricity, the hamlet also does not have any public facilities like clinic, school, and shops. These precious utilities that every one in the city takes for granted. Occasionally doctors are flown in by helicopter for medical check-ups, but this happens only rarely. Sick and ill patients will have a very difficult time to get to the nearest hospital which is in Pitas. For a villager to rent a four-wheel drive to the hospital will cost around a thousand ringgit, as the road condition is very bad, which the villagers can hardly afford. Children from seven to twelve years who are keen to learn and study will have to walk three hours to the nearest school. Since these children are allowed to stay at the boarding they only make the journey during the weekends, or else they will have to travel six hours a day to school and back.

Children Beginning Their Three Hour Walk To School

Some Problems The Villagers Face

For the outsiders, these villagers look poor and are living in hopeless conditions. If one can stay with them for a while, one will find them to be generally happy and the community spirit of working together is very alive here. But they do face many problems where urban people don’t have to deal with or at least to a lesser extend. Two of the main problems here are malnutrition and cleanliness. Foods here are scarce, as the villagers can only eat what they have planted, which is mostly tapioca and sweet potato. Some of them do rear some chickens and pigs in a small scale, which they can only slaughter once or twice a month at the best. Hunting (not much to hunt really as the surrounding areas have been turned into palm oil plantations) and fishing also supplement to their diet. While adult can cope with less food, children are the ones that are most affected by the malnutrition syndrome, as they need food that are rich in protein to grow up.

 Tapioca The Main Source Of Food

Firewood For Cooking A Simple Kitchen This Pig Is Being Prepared For BBQ

Cleanliness is also a big issue here, as almost all houses have no sanitary room, yes, no toilets, which is almost unimaginable for the city folks. Nature-calls will have to be done in the outdoor whether under the hot baking sun or in the stormy rain. Rubbish is also a big problem. Plastic bags, packet drinks, small bottles are seen littered everywhere, especially around the house compound. Diseases can easily pop up if this rubbish is not taken care off. The villagers do not have the concept that this rubbish does not decompose. Whereas in the past most of the things that they throw out were mostly organic and will decompose in a few months later.

When night falls the beautiful village of Sonsogon Magandai will turn pitch dark across the entire valley. The only reliable light source would be during the full moon. While one or two families that can afford the generator to create a sparkle of light here and there against the big black background. To walk from house to house the villagers will have to use torch light for guidance, but batteries can be a problem too, as supply can be hard to come by, because of the road condition to this hamlet. Traditionally, the villagers and many of the indigenous people in this northern part of Sabah rely on local woods which the local Dusun called “Salong” for their light source. In the past, and some still do to this day, the villagers would wander into the forest to collect the “salong” which fell from certain trees.

The Salong The Traditional Light Source

The Salongs Look Very Much Like Stones Black Oil Can Be Seen Coming Out From The Salongs The Salongs Produce A Lot Of Dark Smoke

The “Salong” looks more like a stone than anything that resembles a wood. There are a few varieties of “salong”, the more commonly found ones are in white, black and reddish colours. Three pieces of a fist size salong can easily burn for an hour, while it is burning, dark oil can be seen sipping out from the salongs. It is this dark oil that keeps the salongs from burning out in a short time. The light emitted is just like ordinary fire flame, orange and yellowish in colour very similar to any camp fire. But the Salong is only suitable to burn in outdoor, as it will create thick black smoke, same as those emitted during the burning of rubber tires. It is definitely harmful for human health if one is to use it indoor. While light is an after-thought for the people living in the city, for the people in this little hamlet light can be a very precious utility. This is where the Sonsogon Solar Lamp Project comes in.

The Solar Lamp Project

The spirit of helping is an in born mentality in all of us, just that some would practise it more than others. A simple act of friends asking friends for a few extra ringgits to help the needy people of Songsogon Magandai, is all that is needed to kick start this “Solar Lamp Project”. After a few months of introducing this idea to friends, we were able to collect enough money to buy forty good quality solar lamps. The first 40 solar lamps were brought to the hamlet in April 2012. No big NGOs, or government ministry are needed in this project. Anyone with a clear set of objective can start a simple project like this anytime and anywhere, we only need a helping heart.

The Villagers Checking Out Their Solar Lamps

Alpheus Explaining How To Use The Solar Lamp A Solar Lamp Is Given To Each Family When Everyone Solar Lamps Is Power Up

The Solar Lamps are easy to use, as the villagers only need to put the solar panel facing the sunlight. The small solar panel on top of the lamp will collect the protons from the sunlight and convert them into electrical energy which is stored in a battery. Living in Sabah which lies near the equator, unlike people living in the northern and southern hemispheres, we do have plenty of sunshine through out the year. So the villagers will have plenty of sunshine to power their solar lamps. Not only that, this energy from the sun is free and it is very environmental friendly too, as this does not produce any green house effect. At full charge the solar lamp can last a good 16 hours. Even during rainy days the villagers will have enough power in their solar lamps to get by. In a world that is facing climate warming, the solar project can also help to educate the villagers the importance of solar energy, which can play a big part in their life when used properly.

Today we can rest assured that when night comes there will be more lights sparkling in the dark forest of Sonsogon Magandai. We still need donations for about twenty plus solar lamps for this hamlet, email contact is located below.

In memory of Marina Timor

This Solar Lamps Project was made possible, because Marina Timor who originated from Paitan suggested that the people of Sonsogon Magandai would benefit greatly from the solar lamps. She had made this suggestion in January 2012. Unfortunately Marina Timor had since passed away in 10th July 2012 because of cancer. Marina Timor and her husband’s Alpheus had in the past stayed in Sonsogon Magandai as volunteers for a five year period to help improve the lifestyle of the villagers.

These are the people who had made this project possible by donating big or small.

(Note: names appear in alphabetical order)

Caroline Chee

Annie Chung

Mr. Fong Family

Mrs. Judy Family

Jenny Liew

Fenny Lo

Eric Ong

Sandy Tai

Khafian Tan

Shirley Wong

Sharon Yam

Imelda Yanda

For more information on where and how to donate,

email to

Sonsogon Magandai Gallery:

The very bad road to Sonsogon Magandai

This Last Part Is The Worst, Just Wide Enough for A Vehicle.

Dirty Roads That Run Through Many Hills Many Muddy Roads Along The Way A River Crossing Shot

Houses At The Hamlet
Bamboo House

Wooden House With Zinc Roof House Extension By The Villagers A Simple House On A Slope

A Look Inside A Villager House

An Exposed Kitchen The Villagers Young Girl On A Hammock

Livestock, Pig And Chicken

These Are Baskets Where The Chickens Are Kept Overnight

Sonsogon Magandai Kindergarten

Sonsogon Magandai Kindergarten Build By Raleigh International Volunteers

Basic Class Room, No Fan, No Lights The Guest House Where The Volunteers Stay For About Two Months The Guest House Interior

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