Macik Bellong, a Bajau Laut woman who is very active in turtle conservation and handicraft making on Omadal Island, has been part of the conservation unit for the Women Association of Omadal Island (WAPO) since 2012. Just like Macik Bellong, many families inhabiting coastal zones rely heavily on the bounties of the sea. But in the past few months, making a living has become more rigid. The diminishing fish supply resulting from illegal and destructive fishing activities and the current pandemic situation that the nation faces has made recovery harder.
The Bajau Laut women in Sabah, East Malaysia, have a long tradition of weaving with the leaves of the pandanus palm, but the skills required to harvest, prepare, dye and weave the leaves was vanishing. With fisheries declining and food security threatened, household budgets were pinched and the women needed help make ends meet.
WWF-Malaysia works with coastal communities like Macik Bellong to revive heirloom skills they already have and build entrepreneurship and financial skills enabling them to create marketable items and diversify their livelihoods.
Recently, with the generous support of the European Union, WWF-Malaysia set out to assist island communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic by providing food relief and support for their livelihood. Through the WAPO Love Basket campaign, we raised cash donations and helped secure orders of WAPO grocery baskets for the communities. Funds collected were used to provide food aid relief for 80 households on Omadal Island and other island communities impacted by the Movement Control Order. These adaptive activities helped provide emergency aid for the communities, increased the communities’ financial management capacity, strengthened rapport with village leaders, and increased nationwide visibility.
In addition to that, WWF-Malaysia also facilitates community patrolling workshops and citizen science biological monitoring training to strengthen the community’s participation and involvement in conservation efforts. All of these initiatives have been ensuring the well-being of our coastal communities and building their resilience and preparedness for future calamities. Yet, here we are today at the drips of a global pandemic, at the scale like never before. The collective responses that we’ve extended thus far is insufficient to meet the scale of impact that our coastal communities are now experiencing.
Even prior to the pandemic, coastal districts like Omadal Island made some of the highest numbers of poorest households in Malaysia. More than 5,000 families surrounding the coastal areas, just like Macik Belong relied on the ocean for a source of their livelihood. Their social enterprises thrived through eco-tourism initiatives. The complete and abrupt shut-down of these activities have left them struggling with food insecurity, increased health risks and worst – it exacerbates their vulnerabilities to other social and environmental stressors such including illegal or unregulated fishing methods.
Even at the peak of national economic prosperity, these coastal communities were overlooked in critical decision making and participation in the management of coastal resources. Despite that, they remained steadfast in their commitment to safeguard our oceans, for generations. Your contributions through the years has helped us continue our community-based efforts that has built the capacity for countless of others just like Macik Bellong.
We ask that you support us once again. Your gift will go to work right away to these coastal communities affected by the pandemic.
Make a tax-deductible donation today.