There is a saying that goes, ‘it’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving’. And Datin Jeanette Tambakau, former President of Sabah Women Entrepreneurs & Professionals Association (SWEPA), lives up to it. “Every president has their own mission and vision, and since its establishment, SWEPA has always been doing charity work. However, those were more of a fund-raising kind, whereby we would collect the money and pass it to other organisations. And we’re done,” Jeanette narrates, highlighting that when she took the helm, she was confident that SWEPA can offer more. “I was inspired to do something meaningful; to leave my legacy as president. Back then, the state government was constantly emphasising that NGOs should support the rural women. Being someone who strongly believes in the tagline, ‘women helping women’, I felt that it was a good path to head to,” she replies. Thus, instead of solely focusing on urban women, which SWEPA had been doing it for the past 20 years, Jeanette led the organisation deep into the jungle.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) was the instrumental in helping the solar project get started in 2013. “When we first started, none of us had any idea on how to begin but we’re lucky to have partnered with reliable people and associations,” shares Jeanette, followed by a special thanks to Janet Lee Mui Oi who, during their most desperate need, donated RM50,000 to the first project.
Thus far, four villages have benefitted from this project. “To date, we’ve successfully sent three grandmas to India. All who have stayed for six months to learn how to build, connect and maintain the solar kits, solar panels and lanterns,” she says, and now, SWEPA is heading to its next phase of the project – Social Economic Empowerment. “SWEPA is not only supporting women who are already entrepreneurs and professionals but also helping those who have not had the opportunity to join their ranks to move forward into the modern world. And through the solar project, it goes to show that illiteracy is not an impediment to attempt at gaining knowledge and acquiring skills,” beams Jeanette.
For this chapter, Jeanette is collaborating with renowned photographer Patrick Low to raise funds through Silver Lining 2. “The money will be used to uplift the four villages’ social-economic status. For example, we would like to teach them how to make handicrafts, harvest honey and train several small skills; all desperately needed for them to generate income,” she continues, adding that currently, the villagers only earn RM30 to RM50 a month. “Also, you’ll be surprised to know that these people don’t even know how to plant paddy. They only eat tapioca as that is the only plant they know how to grow. To put it simply, we want to train them essential skills. One major goal is to teach them how to farm for their own consumption in order for them to have healthier meals.”
Silver Lining is Patrick’s yearly corporate social responsibility collaborative project and he is looking to raise RM1 million through it. “I met Patrick thanks to Datin Viannie Undikai. I was sharing my cause with her one day and she was surprised to discover the poverty that was happening in her own homeland. Eager to help, I told her that I needed to raise at least RM150,000 for it and she introduced me to Patrick. The previous Silver Lining was a huge success. For Silver Lining 2, we are doing the 3D live portrait as well, just this time in Kota Kinabalu,” she says, utterly grateful for Patrick’s charitable spirit to contribute his time and expertise to her cause. “100 percent of the proceed will go to the Social Economic Empowerment project and we are really thankful that he is part of it. Special thanks also go to other partners, namely Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort & Spa and The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur who supported us in this project.”
Apart from Silver Lining 2, Jeanette is also trying to apply for another grant from the GEF SGP. “If our grant is approved for this social-economic project, we will have enough funding to support it for at least another two to three years.” The only risk factor in this project is the willingness of the villagers to participate as the majority still sees men as the sole breadwinners. “We’re targeting to include at least 20 women from each village. We’ll be teaching them budgeting, marketing and financing; things that are foreign to them. Also, SWEPA will set up a social enterprise as a platform for them to sell their goods. All the money generated will go back to their community,” Jeanette adds. They are also planning to buy computers to teach them how to do marketing via social media. “This is our vision. We’ve already set up a whole framework and we’re excited to see what the future has installed for us.”
Currently, the community is slowly learning how to manage and be responsible for their own future. “We’ve set up a committee and taught them how to care and save money. Each month, the committee collects RM15 from the villagers. 30 percent of the savings will go to the grandmothers as a salary for maintaining and repairing the equipment, while the remaining are placed in the bank to buy replacement parts or batteries. If there were to have any mishap, they would have the financial support,” says Jeanette. “Again, we’re talking about a long-term solution. We will be there to evaluate, assist and monitor them at every step, making sure that every skill they learnt can be passed down to the next person. At the end of the day, we want this project to improve their livelihood.”