By Roy Goh
KOTA KINABALU: Six children walked nearly two hours to school in Menggatal near here yesterday. They are from Kampung Bongkud, a remote village of 10 houses, reachable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles and motorcycles during the dry season.
They had gathered at the edge of their village before 6am and walked together to school -- about 8km down a steep dirt track in the jungle and crossing rivers along the way.
All of them are pupils of SK Tombongon, about 35km from here, and like others who studied there since it opened in 1978, this will be their routine for the rest of the year.
Colebatlee Sopirin, 7, was up by 5am. He had a hearty meal of fried rice and milk, and was ready in his uniform in half-an-hour.
His father, Sopirin Sapou, 66, who was tapping rubber earlier, walked with the group as he had to register Colebatlee in school.
"We are used to this," said Sopirin, who returned soon after as he had to collect latex from the rubber trees.
"I did the same thing last year when he was in kindergarten. Maybe when he is bigger, I will let him walk on his own with the others."
Sopirin said it was worse before the dirt track was built in 1989 as they had to walk through narrow jungle trails.
Cornelius Sylvester, 11, who is the eldest in the group, is automatically looked upon as the leader.
The others are Alfred Gentineo, 8, sisters Roslinda Rosman, 8, and Rosita Rosman, 9, and Camelia Rudolf, 9.
"I will wait until everyone in the group is together before we start and it is the same when we return," Cornelius said, adding that it took them more than two hours to get home.
If it rains, they will wait until it stops or stay in the homes of relatives near the school.
"If it rains halfway, we just walk on but we have plastic bags to keep our books dry.
"Sometimes, we get a motorcycle ride when our elder siblings (four people in the village own motorcycles) are not working but we walk most of the time," Cornelius said.
Two of his elder siblings, Ameliana, 14, and Charles, 16, were once top Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah achievers at SK Tombongon, according to headmaster Abd Kadir Abd Latif.
Children from five villages attend classes at the school, namely Kampung Bongkud, Kampung Tombongon, Kampung Maras, Kampung Marahang and Kampung Kobonun.
The school has 60 pupils and 10 teachers, including the headmaster. Kadir said classes started at 7.50am to allow those from far to arrive on time.