Jenifer Majalap (middle) with her colleagues during the Cross Border Counter Trafficking project.
A sharing by Jenifer Majalap
Nov 17 2021
Mother Theresa’s famous quote, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved” sprung to mind when I contemplated to share my experience and reflection on the urban poor of Sabah, an article to help commemorate the World Day of the Poor which falls on November 14 this year.
Reflecting on the definition of poor, I always thought licking the floor over spilled cordial drink, a beverage considered a rare treat during my childhood days or seeing my sister frequently sent out to borrow rice from our neighbour would define us as poor. Well, my perspective might have been right then according to world standard and I never could have grasp St Francis of Assisi’s radical change in embracing the poverty of Christ if not for the 10 years life changing experience seeing the poor soul in me through the visible and silent cries of the vulnerable and marginalized brothers and sisters I was privileged to work with.
Victims suffered physical and psychological abuse while the entire family might have feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, shame, fear and even a sense of loss.
My journey began in 2008. I took on what was supposed to be a short-termed employment but turned out to be a lifelong mission in social justice. I joined the Archdiocesan Human Development Committee (AHDC) of Kota Kinabalu in a project combating human trafficking in Sabah by raising awareness about this heinous crime against humanity. Men, women and children sold as commodities many times over for profit. Victims suffered physical and psychological abuse while the entire family might have feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, shame, fear and even a sense of loss.
I was struggling to cope with the gravity of the issue when by God’s grace, in 2010, I was sent to a 3 weeks program to the United States of America (US) to 5 different states to learn how the US tackle the evil crime of human trafficking. I took back home 2 convictions. One, recalling the words of Mr. Paul Bernisch, Executive Officer of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Centre in Cincinnati, Ohio, “What helped free America from 500 years of slavery was the abolitionists’ belief in God”. Human trafficking is a modern-day slavery. It is a fight against the evil power and can only be overcome with God, a feat impossible to men.
overwhelmed with internal trafficking of their unhappy urban teenage middle-class girls refusing to be rescued preferring exploitation of their perpetrators to the absence of love and attention at home
The US was seen as the forefront in the worldwide fight against human trafficking. Yet, domestically, they were overwhelmed with internal trafficking of their unhappy urban teenage middle-class girls refusing to be rescued preferring exploitation of their perpetrators to the absence of love and attention at home. Parents preoccupied themselves with pursuit for career and more money.
My poverty is my attachment to this world! “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Jesus said, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” St. Francis of Assisi did exactly this and Mother Theresa gave her life to serve the poorest of the poor. Remembering my conviction that our fight in this world is against the evil spirit and we can help change and overcome this with God, “If you want to change the world, go back and love your family!”. Called to married life and blessed with 5 children, I serve beneath the standard of Mary.
My work also brought me to the 5 divisions in Sabah and the vulnerable border regions in the state to communities living in isolated islands and remote villages. In projects building community resilience and raising awareness on Birth Registration through PACOS Trust, we conducted community dialogues and invited relevant government agencies to listen and together work to build a more resilient communities in their plight against smugglers, human traffickers, and armed, nonstate actors who take refuge in locations inaccessible to police.
It is not surprising to learn that Sabah recorded the highest poverty rate in the country at 19.5 per cent involving 99,869 households based on the 2019 Poverty Line Income
Through these dialogues, communities also shared their great needs and deprivation from basic necessities like electricity, water, schools, hospitals, road access, and important information on their rights and access to personal documents such as birth and proper marriage registration, customary land, among others that led to high rate of mortality, illiteracy, undocumented status, and vulnerability to threats of exploitation, discrimination, extortion, incest, rape, manipulations, displacement, to mention a few.
It is not surprising to learn that Sabah recorded the highest poverty rate in the country at 19.5 per cent involving 99,869 households based on the 2019 Poverty Line Income (PGK) calculation methodology. Daunting tasks to empower communities to resist crimes and extremism particularly among youths continues through the works of ASASI (Pusat Hak Asasi & Keselamatan Komuniti).
Nonetheless, the works which I found most challenging and close to heart were issues of alcohol and drug abuse that threatens respect and, in many cases, destroy the dignity of life in human persons and in families and in fact contributed to the rapid rise of crimes, lost souls and broken homes in the country and in the world at large. Sadly, accepted as a way of life by some, any effort to confront this diabolic enemy within, deemed an adversary. Overwhelmed, yes, but not overtaken!
In his message for World Day of the Poor in 2018, Pope Francis said poverty is caused by selfishness, pride, greed and injustice. I cannot agree with him more. He further pointed out, “How is it that God in heaven can hear the cries of the poor, but so many people watching or standing nearby either cannot or just do not care? For the love of Christ urges us on (2 Corinthians 5:14), may He grant us eyes than can see, ears that can hear, and compassionate heart to outstretch our hands to offer help.
Remembering Mother Theresa, let us not wait for leaders but to do it alone, person to person. Beginning with the family.