Francis Loh pays tribute to an unsung hero who taught and worked tirelessly among poor children in the interior of Sabah.
Brother Herbertus Gampok fsc, 56, one of Aliran’s members in Sabah, passed away on 19 March 2015 while visiting his sister who was unwell in Tambunan.
Ironically, Herbertus suffered a heart attack in his sleep during this visit.
Apparently, he had helped family members to perform heavy chores earlier that day, which might explain the suddenness of his death.
Herbertus, a Kadazandusun, was a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, who are dedicated to teaching and providing education especially to the young and needy. The Lasallian schools like St Xavier’s in Penang, St John’s in KL, and St Francis in Malacca are well known and have provided excellent education for tens of thousands of young people throughout Malaysia over several generations.
Herbertus trained as a religious Brother and teacher and returned to serve in his own state of Sabah upon completing his studies.
At the time of his death, Herbertus was based in Nabawan, a small town south of Keningau in the interior of Sabah. Together with two other De La Salle Brothers, Herbertus helped to run the Asrama Butitin for boys and girls, principally Murut, who came from villages in the rural interior.
These children would not have otherwise been able to continue their secondary school education. Serving in Nabawan allowed Herbertus to attend to the “last, the lost and the least”.
Herbertus grew up and had studied in St Martin’s School in Tambunan. To his own school he then returned as a young teacher.
The mid-1980s were heady days in Sabah; sort of an early version of reformasi in Sabah. Harris Salleh had kicked Pairin Kitingan out of Parti Berjaya, a BN party. So Pairin returned to Tambunan, from where he also originated. Subsequently, he contested a by-election there which he won handsomely. In turn, Tambunan became the base for launching the new party, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS).
Herbertus, a young Kadazandusun, was caught in this groundswell too. He was already involved in the Kadazan Cultural Association (KCA) and in the PAX Youth Commission. He decided to join Aliran in mid-1984.
And as I was an Aliran member visiting Sabah to conduct research into Sabah politics for the first time, I sought Herbertus’ help. I met Herbertus for the first time in 1985, in St Martin’s, Tambunan. There would be subsequent meetings in Kota Kinabalu too.
Herbertus kindly spent time with this neophyte and enlightened me about Sabah politics, especially the rise of Kadazandusun ethnonationalism. He patiently briefed me about the KCA of which he was a member, the controversy surrounding the holding of the Kaamatan or Harvest Festival in Tambunan, and the appointment of Pairin Kitingan as Huguan Siou. It became clear why Pairin and his new party PBS was so popular.
Thanks to Herbertus and other Sabah friends, I developed an earthy sense of Sabah politics, I think, and became bold enough to write and publish about Sabah politics.
I visited Sabah less frequently after the late 1990s, as my research interests shifted. When I did get to Sabah, I would try and contact Herbertus. So although we met infrequently this past decade, I continue to have vivid and fond memories of him.
On one of my last meetings with him in Kota Kinabalu, he shared with me about his work in Kg Sonsogon Magandai and Kg Nalapak in the north Kota Marudu district. I think he said that he had to walk more than half a day to get to these kampongs.
They had no electricity or potable water. Each time he visited, he carried with him medicine, old clothes, batteries, the odd books and some writing material. Yes, he did teach the youth reading and writing and some basic mathematics.
More importantly, Herbertus taught the villagers about simple hygiene like moving their pigs and their latrines away from their homes. He also taught them how to cultivate cash crops. He even dispensed medicine and learned to treat leprosy! He said he learnt so much from this ‘university of life’ while living with these rural villagers.
He was an avid photographer and lovingly recorded his work with these poor villagers. These pictures are a legacy to his service to the poor and needy and must be preserved.
Herbertus was opinionated about politics, social justice and especially the educational system which he thought alienated his young students who were not academically inclined. Not surprisingly, many people found him irritating, but I always thought he was God-sent!
Yes, he was also proud of being an Aliran member, renewed his membership yearly, and looked forward to his copy of Aliran Monthly.
Peace and blessing be upon you dear Herbertus. Rest in Peace!