Mohd Zulkarnain Abdul Wahab, from Terengganu, was one of the teachers who helped his rural students achieve 100 per cent pass rate in the SPM exams last year.
KOTA KINABALU: If the new hardship allowance for rural teachers comes his way, Yen Vi Leong will get a set of tyres for his faithful four-wheel-drive vehicle.
"Whether or not I get it, is secondary, because I know there are others who live in worse conditions."
Yen noted that an officer from the Education Department had assessed the school earlier this year.
"It is deemed a remote school because there is no health clinic here, no public transportation and no sealed road."
Hence, the 4WD, which he inherited from his family in Tenghilan, has been crucial in getting him to and fro SK Poring-Poring, where he teaches.
The school, 20 km from Inanam town, is accessible by an uphill dirt road and only when the weather permits.
The allowance, up to RM1,500 a month, will be paid from this month.
The amount each teacher gets depends on the location of the school and other criteria, such as road accessibility, transportation risk, availability of water, electricity, sanitation and health services.
The Education Ministry is now determining the classifications.
The allowance is one of the steps taken by the government to get more teachers to serve in remote areas.
It is aimed at making life more comfortable for teachers like Mohd Zulkarnain Abdul Wahab and Che Fatimah Che Mamat.
Fresh out of university and with a burning desire to teach, Zulkarnain left Terengganu four years ago, not knowing what to expect.
On reaching here in September 2003 Zulkarnain was informed he was posted to SMK Terusan Sugut in Beluran, a location so remote he had to consult a map — and tucked in the northeastern part of Sabah.
That same morning he endured a five-hour drive to reach the town, 300km from here and two more hours by boat, braving the choppy Sungai Labuk and Sungai Sugut rivermouths which front the Sulu Sea.
"It was 7.30pm when I arrived at the village. It was dark as there was no electricity here and it was the dry season, so I had to bathe in the river," said Zulkarnain, 28, who teaches mathematics.
The rivermouth island depends on rainwater for clean water supply and electricity is supplied through a diesel-powered generator, with supplies on every alternate day.
"I admit those were trying times but after about two months I got over it," he said.
Another challenge came after he married his university sweetheart, Che Fatimah Che Mamat, 27, on June 1, 2005.
Che Fatimah was teaching in Terengganu; it was only a year later that she got a transfer to join her husband in Terusan Sugut, a fishing village occupied by 100 families.
She, too, endured a major obstacle about seven months ago. "I was about to give birth and was given permission to return to my hometown for the delivery.
"That night, when we were supposed to leave, the school boat could not start and we had to hitch a ride on board a fisherman’s boat.
"For two hours, I endured a bumpy ride and only God knows my pain and my fears for the baby."
Luckily, Che Fatimah and Zulkarnain made it safely to Sandakan. They flew back to Kuala Terengganu, in time, for the birth of a healthy baby boy.
Any regret so far? "The only transfer I am willing to accept would be back to Terengganu. Otherwise, we are happy to be here," she said.
The two, with 16 other teachers and their principal, Murukesu Margapandu, were responsible for guiding their Form Five students to achieving 100 per cent passes in the SPM examination last year.
The achievement was also made special when one of the students, Jamri Undang, emerged as the best student in the district here with 9As.