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Playing for Change
In Sarawak, a group of young Penan villagers are playing competitive football to change the future of their community.
Every Sunday at 4pm, the Tenby International School in Miri is filled with the sound and sweat of hopeful players scrimmaging on the football field. But it's not the students who are trying to master the drills; it's a group of Penan villagers known as the Tajem Senuai Football Club.
Living far away from their hometown in Long Iman, cousins Seteven Ajang and Andrew Arang had an idea to start a Penan football team with some friends who were also working in the city. They never thought about competing seriously – it was just a weekend activity they did for fun.
"Back in 2014, we only had five or six members. This was before we officially became Tajem Senuai,” explains Seteven. “We invited some friends from the kampung to play with us and they started inviting their friends as well. Suddenly our small team had 48 members so we decided to take part in tournaments."
In 2014, Seteven Ajang started a Penan football team with his cousin and some friends. The team eventually grew to become Tajem Senuai FC.
A year into competing, Andrew suffered from a brain injury, which took a toll on the entire team, especially on Seteven. As their captain’s condition worsened, the team wanted to help Andrew’s family cover his medical care. To do this, they strived to win more tournaments and compete at a higher level with bigger cash prizes.
The team began by appointing a manager. Although Seteven’s wife Emilia Likau knew very little about football, her banking experience made her the perfect candidate to handle the team's finances.
According to Emilia, most of the players come from very poor backgrounds. Some are students or have entry-level jobs, while others earn a living by helping their families farm or hunt for food. Most of them can’t afford football essentials like boots.
"When I first became the manager, I had to use some of my savings to make merchandise so that we could sell them and make some money,” says Emilia.
Team manager Emilia Likau.
“Sometimes we do bake sales to raise funds. We use the money to buy new equipment and to join tournaments. We also donate 40 percent of our earnings to help Andrew pay for his treatments."
Besides raising funds for Andrew, Tajem Senuai is primarily a platform for aspiring footballers of all ages from the Penan community. Although the current team is an all-male lineup, they have recently started recruiting women. Tajem Senuai is also the only team of its kind that’s registered under the Malaysian Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Tajem Senuai coach Daniel Bate.
Helping Tajem Senuai realise their potential is Daniel Bate, who volunteers his time to coach the team. An FA-licenced football coach originally from Manchester, England, Bate only started training the players in August, but under his guidance, the team has already won their first championship.
In November, Tajem Senuai played against ten other Penan football teams to win the Piala Mép Tana' Suket Asen Lu' Long Lamai 2017. Their next goal is to compete and win against other rural community teams before advancing to a higher level in competitive football.
"I'm very impressed with what I've seen so far. There are some very talented players and I think they have the potential to do really well,” says Bate.
“Football means a lot to these players. It gives them something to look forward to and aspire towards. For them it's not just about the game; it's about the bond that they have as a community."
Both Emilia and Bate have high hopes for Tajem Senuai’s future, especially with star players like Sony Jangin from Long Latie. Since he joined the team in 2013, Sony has proven to be one of the team’s all-time best.
On weekends, Sony Jangin travels seven hours from his kampung to train with Tajem Senuai.
"It takes a lot of discipline to be good. You have to be consistent when it comes to training,” says Sony.
“Every weekend I travel for seven hours from my kampung to Miri just to train with the team. It might sound extreme, but I just can't live without football. I hope that one day I'll be able to play with the national team.”
To contribute to Tajem Senuai or become an official sponsor, get in touch with Emilia Likau at +6010 983 8809. Learn more about the team at www.facebook.com/Tajemsenuaifc
By Rozella Mahjhrin
Photos by Danielle Soong
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