Mapping the needs of the marginalised — Pathfinders on the importance of data and community engagement

Data is pivotal in making any decision.

As consumers, we compare prices and research its benefits; policy makers compare case studies and project outcomes; businesses need to analyse demand, determine market gaps and provide something people actually want. All this requires data and information.

The same should be applied to social work, but do we actually have enough information to make effective impact?

“We have macro statistics, but we need more accurate information of specific communities,” says Daniel Teoh, Strategy Developer for Pathfinders.

“We know that on a bigger scale, Malaysia’s poverty rate is 0.4%*, but if you break it down by ethnicity, the poverty rate of the Orang Asli community is more than 30%*.

“That means there’s a lot hiding in data, and there’s more that still needs to be uncovered to get accurate and up-to-date information.”

And that is what Daniel and the Pathfinders team are setting out to do on the ground level.

In the Pathfinders programme, volunteers meet with communities and their leaders to investigate and determine infrastructural shortcomings, which is compiled into a report.

The information can then be used by social agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide exact, and efficient social support where necessary.

“The idea is that through a bottom-up community engagement, we know what people need and can help create a support network around them based on these needs,” Daniel explains.

“We are then able to mobilise resources from any NGOs or agencies that are willing to come in, and help achieve the aspirations the development goals the community has set.”

(*Note: The statistics referred to are the 2016 survey by the Department of Statistics Malaysia stating that incidence of poverty was at 0.4% that year, and the Malaysia Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 that stated that incidence of poverty among the Orang Asli community is 34%)

From the ground up

The Pathfinders movement is an entity within social enterprise Epic (editor’s note: “That’s us!”).

The Epic Homes programme had an existing survey protocol to determine a priority list for Orang Asli villagers that needed houses. Expanding the survey to include more details was the next step, and so Pathfinders was born.

“There was an existing questionnaire model that centred around housing, but we soon realised the villagers had more aspirations that they wanted to work on,” Daniel explains.

“We’ve identified needs that range from something as basic as toilets, to more complex needs like caring for the disabled within the community.”

The aim of mapping these needs ultimately serves the longer-term goal, which is to support the villagers in becoming community leaders to achieve their own aspirations.

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The Pathfinders team: Strategy Developer Daniel Teoh (left) and Community Officer Farah Ramlee. — Photo by Aizyl Azlee

With the establishing of Pathfinders officially in mid-2018, the data gathering has expanded beyond just housing needs of Orang Asli villages and have begun identifying other forms of necessities that need addressing.

Since then, there have been seven Pathfinders missions to help map the needs of six villages in Peninsular Malaysia, mostly in the state of Selangor, but also in Pahang and Negeri Sembilan.

Though the Pathfinders missions have so far only been focussed on Orang Asli villages, Daniel stresses that it will eventually expand to other marginalised communities that have a need.

“Because of Epic Homes, we have a good relationship with several Orang Asli villages, and that is where we are growing organically. But our vision is to work with any community that would like to be a part of this network we plan on cultivating,” he says.

Information gathering might not be an obvious way to contribute to social work, but it is the necessary foundation that makes way for development. — Photo courtesy of Pathfinders

Volunteer as a Pathfinder

Information gathering might not be an obvious way to contribute to social work, but it is the necessary foundation that makes way for development.

“This programme might not seem like a very tangible outcome to most volunteers. But the data is the tangible outcome here,” Daniel says.

“With data, it’s the starting point for finding a path to even more tangible solutions.”

Photo by Allya Matisa.

Pathfinders currently hosts its missions on volunteering platform Sedunia.

Volunteers will be categorised by three tiers (Pathfinder, Jr. Lead Pathfinder and Lead Pathfinder) based on seniority and familiarity with the programme. Training is also provided ahead of time for first-timers joining a Pathfinders mission.

Those looking to volunteer are encouraged to be inquisitive and open to new experiences.

“You will be working with different people from different cultures and different backgrounds. It is a very personal experience, as you will be getting close and building relationships with people,” Daniel adds.

If you are interested in being a Pathfinder yourself, more information is available at the Pathfinders Sedunia page. You can stay updated by following Pathfinders’ Facebook and Instagram pages.

Latest missions:

  • The next Pathfinders mission coming up will be taking place on March 9, 2019 at Kampung Putra. Register here.
  • For first-timers, training will be taking place on March 8, 2019 at Epic’s headquarters in Bandar Sunway, Selangor. Register here.

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