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Dr Chin Siew 
Yee teaching Dexter Joumeh and his brother Daniel (right) how to brush 
their teeth as Dr Giew Wei Lee looks on

in Tikolod. — NST pictures by Roy GohDr Chin Siew Yee teaching Dexter Joumeh and his brother Daniel (right) how to brush their teeth as Dr Giew Wei Lee looks on in Tikolod. — NST pictures by Roy Goh
ARMED with their outdoor gear and enthusiasm, a group of medical volunteers set off on a five-day journey to the "Salt Trail" of the Crocker Range in Sabah.

They returned with tales of leech bites, slippery tracks, horrendous rain, mystical forests, tough yet friendly people and a sense of achievement.

It was a medical mission organised by the Mercy Malaysia at the Salt Trail which spans 34km across rugged terrain from Tikolod in Tambunan to Inobong in Penampang.

Led by Mercy Malaysia Sabah Chapter chairman Dr Helen Lasimbang, it was the sixth edition of the volunteer programme aimed at providing health screening to people living in villages along the trail.
The group of 82 volunteers left Tikolod on May 4 and arrived at the Sabah Parks Inobong station on May 8.

Along the way, they stopped for overnight stays at Kampung Molunggung, Kionop, Buayan and Terian -- villages that are not accessible by road.

Lasimbang said the volunteers screened 376 people from more than 10 villages during their stopovers where makeshift clinics were set up.

The first was in Tikolod, followed by Kionop, Buayan and Terian.

"In our group, we brought along 10 doctors, five dentists and eight pharmacists backed by medical assistants, park rangers and even villagers as porters," she said.

Medical supplies and six mobile toilets were flown to the villages by helicopter a week earlier by a lead team led by volunteer Adrian Lok.

The toilets and the transport fare were sponsored by Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, who is also the Penampang member of parliament.

Dompok greeted the volunteers on their return at the Inobong station.

The Sabah chapter, which was formed in 2003, has 25 members with more than 400 volunteers.

Nationwide, there are 500 Mercy Malaysia members with 5,000 volunteers.

Tikolod resident Gansau Upot, 72, said the Salt Trail was named that way because people used to traverse the rugged terrain from the interior to trade their rice for salt in Penampang, a trading hub in the old days.

"When I was young, it took us about three days to reach the Inobong market where we would trade our rice."

With the road link from Penampang to Tambunan in the early 1960s and eventual sealing of the road in the 1980s, fewer people used the Salt Trail, opting instead for the easier route for vehicles which stretches about 100km.

"Villagers who live along the trail still use it as there are more than 20 villages in Tambunan and Penampang alone," Gansau said referring to the villages within the Crocker Range, which spans across eight districts on the west coast of Sabah.

"To some of us, it is still a vital link because we have relatives living in the villages and our rice fields as well as fruit orchards are still out there.

"This lifestyle, however, is slowly fading as more of our younger generation have moved out."

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