Watching Raleigh International volunteers at work in a remote village in Sabah teaches Zulkifly Ab Latif that adventure can be altruistic

THE wooden sampan wobbles ever so slightly when I shift my sitting position a bit while taking out the camera from my dry bag. The outboard motor of the sampan stutters and strains to propel the little boat up and against the river’s flow, its water is the shade of creamy brown.

I capture an image of the village boatman steering the sampan, flanked by lush green river banks and framed against a clear blue sky. It is a glorious sight. The place where I am headed is so far removed that one would be hard pressed to imagine tourists visiting for a three-day two-night holiday package. Yes, there may not be any angle for tourism but perhaps this will be an adventure nonetheless.

Disembarking from the sampan after a 30-minute ride, I spot a group of teenagers emerge from a trail nearby the riverbank. They cheerfully greets us. Consisting mostly of foreign nationals, it makes for a curious sight to see them so at ease and at home in this remote location in Sabah.

We are a long way from the bustling Kota Kinabalu. The nearest town, Kota Marudu, is 120km from the capital. This equates to about two and a half hours of driving through mostly unpaved road to reach the river bank. The sampan ride itself is relatively short but can be precarious when the river swells.


CLEAN WATER FOR COMMUNITIES

These teenagers are volunteers from Raleigh International, a sustainable development charity organisation that runs various programmes in the state under the moniker Raleigh Borneo.

A young man then hands me a handwritten charming little brochure and says: “Hello and welcome to Kampung Pandan.”

Located in northern Pitas region, Kampung Pandan is a small secluded village inhabited by people of the Dusun ethnic group. The village is said to be named after the abundant pandan leaves within the area, which also lends the settlement a distinct and pleasant scent.

With 135 individuals from 26 different households, Kampung Pandan is an agricultural community that subsists on small rubber plantations as well as crops such as sweet potatoes, rice, long beans, tapioca and fruits.

I am here in Kampung Pandan due to water, or to be precise, the villagers need for clean water. Although there is the nearby river, it requires significant effort and time to collect and carry water from the river, which I’m told can drop very low during dry seasons.

Relying on the river or collected rain water, a regular supply of clean water was a basic necessity that the households of Kampung Pandan did not have access to.

All these changed when the village was chosen as the 51st beneficiary of the “Clean Water for Communities” programme — a joint project by Raleigh International and The Coca-Cola Company that began in 2006 to bring clean, potable water to rural communities in Sabah.


WELCOME TO SALLY’S COOP

I am at a wooden house built on stilts that has been converted into the living quarters of the Raleigh Borneo volunteers, or “Venturers” as they are also called. I see hiking boots caked with dried mud on the balcony’s floor, and I begin to wonder about the conditions and challenges the boots owners could have gone through.

The house is peculiarly named Sally’s Coop by the venturers, and I’m told that its owner generously moved out so as to give the venturers a place to stay throughout the continuation of the programme.

Eager to show the results of their weeks of hard work, the venturers lead me and the rest of the visiting group into the nearby jungle, walking through a shallow river.

Working with the villagers, it is here that the Raleigh Borneo volunteers have constructed two dams at a water source, as well as a gravity fed water system that now provides Kampung Pandan with a regular supply of clean water for cooking, washing, bathing and general cleaning.

Furthermore, much of the village did not have adequate sanitation and so the Raleigh volunteers built three toilets which also receive water, as well as tippy taps — low-cost, simple and effective handwashing stations made using some wood, a piece of string, and a bottle — which only use a small amount of water.

Kadri Taib, Coca-Cola Malaysia’s public affairs and communications director looks visibly pleased and touched by all the hard work done by the volunteers.

Having been involved with the “Clean Water for Communities” since its inception in 2006, Kadri has seen his fair share of the communities improved by this endeavour.

“It never gets tiring when you see the results,” says Kadri, adding: “Coca-Cola intends to return to the communities and nature an amount of water equivalent to what is used in its beverages and production by 2020.

“We are working toward water balance through diverse, locally focused community water projects and one of the ways we are doing so is by improving safe access to water and sanitation, which also helps to improve local livelihoods, help communities adapt to climate change and improve water quality.”


LONG-TERM POSITIVE CHANGE

During their stay, the Raleigh volunteers, aged between 17 and 24 from Britain, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Bangladesh, Poland, Bermuda and France, also hold informative sessions with the community on the importance of clean water and sanitation to prevent basic health issues caused by contaminated water with simple changes to their everyday hygiene and sanitation practices, while providing informal English lessons for the children.

After the visit to the completed projects, I sit down with one of the venturers, 19-year-old Rachel Calcott from South Africa. She is on a gap year, a sabbatical year she is spending travelling and working before continuing her academic studies.

Asked what attracts her to volunteer for Raleigh Borneo, Rachel says it’s the nature documentaries on Borneo which she saw on TV.

Although Sabah’s natural beauty has attracted her, Rachel admits that she’s come to learn about and appreciate the local community she has been living near and working with.

“The people are very generous. They are genuinely kind and friendly. They even bring us bananas and coconuts everyday,” she says, referring to the residents of Kampung Pandan.

It is while talking to Rachel that I learn more about Raleigh Borneo’s other projects, namely its Environmental and Adventure Leadership projects.

I find the latter particularly interesting, as the Adventure Leadership teaches the venturers to work together to complete a 16-day trek through the Crocker Range while also learning survival skills from experienced guides.


THREE DECADES IN SABAH

Gathering under a makeshift tent near an open field, there is a small celebratory ceremony for a job well done by all participants.

James, the Kampung Pandan village head, gives a heartfelt speech, thanking each and everyone involved for helping to provide his village access to clean water.

Sue Hennessey, Country director of Raleigh Borneo, announces the continuation of the Clean Water for Communities work in partnership Coca-Cola Foundation.

“We are particularly pleased to extend our work in Borneo for another two years, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Raleigh’s work in Sabah this year. Raleigh Borneo will continue to work with young people as partners and leaders in developing and delivering water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) programmes in rural communities across Sabah, contributing to the achievement of Global Goal #6 — Clean water and sanitation for all,” she says.

“The funding will enable young people, such as Raleigh volunteers, to deliver Wash infrastructure and support local communities by enabling them to understand water in the context of the wider environment. Through this approach they will be empowered to develop their own solutions and adapt to climatic and environmental changes which threaten livelihoods, biodiversity, water supplies and their way of life.

“Young people can be powerful catalysts for change and they can improve the quality of services, increase inclusion and collaboration, bring the spark of innovation and make sure that no one is left behind. At Raleigh Borneo, we believe that when local communities and young people work side by side to create positive changes, it empowers them, and it’s the energy and motivation of empowered people that creates lasting change,” adds Hennessey.

Sitting on the grass, watching the venturers perform the Sumazau, a traditional Kadazandusun dance they learnt from the villagers, I sincerely hope that Raleigh Borneo as well as Coca-Cola Foundation will continue their work for many more years to come.

It has been an eye-opening experience to see how the venturers lived and worked to create lasting change, not just towards the local communities they visit but also within themselves. Adventure can be altruistic, and this visit has taught me that.


FAST FACTS

RALEIGH INTERNATIONAL

RALEIGH International is a sustainable development charity. The organisation challenges and empowers young people and communities to deliver grassroots sustainable development, working in rural communities focusing on access to safe water and sanitation, protecting vulnerable environments and building community resilience.

Raleigh works in collaboration with volunteers, communities and local partner organisations. Its programmes Clean Water for Communities also receive support from the state Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.

Volunteer programmes at Raleigh International are called expeditions and they are open to people from all over the world, including Malaysia. For Malaysians participating in Raleigh Borneo Expeditions in Sabah, they are known as Host Country Venturers.

Besides being extra hands to their global colleagues, the host country venturers also play a role in helping to bridge cultural and language boundaries between venturers of other nationals and the local community.

PARTNERSHIP WITH COCA-COLA

The partnership began in 2006 allowing Raleigh’s volunteers to support the building or repairing of gravity water fed systems in isolated villages in remote Sabah.

In the past decade, the overall programme has evolved to include the building of latrines and education on good hygiene practices. This is to provide a more complete transformation for the communities once they have a reliable supply of water.

The Kampung Pandan project was also carried out with the assistance of the Community Development Program Department of the Asian Forestry Company Sabah (AFCS), whose representatives were the initial project liaisons and have assisted the work by overseeing the development of the project aims, providing technical expertise to the volunteers and helping to arrange the required construction materials.

For more information about Raleigh International, visit www.raleighborneo.org.

HELPING COMMUNITIES

COCA-COLA Malaysia aims to make a lasting positive difference in the local community through its programmes and partnerships.

These include recycling, through partnership with the Malaysian Nature Society and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), to working with Raleigh International and Muslim Aid Malaysia to provide access to clean water for more than 22,000 villagers in rural Sabah, and economically empowering women through Coca-Cola KU entrepreneurship programmes.

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