Real Talk: “A Trip To Rural Sabah Changed My Life!”

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1. A newfound respect for volunteers

Working with the villagers, a total of 40 Raleigh volunteers have constructed two dams at a water source around 10 minutes climb through the jungle from the perimeter of the village and a gravity fed water system that now provides the village with a regular supply of water.

On our very bumpy drive from the field base (where volunteer managers receive their training) to Kota Marudu, the Country Director of Raleigh Borneo at the time of my trip, Sue Hennessey, emphasised that people should not regard Raleigh as a kind of ‘voluntourism’.

“We are a sustainable development organisation. Voluntourism is more about people paying money to go volunteer for a fortnight whilst enjoying a bit of a holiday. Raleigh is more about people doing development projects for a longer term. I have to make it very clear that this is not a holiday but as a bonus, you get to see the culture and experience living amongst the community,” she said.

Sue joined Raleigh in the summer of 2014 on a solar infrastructure and women empowerment project. She enjoyed her experience so much that she ended up getting a job with Raleigh. According to Sue, there are no age barriers when it comes to volunteers. However, if you’re above 25 years old, you’re most likely to be placed as a volunteer manager.

“What volunteers do is that they fundraise as part as their commitment to volunteering,” explained Sue. “It’s a way of getting them to understand what social action is. They might organise a sponsored run or set up a cake stall and they’ll tell their peers about Raleigh and what they’re about to embark on. Raising the money to come out gives them the buy-in and commitment. That money actually pays for their food, transport, and training. Even Malaysian volunteers go through a similar process. At the end of the day, unlike voluntourism, you’re not paying to come in to volunteer, you’re fundraising.”

One of the main roles as a volunteer at Kampung Pandan was to build toilets and hand-washing stations for the communities made up of mostly farmers and rubber planters. With the funding from Coca-Cola, Raleigh was able to pay for the materials used to build the water supply system that delivers water directly led into the village. Which meant that there is now clean water for cooking, washing, bathing and general cleaning.

Kampung Pandan is also the 51st community to benefit from the “Clean Water for Communities” programme where The Coca-Cola Foundation has funded over RM1 million in support of the remoted rural communities in Sabah with the latest funding of US$60,000 to continue the project until 2018. (As of April 2018, the project has hit 57 villages!)

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