Wow, you really don’t know the true impact until you see it for yourself!
In December I set out with a group of teachers who will be travelling with their schools later this year, on a journey to Borneo for a jam-packed week.
Working with Camps, being a part of the student journey, seeing the positive impact through project reports, and reports from the teams and leaders overseas, was what got me up in the morning, and kept me buzzing all afternoon in my day to day life! But after my week of seeing the full impact we make in these rural communities, bought everything I knew before up to a whole new level!
The first day we set out to Camp Tinangol, with leader Fabian, keeping us informed on our 3-hour journey through the fields. Learning about the local agriculture, Mount Kinabalu, and other fun facts along the way.
Once we arrived we were greeted, as I soon learned would be the case at all camps, with big warm smiles, with Mel and Aeida greeting us all as if we’d just arrive home. With the jungle and mountains surrounding us, we received a tour of the facilities, where I instantly fell in-love with long houses! They are beautifully built, and to my surprise stayed cool for a good night’s sleep! From here we took a walk into the local community through the jungle, where we do our project work. We were able to see the kindergarten our volunteers had built, which is now used daily by the village, with over 45 students in attendance! We also got to see the progress of the community centre, which with the help of our Australia teams heading out in April 2019, will soon be completed! To be able to see projects in a village of smiling faces, having been completed and used, knowing the next to be completed will be used by the whole village as well, left my heart smiling.
The following day, we set out for Camp Bongkud and as it’s in the heart of the community, you instantly feel a part of it. We set out for a canopy walk through the jungle, which lead us back to the Hot Springs. The canopy walk was beautiful through and over the jungle, it gave you the full picture of how beautiful Sabah really is. That night we went for a walk around the community and saw the beautiful primary school where our volunteers have completed project work in the past, as well as the sports field with a running track and basketball court, which our volunteers worked hard to complete. The grand stand which had just been completed by one of our Australian teams weeks before, was being used as well. The community really had a place to come together.
On day two we woke up before the sun to catch the rise over Mount Kinabalu. Watching the fog dance around the mountain tops, covering some as a blanket, which the locals believe to be protecting the sacred spirits of their elders. It was absolutely breath taking, and challenging as well. We all walked back with excitement over what the day had in store – the opening of the Kindergarten, and Camp Borneo’s 10-year celebration.
The opening of the kindergarten came first. After many challenges and set-backs, with over 13,700 days of project work from our volunteers, it was complete. The whole community gathered in excitement with speeches from the Chief, dances from the local children and the cutting of the ribbon. We were informed that the Chief had been at each one of those days of project work, working alongside the volunteers, including Eve, who had set up the plans from the start, and poured her heart into each bit of cement poured.
Each of these projects started by listening to what the community really needed and working with them hand in hand. This is something I knew before, but seeing the community using the facilities, being a part of the process, first hand, really cemented my belief we are making lasting impact.
Later that afternoon was when the 10-year celebration started! This kicked off with a sports afternoon with the community. Everyone was involved from tug-of-war, egg and spoon toss, and of course a soccer match. The celebrating moved back to camp where all of the Camp’s Communities came together from Mantanani Island, Tinangol, Bata Puteh, and celebrated the successes over the years. We had speeches from Mel, Borneo Country Manager, Al, Asia director, and Rory who is the Australasia director. The speeches were filled with love, tears, and laughter. All of the communities together create a family. I don’t think starting out 10 years ago over a coffee and an idea, Rory and Mel would have imagined where they’d be today and have created something so beautiful. It made me excited and proud to be a part of Camps International.
The following day we set out to the part I was most excited for, the jungle camp! I didn’t realise that upon arrival, Martin would be giving us a lesson in rainforest conservation. His explanations gave me a deeper understanding prior to heading off to camp. Seeing the monkeys, and birds swinging and singing in their natural habitat was amazing. To know that years before this was all reforested by Martin and volunteers, which our volunteers now take part in, was incredible. After setting up our hammocks, we went for a night cruise and walk to see more wildlife. The night ended with a true Aussie BBQ in the middle of the jungle! And a super comfortable sleep in my hammock, with the rain falling over my tarp, and the jungle sounds all around me.
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary came next. We were shown a short film explaining the work of the sanctuary, why orangutans are endangered, and more about orangutans in general. Seeing the orangutans after that at feeding time was incredible. Seeing a mother feed her baby, and the big boss fight off a monkey for his bananas was awesome!
On our last full day, we stopped at the Kundasang War Memorial, for the Australian and British soldiers who died in the Sandakan POW camp during the death marches to Ranau. I had never even heard of this march until the day we arrived, after seeing a movie, and hearing the death toll of 99.97% I was stunned and was certainly an emotional and important afternoon.
Before we left the beautiful island of Sabah behind, we managed to squeeze in an afternoon on Mamutik island with snorkelling and some time to reflect on the week. The adventure was incredible, but what left the biggest mark on my heart was the people. Everyone I had met along the way had a youth about them I hadn’t encountered in such a way. They smiled with their eyes, and lived together, for and with each other. They worked hard for their community and appreciated it. I think we can all benefit to run more on Borneo time.
On the flight home, my heart was full, and I was ready for the year ahead with Camps. Knowing that with every day in the office, with each conversation with teachers, students and parents, I’ll be helping to get them one step closer to the bigger picture. Through that, we are making lasting change to the lives of those who volunteer, and those whose communities they become a part of.