Katie Smyth in Borneo

Report by Katie Smyth

From the 19th July to the 18th of August I took part in a community development trip to Borneo. The aim of this was to improve the living standards of some communities over there. Without the YET’s support I would not have been able to raise the money needed to go and I want to say a massive thank you for enabling me to have the experience of my life. It has changed me as a person (hopefully for the better) and am I now have the travel bug and desire to use my skills to further support dis advantaged communities around the world.

My mom’s colleague Jenny and her daughter printed the t-shirts for me to take with me on my expedition. These had the names of all my sponsors; including you guys and I wore them with pride whilst slaving away!

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The first community we visited was Tinangol in Sabah, Borneo where we did lots of cement mixing, brick laying and more cement mixing! But this wasn’t cement mixing where you stick the mix in a mixer; no… this was cement mixing the hard way, in 35°C heat with gravel and water in the middle of the dirt road.

Some of the tasks we completed in Tinangol were:

  • Building a wall at the side of the ‘road’ so that the mud didn’t keep collapsing. This meant that emergency vehicles such as ambulances could get to the people on that end of the village easier as many elderly people were sadly dying on their way to the ambulances as they couldn’t get close enough to the house.
  • Building a wall and cement base for a water tank to be placed on so fresh, clean water could be delivered to the nearby houses.
  • Helping to build a safe area for the children to play in near the Kindergarten that previous Camps International groups had started to build.

We also returned to Tinangol later on in the trip as we couldn’t go to Mantanani due to a typhoon, and we were lucky enough to do some more direct work with the families of the village. We were the first Camps International group to be allowed to do this, and we all felt very privileged.

We took part in two, day long, projects:

  • We worked with a woman who was blind and was so far under the poverty line that the community had to have a fund to help her live.   However this meant that she often went without food. She was also severely immobile so we had to modify her house to make it more accessible for her and tidy up her garden and surrounding area to ensure she was safe in and around her house.
  • We also worked with a family whose dad couldn’t read or write and the only way he could work was manually, so he’s out from the break of dawn till night and barely gets to see his wife and 3 kids, one of which is a new born baby. He wants his mom to come to stay with them and help his wife with the kids. However his mom is deaf and there isn’t enough room in the house, so we started the construction of an extension, removed all wood and waste from their garden and painted their hose.
  • We also had a massive sports day with the village children! Again, another first for Camps International and we all felt extremely lucky!

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The next camp we went to was Batu Puteh (the Jungle Camp.) The actual camp in the jungle was a trial itself; with a hole for a toilet, hammocks and a bucket of water for the shower in some tarpaulin. Whilst there we:

  • Collected seeds for trees that had fallen so that they could be sent to a nursery to begin growing.
  • Cleared dry grass ready for the trees to be planted.
  • We also used machetes to clear a massive area of grass so that we could plant trees the following day. Real life machetes are nothing like in the movies; it was back breaking hard work that gave you blisters and aches that lasted the rest of the trip.
  • Planted trees. Our Jungle leader, Jai, told us the record for the number of trees carried by a group to the area was 200 so we took 312. We each carried around 20 partly grown trees for 1.7km through the Jungle to the area we had cleared the previous day. Here, we planted the trees 2m apart. However, we planted so many trees, we had to clear more area and we worked through lunch to plant them all! We broke the record for the most amount of trees planted by a group with 187 and were rewarded with… more rice for dinner!
  • We went to an Eco Camp called Kopel along the river where we cleared the pond of Salvania weed because it suffocates the pond life. We broke another record here, clearing 107 bags.
  • Whilst in the jungle we also went on an amazing river cruise and got to see the wide range of wildlife this country had to offer; orang-utans, the hibiscus monkeys, alligators and many more!

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Then it was off to camp Bangkud where we had a proper flushing toilet! It was pure luxury after the jungle, and while we were there we:

  • Cemented the steps to a bridge and pathway for a walkway which we made in order to allow the children to have a safe journey to the school/ Kindergarten.
  • A new kindergarten was being built and cement had to be mixed to make the wall to prevent flooding during very heavy episodes of rain.
  • We did some basket weaving back at the actual camp taught by Elsie, one of the volunteers at the camp from the village. They were going g to be used to brighten up the kindergarten when it’s built.
  • We dug a ditch around the new kindergarten for the water waste to be taken away in.
  • We also got the opportunity to make the local traditional banana bread with the volunteers.
  • We also taught some of the local children some English which was incredible.

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On Gaya Island We had more of a relaxing time clearing the beaches, playing cards and sunbathing! During the time on the trip when we weren’t mixing cement or carting trees for miles etc. We took part in various other, more leisurely activities such as learning Malay, learning the traditional dances of the locals, bead making and spring roll making.   We also went to a tree top walk, to some hot springs and to the Kundasang War Memorial. I also got the amazing opportunity to go on the world’s longest island to island zip wire from Gaya Island to Sepai Island! We also had the opportunity to learn to scuba dive and it was amazing, however I could not complete the course as I sliced my toe open and the bandage wouldn’t fit in the flippers!

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In Kota Kinabalu (the main city) we got to do a bit of shopping at the night markets which were amazing but also quite scary t times! We also got to eat food other than rice, so we went to little Italy and KFC!

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I had a truly amazing time in Borneo and feel privileged to have gone on such an amazing trip and met so many amazing people. The locals over there are so welcoming and amazingly happy all the time; I have never seen kids happier. Although I was the youngest there in my group, I still managed to make friends with every member, including the teachers and they all said they thought I was much older than what I actually was when they first met me. I left for Borneo knowing no one, and came back with a family, and that, I feel, is an achievement in itself and something I am very proud of.

Thank you for sponsoring me to go, because without your kind donation it wouldn’t have been possible!

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