Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069
 

10th May 2010

Read Borneo for Guatemala by Astrid Wells

Home | Footprinter Reports | Read Borneo for Guatemala by Astrid Wells

Due to unforeseen safety circumstances my trip to Guatemala changed at the very last minute. Despite being upset and frustrated that things had not gone to plan I was still determined to volunteer as a medic somewhere in the world and to make a difference. So, after being advised to visit Raleigh Internationals website from a colleague I decided to phone and see if they had any vacancies on an up and coming expedition. After the phone call on the 9th January 2012 I found myself sitting in an interview in London the very next day explaining why it would be a good idea to take me as an expedition medic and that it was a good idea to take me last minute. The interview was over in a whirlwind and all I can remember was that I got offered a role as a volunteer medic with Raleigh Borneo and that I needed to arrange to leave the UK on the 13th January. All the way home on the train I kept thinking to myself, am I doing the right thing?; I only have 3 days to prepare which isnt enough time; is this expedition really going to make a difference to someone? However I took 3 deep breaths and decided that I was going to do something spontaneous for the first time in my life and YES I AM, I am going to Borneo in 3 days time.

Since that brief moment of doubt on the train I can honestly say I have not looked back once..

Report 1: Raleigh International Borneo Expedition 12a

Community Project Building a WATER GRAVITY FEED in Kampung Imusan.

I still remember the day that I got allocated to work in a tiny village called Imusan in Sabah. I kept thinking to myself I really want to do that community project BUT I have no idea how to build a water gravity system. I thought to myself, I am an intelligent person and I do have a degree however this is in medicine, NOT engineering, or how to plumb in a water system into 29 houses in the middle of dense jungle .

It is hard to explain how I felt about this project in a report so I will read you part of my journal from that day.

Well, today is the day. The day I leave to go into the heart of the jungle (has to be pretty much the heart as it takes nearly a day of driving by bus and by 4x4s to get there) with my 12 venturers aged between 17-24years old and my fellow project manager, Paul. I feel pretty much ready as I ever will be! I have read the dummies guide to building a water gravity feed and so I am must be ready? Right?!? Anyway, a little less thinking Astrid and a little more lets get on the bus before it leaves without you!

After what felt like the longest and bumpiest 4×4 journey of my life we all arrive in a small village (kampung) called Imusan. You cant even find this place on maps including Google Earth. Wow, I thought to myself as we pulled up next to the river. It really is something out of a storybook; there is dense jungle all around and houses that look like little pinheads in the distance over the river. All you can hear is the sound of crashing water over rocks in the river. There are what seem to be remains of a bridge connecting both ends of the kampung. The bridge looks like a massive game of Jenga. You think I am kidding but no, the massive logs are pilled on top of each other like 2 giants trying to play a game of Jenga. However unfortunately this game of Jenga has been destroyed as the bridge had fallen into the river about 9 months before we arrived, which had separated the kampung.

The only way of getting to each side was to go by boat which we did every day.

On arrival the villagers had come out in force to meet us and guide us across the river to where we would be living. Men, women and children came out to see who the new people entering their kampung were. We must have looked very strange to them as, the majority had never seen anyone other than their family and friends who came from nearby towns and villages.

As we crossed the river we could hear music being played. When we stepped out of the boats at the other side we were literally blown away by the welcome and kindness of the villagers. Everyone came to the riverbank to help us with our equipment, boxes and bags. Children as young as 5 or 6 came to the boats and held out their hands in an attempt to help us carry our belongings up the riverbank to the community hall and school.

After settling into our new home (the bottom floor of the school), which meant putting all our mosquito nets up and getting our roll mats out and laying them on the floor in a strategic-like fashion. Our kitchen was at one end of the room that consisted of a gas hob with 2 rings. Yep, thats right – that was it. No oven, no taps, no sink, everything else we needed we created out of the equipment we had brought with us. We were then invited to celebrate our arrival, which also symbolised the building of the water gravity feed. We ate the most amazing food that was all local produce, fruit and vegetables picked from the jungle and a wild boar that had been killed in our honour.

We danced and sang the night away, despite our Malay not being brilliant and the locals English also not being perfect, but somehow neither party cared as we were able to communicate through our smiles and laughter that echoed throughout the evening.

 

· So, why were we there to build a water gravity system?

Thanks to The Coke Foundation who funded the project we were a team of volunteers who were going to attempt to build a water gravity system for 29 houses that was to provide water for approximately 270 people who lived in Kampung Imusan.

· Why do they need one?

Well, I might ask you the same question what would you do if you didnt have running water in your house? Would you be prepared to walk 6km to the nearest fresh water supply?

Nope, thought not! So you might remember me mention a river that ran straight through the centre of the kampung. Residents use this river for washing clothes and bathing in but not for drinking as this water looks like the colour of pure mud. The water is so polluted with household waste products and pesticides from the local palm oil company that this is very unsafe to use.

· So, what do the villagers use for drinking water?

Villagers of kampung Imusan drink rainwater. The way they do this is by collecting rain in massive blue containers. Have you thought of a problem with this yet? What happens when it doesnt rain? This is a HUGE problem for them because they then have to use the water from the polluted river and in turn many of them get sick.

So, 14 of us set out to build a water gravity system in 10 weeks and I am sure for many of us we were thinking is this actually possible?

But, we shall soon find out

Report 2: Raleigh International Borneo Expedition 12a

Community Project Building WATER GRAVITY FEED in Kampung Imusan.

Wow, I think we are actually going to do it! The community spirit with everyone is amazing. We are currently in the thick of it. The dam has been built; the collecting towers have been built. Our task at hand is to move 58 pipes; each pipe is 100m long of varying width, the majority being 2inches in diameter.

The aim of the pipes is to place the largest diameter at the dam and gradually get smaller in diameter the closer we are to the village. All the pipes are at the kampung, rolled up. So, part of the challenge is to let the venturers think of ways of completing tasks without being told what to do. We nearly spent a day debating on which was the best method of transporting the pipes. The group was divided with the decision, the boys wanted to carry the pipes rolled up but the girls wanted to roll them out and carry 2 at a time as a team.

The venturers finally discovered that carrying the pipes rolled up was too difficult as they were too heavy for most to carry, especially in 33 degree heat and in direct sunlight. So, the decision was made to roll out all the pipes and start transporting them 2 at a time, with a decision to carry either on hips or shoulders. However, this was easier said than done. Rolling out a 100m pipe on rough terrain without getting a kink in it was proving to be quite a challenge. Many venturers chose to either attach the pipe onto their rucksack or use bungee cords to fasten the pipes to them and walk the 6km pipe route. Each day the venturers would take it in turn to decide how many trips they could physically achieve. Starting at 7am, they would pick up their first couple of pipes and start walking the pipe route. Depending on sickness, tiredness, or how many villagers had come to help depended on how many they could get through in a day. The most we walked was 3 trips totalling 25km in one day, going there and back, if you bare in mind that the distance gets shorter every time you lay a pipe.

Once we were all attached to the pipe we looked like a gigantic black slinky walking through the jungle, which as you can imagine caused quite a stir not only with the local villagers but the wildlife too. The kindness and generosity of the villagers was just phenomenal, many of them would be walking past us to work and they would just jump on the end of the slinky to help us get to the dam quicker. For many of the venturers walking the pipe route was their time to zone out and think about what they were actually doing for the community or think about lifes conundrums whilst listening to their I-pod. This was a good time-out to take as we were living and working on top of each other all the time so this was the only me time that you really got during the day and each trip took us about an hour each way.

For many venturers Many, of whom had just done their A-levels and left school a few months previously and now found themselves on their gap year. this was the first time that they had ever done anything like this before. When I asked many of them why they wanted to do an expedition with Raleigh there was a unanimous reply, they didnt want to sit at home for a year or go travelling for a year without doing something worthwhile, explaining that they thought worthwhile was something that was going to make a difference to someones life. This was very refreshing to hear as I feel in the past few years young people have had a gloomy picture painted for them by the media, as I remember reading an article on my way to work in a well known newspaper who quoted the 41 problems wrong with young people of today. I can truly reply to that article with the 41 reasons why young people of today are remarkable if you give them the opportunity and chance to do so.

Report 3: Raleigh International Borneo Expedition 12a

Community Project Building a WATER GRAVITY FEED in Kampung Imusan.

Wow, what can I say but this was a truly amazing project to be working with and I am very sad to be leaving it. The project is not finished yet, but another group of youngsters will be taking over next week to finish it. We have laid all the pipes on the 6km pipe route, drawn a map of where all the pipes are laid and where they need to be connected and where trenches need to be dug.

On our Sundays which were our rest days from the water gravity feed we taught English to the whole village. We split into small groups with different age groups. This wasnt rocket science for both languages as we had very little Malay and the villagers had minimal English. However, by the end of our stay in Imusan we all could hold a very primitive conversation with one another which felt very heart warming to be able to do. We also loved playing and teaching the children of Imusan and the surrounding villages. We held a Raleigh Olympics at the end of our stay where all the children from far and wide came to play games. This was an absolutely incredible day where we got to act like we were all 8 years old again, which for any adult is a dream.

I can truly say from the bottom of my heart this has been an unquestionably profound experience in more ways than one. I have loved getting to know and working with the 12 Youngsters who were in my alpha group; Cecile, Eve, Michelle, Ericka, Sarah, Nick, Lester, Frenly, Kit and Jack. They all have been incredible, not only as individuals but as a whole group. We encountered many problems whilst on project from blocked toilets to running out of drinking water but whatever they were dealt they faced it head on and came up with amazing solutions and compromises. I would also like to mention my fellow project manager, Paul. Your level headedness and calming demeanour was an excellent asset to have when building the Water Gravity Feed. Without you guys we would not have achieved what we did and had the most incredible fun and wholehearted experience and for that I owe you a huge thank you. I would also like to thank the people of Imusan who were remarkable with their welcome, generosity, hospitality and friendliness.

Many people will never get to visit this tiny village in the jungle, which, in some way is sad that no-one will see what we have experienced. On the other hand, when thinking about this it is actually perfect because for those of you reading this, you know that Imusan has an existence. Imusan is a place that can be described as untouched, primitive, unspoilt and absolutely beautiful. The atmosphere and surroundings is like no-other than living in a dream. Imusan is like Neverland from Peter Pan, a truly magical place which for a few of us, can say we have actually seen.

If you would like to have a glimpse of what it was like working as a venture in Imusan, Nick Bromley describes what it is like to have worked on this project. This video was filmed by The Coke Foundation and Edited by Edward Gregory (Videographer for Raleigh International).

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