Its now been a few weeks since the return of pioneer volunteers, Donna Barlow, Arsalan Naeem and Jody Lee from the isolated schools of Sabah. The volunteers certainly had an experience not to be forgotten from large spiders hiding in toilets to encountering herds of elephants whilst on night river cruises.
The volunteers first school was at Tomanggong palm oil plantation which is near Tabin wildlife reserve. The schools are very isolated and are a 2 hour 4×4 journey away from the nearest town Lahad Datu. But saying that the plantation has all what you need including a small bar and badminton courts but phone signal is low which is great. The volunteers helped at the small school (60 children) run by Judith and Ardana. The children raise the Malaysian flag and sing songs including the Humana song each morning. The children were preparing for a competition at the end of July where they would compete against 20 other schools in events such as football, tyre rolling, volleyball, singing and dancing to name a few. Each afternoon the volunteers helped the children to practice for these events with Arsalan being the football coach. The housing the volunteers stayed in had been abandoned for a while and many new squatters had taken residence in the house. One day, Arsalan went to the toilet and to his astonishment when he stood up a HUGE spider was sat in the toilet bowl looking up at him! HELLO. The plantation and surrounding forests are FULL of creepy crawlies and a nice dry cool house is very appealing for these critters. Not all the animals living in the surrounding forest are all that creepy. The plantation backs onto Tabin Wildlife Reserve which is home to Pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhino’s and orangutans. On one of routes out of the plantation goes pass Tabin reserve and if you are lucky you can see these creatures crossing the road – Arsalan and Jody saw a few herds of elephants. The weekend event soon came with the Tomanggong team ready and willing to take on the other schools! After a non eventful journey to the event location the children of Tomanggong won all but 1 event! With Arsalan’s football team not losing a single game. The journey back was somewhat more eventful with tires bursting and heavy rains swelling rivers but after 7 hours and very wet clothes everyone made it safely back to Tomanggong.
The second month was based at Melangking which is just 15km from Sukau village which is the centre of river cruises to see various wildlife including orangutans, elephants, hornbills, crocodiles and even sun bears. The plantation has three schools with between 20 to 40 children going to each school. The children are again well behaved but it is obvious the children lack confidence in speaking and writing english and their environmental awareness is very low. Donna an orangutan and nature lover found her place at Melangking and started a recycling scheme at all three schools at this plantation. Teaching is not the only thing the volunteers experienced here! Have you ever seen male chickens’, cockerels wearing boxing gloves??? Well one day the volunteers look out their window only to see two cockerels fighting with small gloves on their claws. These cockerels were practicing for cock fights which are illegal but are run at all villagers throughout Borneo especially after pay day. You never know what you may see. Being in the plantation is one experience not to be forgotten.
I personally would like to say a big THANK YOU to the Borneo Child Aid Society (BCAS), the two plam oil estates (Melangking and Tomanggong), Judith, Nesta, Junecel, Torben, Mr Chee and Mr Wong and of course the three brave pioneer volunteers – Arsalan, Donna and Jody.
Ecoteer are now working with BCAS on a permanent volunteer program focusing on improving the English skills and environmental awareness of the children of the Palm Oil estates. The program is starting on January 3rd 2011 at Melangking estate and hopefully in the future we will be able to host volunteers at Tomanggong and other estates in the future.
We hope this is the start of helping not only the children but the wildlife living in the rainforests surrounding the palm oil estates of Sabah.
For more information on the new volunteer program please go to teach english in Borneo
For information on other volunteering opportunities go to the following pages