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Homes in Tikalod

Raleigh International is a sustainable development charity first established in 1984, dedicated to empowering youth to become positive agents of change in communities and natural environments. Its projects in Borneo include WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), NRM (Natural Resource Management) which aims to conserve and restore unique forest biodiversity, and empowering local entrepreneurs to start green microenterprises through programmes like SALY-B (Sustainable Alternative Livelihoods for Youth in Borneo).

One of these projects currently being completed during Raleigh’s last expedition in Borneo is installing a safe and reliable water supply to Kampung Tikalod, a remote village in the north of the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah. After conferring with one of Raleigh’s project partners, Forest Solutions Malaysia, it became clear there was a need for improved access to water and sanitation in this village. When Raleigh first approached this project in the summer of 2017, the community had difficulties accessing water from a spring deep in the jungle and carrying it to their homes. There was some rainwater storage, but it was not reliable in times of drought. There were no toilets or hand washing facilities in the community.

The remoteness of the community and the challenging environmental conditions caused several logistical hurdles to overcome. Due to flooding in the area, it wasn’t until February 2018 when the Raleigh volunteers were able to get to the village and set up camp. Tikalod is a small village, with no western comforts. The volunteers were pushed outside their comfort zone and rose to the challenge. For the community members also, the presence of outsiders in their community was a rare occurrence.  It took a great deal of effort to establish a working relationship. 

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The crawl space under the house was a place for cooking and relaxing.

When the volunteers began the work, they constructed three toilets, several tippy-taps for washing hands and placed six water-storage tanks in one location and a four-tank water catchment system at the other end of the village to provide a water supply. To ensure a robust the water supply the group installed a ram pump at the site of the spring to pump water uphill into the storage tanks. The complexity of the physics of pumping water uphill without a mechanized motor frustrated the team, and they were unable to complete a successful installation.

As the summer, and final expedition began, International and Malaysian volunteers in the Zulu I team were assigned the task of finishing the project by building a dam and installing a new ram pump. 

Once assigned their projects, the eleven members of Zulu 1 were bused two hours into Kota Maruda where four off-road vehicles were waiting to take them on the next two-hour journey. 

It was hot and humid, every inch of the vehicles was filled with passengers and baggage. They carried supplies, tools, and rations needed to last until the end of their 19-day assignment.

During the drive, there was a small show of rain, but nothing to speak of until later in the day when it poured for several hours. Mostly, it was hot and dusty with extremely high humidity. 

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Arriving at Tikalod

There was so much to do upon arrival to get the camp up and running, no one could relax just yet. The volunteers, under the direction of their Volunteer Managers Maddy O’Brien and Jenny Cutts, discussed a plan of action, and everyone went to work. It was raining hard by then.

When the group arrived, there was only a wooden structure to house an outer layer of tarps and an inner structure to hold sleeping hammocks. The tarp that covered the structure was not rain-proof and needed further reinforcements so it could hold its own against the thunderous downpours. 

Shortly after arrival, it began to rain heavily while one of the volunteers, Aliza Wren filled jerry cans with spring water.  Sabahan volunteers, Ronnie Saupaun and Marjunney Majuning, hung tarps over the shelter with the help of one of the villagers known as “Uncle.” Tarps, none quite large enough to cover the structure alone, were layered one over another. It was a trial and error effort that took a couple of days, with lots of rain to hinder progress and reveal leaks.

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Building the camp at Tikalod

The tarps are blue and orange. The forest is shades of vibrant green. The drops of water enhance the colors and leave a fresh smell behind. As hard as everyone was working, they stopped to look around and appraise their new home with excitement and anticipation. The volunteers knew their new assignment was going to be tough, but they were ready to take it on.

The hammocks were strung between the rows of logs. Food rations were taken out and stored in sight but protected from the rain, and dogs and chickens that roam freely. Menus were created and assigned to a particular week to make the best use of the rations. 

There is no phone service, and a radio line was stretched high in the trees on a local hill. Louis Horrell and Eliza Wren found a forked shaped branch to lift the antenna into a tall tree for clear reception. After a couple of attempts, the radio was working, the scheduled calls to the office could take place at 07:10 in the morning and 17:30 in the evening.

Wilvia Olivia Williams is the conservation officer for Forest Solutions Malaysia, an organization that sustainably manages the forest in the area. Wilvia works closely with Eliz Fung Nyuk Yee, Operations Coordinator for Raleigh Borneo. Wilvia came on the first planning visits and later sent intern Gerry Timothy Barratpaul to accompany the volunteers. Forest Solutions has an ongoing commitment to Tikalod as part of its community development programme in the region.

Raleigh’s programmes are designed to encourage resilience, innovative thinking, and leadership. On a day to day, person to person level, volunteers push past all resistance, seeking their own answers, and knowing somedays will be harder than others. The commitment is what matters.

There were many small projects to accomplish in Tikalod, and they all had a degree of difficulty. The first one was getting bags of gravel, dirt, and cement into the jungle and to the site of the new dam. The volunteers filled wheelbarrows with the bags weighing between 25 and 50 kilograms apiece and lowering them 10 odd meters to the site by a human chain, passing one bag after another, singing and working together until the task was completed.

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Carrying cement to the dam

Perseverance is becoming so focused on a task that it no longer becomes a burden. Endurance is the accomplishment of each task even with unexpected challenges. On one day, four members of the team had run-ins with hairy caterpillars that sent them back to the tent with an angry rash for the rest of the day. The remaining team members forged on, singing Abba songs and show tunes. The bags were hauled down, the cement was mixed the next day and the dam built.

Perseverance isn’t one day, one month, it’s the sum total of all the combined effort. Raleigh volunteers are willing to do the work, and Zulu 1 worked incredibly hard to finish the project. The Volunteer Manager, Maddie O’Brien said, “There were a tremendous amount of challenges in Tikalod, from the working of the ram pump to working with the community, but those challenges inspired the volunteers to work harder and walk away with something that was unique and special for each one of them.” 

Aliza Wren said, “Perseverance is sticking things out even when you think it’s too much.” She added, “You can’t leave things half-finished.”

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Hooking up the pump

The team worked well together, dividing the jobs, taking personal responsibility and making it fun; singing, challenging each other and helping each other when needed. By the end of the project, the ram pump was working and placed on a cement slab. The cement for the dam had been poured, and pipe laid up to the tanks, but there is still more to do. The volunteers have left Tikalod, but Raleigh Borneo hasn’t. Eliz will continue to support Tikalod while Raleigh is still in the country. 

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” said Eliz who has been a dominant driving force to getting water to the houses. There are still some finishing touches to do to ensure the water will flow to every single home, but now the villagers have ownership over the water infrastructure and can complete the project.

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Members of the team handing off bags of cement
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