Water. The bringer of life.
Most of us who live in cities never stop to think about how precious this commodity is; simply because it magically appears every time we turn on the tap. In an ideal world, everyone should have clean water as a basic right to survival – but that isn’t the case. A UN report in 2013 revealed that 783mil don’t have access to clean water, and 2.5bil don’t have access to adequate sanitation: resulting in 6-8mil deaths annually from disasters and water-related diseases.
If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you’ll remember that I went to Sabah for work a couple of months ago. It was for a story I was doing on an NGO, Raleigh Borneo, and Coca Cola Malaysia, for a project called Clean Water for Communities. Coke provides the funding, while Raleigh does all the groundwork together with other local NGOs: identifying communities in need, roping in volunteers, and building clean water systems for villages. Couldn’t write this here since it was still embargoed, but since it’s now published, I thought of sharing it in my own words. :)
Set off early in the morning from Kota Kinabalu in a 4WD together with Raleigh staff, through the scenic Crocker Range. The mountains were high enough that the tops were shrouded in mist. When it wasn’t foggy, the view was majestic.
Our ride took four hours. I was a little surprised when we got to the village, Kampung Kalampun in Keningau district, because it was just next to a well-paved road – no bumpiness or trekking through jungles and stuff. I was told that they had opened this new road a few months ago, so it was much more convenient to get to now. The place is home to about 150 families from the Murut tribe, most who work in nearby oil palm plantations.
Villagers and volunteers were waiting for us at the community hall – a concrete structure next to a long wooden one.
Raleigh’s youth volunteers (aged 18 – 25) come from all over the world, and they take part in the community project as part of a 3 month programme, which also includes exploring the wilderness of Borneo. Volunteers stay in the village, where they eat, sleep and work with the villagers while building the Gravity-Fed Water System (GFWS). An overwhelmingly large number of volunteers were from European countries, with some taking a gap year from their studies. There weren’t as many Malaysian volunteers – which I don’t blame, since it isn’t really in our culture to take long periods of time off for volunteerism.
The volunteers showed me where they were staying – a simple wooden house with kitchen and shared bedrooms with mattresses and mosquito netting.
Considering that they had a bunch of about 30 teens living in the same space, I thought the house was kept quite neatly :D It must have been a big change for them, coming from their cosy homes to live in a place with only basic necessities.
Taking a wooden bridge across a small stream to another section of the village, where they have a well-kept primary school.
School assembly area.
Neat wooden homes with bright coats of paint.
Again, I found it surprising that this quaint little village, despite its amenities such as electricity and a school, did not have access to clean water and have been relying on a rainwater harvesting system for their needs. On days when the rain fails, the womenfolk have to carry water from a river located several KMs away.
According to the people at Raleigh, this was one of the ‘nicer’ villages – there were some that were truly located deep in the interior, with no electricity, no water, no nothing.
Made our way back to the hall area, where some of the villagers played traditional Murut instruments while the village chief and NGO staff officiated the tap opening ceremony.
Volunteers posing with Sadin Limun, village chief, in front of the communal water tap.
Pretty Murut ladies in traditional costumes, featuring colourful floral motifs and embroidery.
The youths and children putting on a traditional dance show with bamboo sticks. Volunteers also composed a song about their time in the village. Despite the cultural and language barriers, it was heartening to see how they bonded over a common goal and came to relate to each other on a human level in such a short time. Goes to show that given the time to understand each other, we are all the same on the inside.
Volunteers taught the kids English in their spare time, and the hall was papered over with cute drawings and art projects.
Time for lunch! The villagers had prepared a Murut feast…
After lunch, some volunteers took me to look at the water system they had built; a 10 minute-drive through bumpy jungle roads and vegetation.
Our 4WD got stuck in mud, so we trekked to the site. It was difficult for me since I wasn’t exactly fit :D So I could imagine how hard it was for some of the volunteers who had to make this trip every day, toting buckets, pipes and equipment.
About 15-20 minutes in, we finally came to the small concrete dam, which was built so that water pressure would be able to flow through the pipes and down to the village. The water source has to be free from contaminants such as fertilisers; especially since the area around the jungle was palm oil plantations.
Heading back to KK.
It was a very eye opening experience and one of my favourite stories to write about so far! :) I was truly touched by the villagers’ easy smiles and hospitality, and their close relationship with the volunteers. It also made me appreciate what I have and not to take things for granted. Kudos to Raleigh and Coca Cola for their great efforts in bringing clean water to these communities so they might have a better quality of life.