Clean Water for Communities – Kampung Kalampun, Keningau, Sabah

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 😀 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.

School field. After the volunteers’/villagers’ day is done, they often come here to play sports and games.

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.

For rainwater collection. 

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…

Many of these dishes were unfamiliar, some used local herbs, spices and roots; but most were tasty. 

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 😀 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.

Back at the village, it was a bittersweet goodbye. Most of the volunteers were leaving the next day, but I had no doubt they brought away valuable life lessons. 🙂 

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.


Jom Botak 2.0 – Bald for Cancer

Would you part with your hair in a show of support and solidarity?

It was already hard enough for me to chop off my long hair to my current length, so I admire the courage of these individuals who came together for Jom Botak 2.0 – Bald for Cancer –  organised by the National Cancer Council of Malaysia in conjunction with their twentieth anniversary. The event was followed by a night marathon with cancer survivors, where more than 5,000 participants took part.


I was assigned to cover the event, which also attempted to break their own record ofMost Shaved Heads in a Day that they achieved in 2012 with >300 people taking part. Sadly, this year they failed – but 167 still turned up despite the rain and muddy field.


It was heartening to see that people from all races and ages came to take part – and there were a lot of ladies in the crowd as well!


I spoke to dance coach Liew Mee Peng (left), who parted with her waist-length hair as a pledge to her students and friends, some of whom were battling cancer. Her story is an inspiring one.

“As a dance coach, my job is to motivate and encourage others. I have seen some of my students who have suffered cancer and are traumatised as to whether they will ever be the same again, even after treatment.

“For those who have undergone chemotherapy or lost a lot of weight as a result of cancer, I know it is not easy to look in the mirror. Which is why I promised my friends that if I can do this, they should come back and join my dance classes,” she said.

I wondered if I would be able to do the same if I were in her shoes.


Brave lady Nurhidayah Zainal, who shaved her head to show her support to her friend’s child, who is undergoing treatment for cancer and battling for his life.

I had family members who have passed away from this disease of the 21st century – and I know how much pain and suffering both they and their family go through, so it’s good to see people coming together to show their support and donate both their hair and money for the cause.

Would you go bald for cancer?



Building Homes in an Orang Asli Village @Batang Kali, Malaysia

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About half an hour from the scenic town of Batang Kali lies an Orang Asli village of about 200 families, scattered across the mountainous region of the Titiwangsa range. The place, called Hulu Tamu, is located deep within the hills overlooking lush green tropical jungles. Thank God for roads, as I was sent here for an assignment some time back.

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A group of volunteers from an NGO dubbed ‘Epic Homes’ traveled into the interior to build houses for families in need. They completed it in just three days, thanks to an ingenious engineering plan laid out by voluntary architects and experts. Led by *the very good looking* John-Son Oei, some 30-odd staff from companies, students and a mix of people from different backgrounds came together in the spirit of togetherness to build a new home for an Orang Asli family.

The way it was designed was so that it could be built easily by people like you and me. It was hot and sunny even in the evening, and the nearby jungle invited loads of mozzies. I didn’t mind though, their work was very interesting. I didn’t join in so I sat at a shed nearby while waiting for the interview.

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The Orang Asli are the natives of Malaysia, and are divided into 18 tribes. They lived in the interior, even with the arrival of Malays from Indonesia who formed the Malay Sultanate (ancestors of the modern Malay), and later on Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists. Their way of life is still unchanged in many ways.


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Villagers do odd jobs such as gathering forest goods, from bamboo shoots to trapping small wild animals. Regular kapcai bikes are their mode of transport to and from the nearest big town, where they would peddle their wares. Pet dogs roam the place freely and are completely unafraid of strangers. Chickens run around here and there, as do the children who are barefeet, shy when you talk to them but so easy with their smiles.

Their homes are simple; made of wooden planks and rush, on stilts. The neighbours from the next house sit on their porch as they watch the volunteers go about their work.

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The communal shed offers some protection from the glaring heat. It’s just a makeshift tent, with logs for seats and a small campfire. I sit and talk to the villager whom the volunteers are building for. Her name is Rinie, and she speaks Malay with a paku accent. Amirul, her five-year old boy, hovers near me curiously, shying away  when I try to talk to him.

I am touched by how friendly these people are, even though they live in such simple surroundings. They do not have the luxuries of air-conditioning, or proper lighting, hot showers or cable TV; things we all take for granted in our day to day life. A visit here really puts you in place.

2013-07-07 17.56-tileThe old house…

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….and the new one! 🙂   It’s a sad reality, but many original peoples in Malaysia still live in dilapidated conditions, with no proper housing and amenities. Epic Homes aims to build new homes for all the Orang Asli families, with that acting as an entry point to address more serious issues of poverty and education for the community.

I left the place feeling touched by the plight of these humble villagers. Especially their children. It’s true what they say about young children being untainted by all the problems we grownups are constantly bothered about. They had such open smiles as I got into my car, and they chased after it waving goodbye when I drove off. These are kids who love running barefoot around the place, who know the jungle better than either you or me, and are probably smarter than most city kids out there – they just lack a chance to have a proper education.

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One thing city folks don’t have that  the Orang Asli do – the ability to live off the land, and to appreciate the beauty of mother nature everyday. 🙂