Saturday, 13 April 2013

Imbak Adventures with Alpha 5

By Kath Leach (Admin)

I’ve just returned from 10 days in Imbak Canyon with Alpha 5 and the experience is up there with the best of my life.  I deployed with the group and we had an 8 hour off road adventure to Rangers Camp in Imbak, where we spent an evening in the pouring rain but in relative luxury - we slept in actual beds! The Rangers who we were to be with for the next 3 weeks presented to us about the work we would be doing and treated us to a viewing of the BBC’s ‘Expedition Borneo’ which was filmed in Imbak 4 years ago at the camp close to where we’d be staying .

Kath on the suspension bridge

This gave us such a boost to the importance of the work we would be supporting there. Through the building of a new suspension bridge, scientists will be able to better access to the dense rainforest to better monitor the diversity of wildlife and build the case for protecting the corridor of rainforest between Imbak, Maliau and Danum Valley against further logging for palm oil plantations. This will help conserve precious natural habitats of endangered species such as orangutans, pygmy elephants and Bornean clouded leopards. These areas are currently being considered for World Heritage Listings.

We trekked into our camp the next day, which is situated in beautiful location of Imbak Falls, about one hours walk from Rangers Camp.

Phase 3 PMs Refat, Connor and Ali
The first few days were spent setting up camp, digging and repairing rain ditches and getting to know the rangers.  We then started the work of moving a zip wire from one side of the river to another.  The zip wire is used to haul trees across the river to use as the foundations and supports for the new suspension bridge.  A previous Raleigh group had designed and built a winch/pulley system which was used to pull the wire into a new position. They’d also dug the 8ft foundation holes.

Working the winch
The next part of our role was to move hundreds of steel cables across the current suspension bridge, straighten them and then bend them into squares to use in the foundation support holes. On first attempt we took nearly 3 minutes to bend each cable, but by the end we’d mastered it and did it in 44 seconds!

Connor, Connor, Refat and Becki

It was all hard work but we managed to have fun in our free time too including swimming in the waterfall, celebrating two birthdays, Dan’s and PM Connor’s with black tie dinner and celebrations under the stars.  The heavy rain couldn’t dampen our spirits when the loop visited as we treated them to ‘Imbak’s Got Talent’, hearing the beautiful singing voice of Nicoline, Dan’s body popping dancing, and Connor’s ‘name any song and I’ll play it’ tin whistle renditions.

Alpha 5 at camp
The two highlights for me, however, were an early morning gibbon watching walk. We got up at 5.30am to seek out the gibbons who serenaded us each morning with their calls. After a few false alarms we watched a family of gibbons swinging through the trees – truly magical.  That evening, the rangers took us on an evening walk where we saw Mouse Deer, Civit Cats and stood inside an enormous tree which had been completely hollowed out by termites.  It made me feel we were in a completely different world.

Now back at fieldbase with Endex just around the corner, I feel very lucky to have spent time with a fantastic alpha group, working together so hard as a team to support such an important cause. It’s 10 days of my life I will never forget.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Bulud Batu - The Community View

Bulud Batu was chosen for a gravity water feed by one of Raleigh’s partner organisations – PACOS   who are a community based organisation dedicated to supporting and empowering indigenous communities in Sabah. Aunty Rodiah, the head woman, is an amazing woman.  Not only is it unusual that Bulud Batu have a head woman, but she is even more unusual as she was elected. However, on meeting her this is less surprising as her passion and warmth is infectious.

Aunty Rodiah
 As well as being in charge at Bulud Batu she is also responsible for four other villages in the area and was very excited to hear that it was her village that was to be the first of these to work with Raleigh to get a water system in place. 

Villagers welcoming the PM's Lou, Jonny and Connor to Bulud Batu
She currently has no running water supply to her house or most of the other houses in the sprawling village, the only house that does have a supply of water is the house where alpha 2 are staying and the family make a daily trip of 20 minutes each way to fill up their jerry cans with the water for all their daily needs. In the dry season looking after the farm of rubber and palm oil as well as all the animals becomes increasingly difficult. The Raleigh gravity water feed will meet this basic human need and improve their quality of life dramatically; from hygiene and sanitation; to helping with farming; to making social life in the village that much easier. Family and food is so important to the community at Bulud Batu and running water will make family reunions and parties so much easier to cater for, Auntie hopes that relatives will visit more often once they have running water.

Villagers and venturers working together to lay pipe
Living as part of this community has really opened the eyes of the Alpha 2 Venturers. They have seen and experienced firsthand how it is to live without water at the turn of tap and are really appreciating the comforts of home. They understand the necessity of their project and how happy it is making the villagers. Communities here in Sabah don’t have the expertise or the money to build these systems for themselves but the project is so much more than laying pipes. The group has really integrated into village life and have been attending a local church and teaching English – Auny’s English is coming along in leaps and bounds and she is the most enthusiastic student in the class. Showing pictures of family from home and explaining their daily lives helps the village understand that life at home for the Venturers is like– very different from what they have seen on TV!

Alpha 2 phase 1 with the villagers of Bulud Batu
Strong relationships have been built during the installation of the water feed. At the beginning the villagers were a little baffled by the international group living in their village with their 3 bowls and Raleigh rations and rules which they found hard to understand, but they have learnt to live together and dinners are now a truly international affair with such delights as frankfurters, wild boar and chicken nuggets on the menu! 

Alpha 2 phase 2 having breakfast at Aunty Rohida's on their last day
The Venturers have learnt so much here in Bulud Batu, how difficult life can be without basic facilities they take for granted at home, learning not to be wasteful, the realisation that you can have an amazing shower with just one bucket of water,  the  value of family and community to people here in Sabah. Aunty and Uncle and the rest of the village will be sad to see them go but they will always be reminded of Raleigh when they turn on their taps and are able to use and enjoy fresh, clean water; the legacy of the partnership between Raleigh 13C, Pacos and the community of Bulud Batu.                                       

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A1 Phase 3 visit

Sam from our Logistics team has just returned to Fieldbase after spending a week in Bonor Sook with Alpha 1. As her time working on the Kindergarten project has been one of the highlights of her Raleigh experience, she wrote some notes to share.

"Sitting in my mozzy net writing my journal listening to the rain while Beth watches a frog hopping nearby and Sarah catches a spider, it has been raining a lot here in Bonor Sook.  I feel content and sleepy after another marvellous day at the Kindergarten.  Life is calming and wholesome.

I am working on a project with Alpha one building a Kindergarten.  As it's the last phase we are putting in the finishing touches and painting.

A typical day starts at 6am for Sarah's stretching class with breakfast at 7.15am then work is from 8am-12pm and from 2-4pm.  As well as working on the kindergarten we also give pre-school and tutoring lessons to the local children; they are so happy and smiley.  The lessons are fun, we play games, draw pictures, and sing nursery rhymes - I am surprised at how many I can remember.  Their English vocabulary is surprisingly good and we talk about our favourite colours, food, alphabet and numbers and they have also taught me how to count to 10 in Malay.

Jude, Duco and I with the children

Lucy and I teaching
We live in a community hall next to the Kindergarten we are building.  We sleep on the floor of the hall and we also have an area where we eat, and socialise. The kitchen area is at the back of the community hall and the longdrop is to the right.  We can wash in the nearby river which is a bit muddy but good old Sarah made a shower area from tarps so we can have private bucket showers! Our water that we use for drinking and washing comes from the rain so we have to be careful with how much we use, however as I have said it really does rain a lot here!


The group's cooking skills have been fantastic.They have made donuts, bread, fried bread, pancakes, humus, curry and custard.

Alpha 1 enjoying some yummy bread

The village of Bonor Sook is quite small of 300 people, there is a football pitch in the middle and the houses are situated around it.  The community are extremely kind and welcoming.  They organised a dinner for us when we arrived and we all took turns introducing ourselves and where we come from. Alpha 1 are also lucky enough to have met the happiest man in Borneo, his name is Kudos (I'm sure you've already read about him). Kudos is deaf and mute and so happy and smiley, he has been teaching us sign language.


Kudos teaching Christian, Jude and Beth sign language

We went to Church on Sunday and we sang a few English songs; Down by the River and Ain't no Mountain High Enough.  It was quite surreal in Church as obviously I did not understand the sermon and it was a very lively service with the children running around playing and shouting - quite a different experience than church in the UK!  After the service the village invited us for lunch.  Its so humbling; these people have so little yet they give so much, the food was so delicious and they made so much.  We convinced the women to let us do the washing up though!

Alpha 1 at Church

The group of Venturers in Alpha1 are lovely and we are all working well together and with the community, we have water fights and swimming in the river with the children daily.  The other day I organised a jungle party with fancy dress and dancing which was so much fun and everyone really got into the swing of it.  Sarah weaved a large banana leaf with the children's help and came as a banana tree.  The children are so inquisitive and curious, I have shown them pictures of home and my family, I'll really miss them.

Jungle Party

Sarah's hand woven costume

Jungle Royalty

We also enjoyed quite a bit of downtime here, which has meant the team has had a great opportunity to bond well and learna bout each other. It is lovely playing with the children, observing the community, reading a book, playing cards, writing my journal and having some great conversations with the PMs and Venturers. Everything really is going very well here in Bonor Sook and I'm looking forward to hearing all about the opening ceremony on the 15th."

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

First week updates from the Alpha groups (Phase 3)

As promised here are the updates from the Alphas after their first week.

Alpha 1, Kindergarten in Bonor Sook

Alpha 1 have been storming ahead with the kindergarten and have now painted the outside blue and yellow and the inside white. Sam from our Logistics team has been out with them for the first week so you can expect an update on her time with the group (with pictures) very soon. They have also been enjoying cooling off in the river and attending church with the local community.

Alpha 2, Gravity water feed in Bulud Batu

Alpha 2 have started the phase with a few issues on the project site. Due to a lack of water pressure, two of the four header tanks were not filling up with water as there wasn’t enough pressure to get there and so the group have levelled a new area of ground and plan to move the header tanks.

Continuing to lay pipe through the village and levelling off for the header tank move has taken much of the week, however, the group did enjoy a day off on Sunday making jewellery and hammocks. Yesterday (Monday) an engineer from our partner PACOS paid the team a visit to give the team some support in rectifying the issue with the header tanks.

Alpha 3, Gravity water feed in Boribi

Alpha 3 are getting on really well with planning and laying the pipe from the dam site to the village. They have also created a platform for the header tanks to connect with the dam. They have been attending church with the locals, playing volleyball with the children and also teaching English which the Venturers and PMs alike have really enjoyed.

Alpha 4, Maliau Basin

Alpha 4 spent the first few days finishing work on the sky bridge which they completed on Saturday. Following its completion the group have now delved deeper into the Maliau Basin conservation area and set up camp at Ginseng camp. They have spent the last few days shuttling food from a nearby camp into Ginseng and plan to carry out camp improvements at the Ginseng camp over the next week.

Alpha 5, Imbak Canyon

Alpha 5 are working hard on the foundations of the suspension bridge and making great progress. They have made squares for the foundations and are also making a new zip wire for transporting the logs.

Despite enduring some rather wet weather the group has been making the most of their time and they have had the Rangers over for dinner, celebrated PM Connor’s birthday and are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Loop on Wednesday.

Alpha 6, Biodiversity Survey

Alpha 6 have being busy checking bird nets and mammal traps regularly throughout every day and so far caught 11 birds and four mammals. Amongst those birds have been a couple of Kingfishers!

The group moved materials down to the construction site early on in the week; however, work on the research centre was unfortunately delayed due to issues with water on the roads. Nevertheless, Alpha 6 started marking out the site and are making a start on the foundations.  Yesterday (Monday) they dug 30 holes in four hours!

The group has also enjoyed a superhero themed fancy dress dinner, night time frogging and playing cards. The Loop will be visiting Alpha 6 on Friday.

Alpha 7, Dive Trek

After an initial first day in the classroom with Borneo Divers, or shopping in KK, Alpha 7 spent a great couple of days on Dive Island. The divers in the group all got their PADI certificates and ended the course by planting coral and the non-divers enjoyed their time relaxing on the beach or snorkelling.

On Monday the group left the island and spent the day travelling by bus and then 4x4 to Long Pasia where they set up their first camp. They are now trekking until changeover but I will try and provide an update on all of the adventure groups next week.

Alpha 8, Trek Dive

Alpha 8 have endured a rather wet start to the phase. Trekking to a new camp everyday, but on Sunday had a rest day after four days of being on the move. They spent their day off at Bamboo Camp learning jungle skills from local guide Noor and generally relaxing.  The group set off again on Monday and had an amazing time at Maga Falls camp yesterday and spirits are high, despite a wet start.

Alpha 9, Trek Dive Trek

We met up with Alpha 9 at the Filipino market in KK on Sunday after they had spent a day in the classroom. The group reported that the first four days trekking had been great and the group were getting on really well. They were really looking forward to getting back to trekking despite battling some fairly wet weather so far and were in great spirits to be heading over to Dive Island.

Those of the group not diving were looking forward to relaxing with a book and planning some evening entertainment and after a day in the classroom the divers of the group were eager to get suited up and in the water to put things in to practice.

As always I apologise for the lack of photos from the groups, but when the Loop and Fieldbase members who are currently out on project return from their visits, I will be sure to get them on the blog.

Visit to A3 (Phase 2)

I know phase 3 is now in full swing but it is always best to let the groups settle in before bombarding the blogs with updates. So in the spirit of using this first week to catch you up on the past phase I wanted to tell you about my three days in Boribi at the end of phase 2 with Alpha 3.

I arrived on a brilliant day – Fiona’s 18th birthday! Although celebrations were already well under way when I arrived, I brought with me a green (coconut) swiss roll cake, a card and a box of “Endless Joy” sweets for her and the group. As the morning had been spent working on the dam construction, I arrived, ate lunch and was quickly instructed to put my boots on as we were going to some bat caves.

Fiona and her birthday swiss roll cake
Endless Joy

Alpha 3 have fully immersed themselves in the local community and in doing so, met a man who owned two bat caves – yes a real life Batman! The caves were very very dark and smelt horrendous but those of the group who were brave enough really will never forget this experience.

Fiona’s birthday continued into the evening with some unusual Raleigh based birthday games and challenges. I discovered that I can eat 8 crackers in a record breaking 90seconds - who knew? A delicious pasta dinner was prepared by a team of birthday chefs and lots of merriment was enjoyed by all.

The next day was a rest day and the group worked on their skit for changeover, wrote in their journals and the PMs started having end of phase one to ones with the Venturers.

Whilst this was going on Izzie, Rex and Louis took me up to the dam site so I could see the progress they had made. The dam was to be completed the next day and looking at the 17ft dam there really was very little left to be finished.

Rex, Izzie and Louis
In the evening, continuing with the 18th birthday celebrations, we held an ‘F’ fancy dress competition in honour of Fiona. The costumes were inspired:

Costumes included: a fitness freak, flow, flamingo, father, feline, Frodo, a French man, a fella....
The following morning we got up bright and early to get up to the dam site and mix the final batches of wet and dry cement to tidy up the protruding wire framework. After a few hours work, the group signed their names in the concrete of the dam we trekked back down to the camp to prepare for the closing ceremony that the village had prepared for us.

Daan, Steve, Alex and Fran mixing cement

Emma, Tash, Fiona, Erwin, Daan, Alex, Steve and Fran working on the dam site
After an Easter weekend church service – with translation from our HCV Rex – and lots of singing in Malay, Kat and Vera were taken off to the Venturers room to be dressed up in traditional costume. As we waited for the girls to be dressed, the community set up some drums in the communal area and began to perform a local dance. As the drumming persisted they began to teach the Raleigh group and dressed the boys up.

Alex and Daan

Vera and PM Kat
After Vera and Kat were announced and presented, we demonstrated our own cultural dance. As both Izzie and Fiona are Scottish, during the birthday celebrations the previous night, we had been taught the traditional Scottish dance; Strip the Willow. We absolutely loved performing and that the local community were so eager to be involved. Hydrating on fresh coconuts and indulging in a feast of food the celebrations continued into the evening.

A3 being presented with thank you gifts
The group were presented with handmade necklaces and bracelets to thank them for helping the community get closer to having water in the second half of the village. Kat and Rex were also presented with additional gifts, Kat for her moving speech and Rex for his translation skills during the phase. This was a highly emotional point as after attending weekly church services, enjoying homestays with local families, sharing meals, teaching English and playing volleyball and badminton with the children, friendships had blossomed. It was also special as the group really stood back and appreciated how their hard work had impacted on the lives of this community.

It was a privilege to be witness to these final days for the phase two group in Boribi and I will always remember my time there - and the delicious rainbow cake.

A full Alpha group update will be uploaded later on today.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Alpha 2, Phase 2 – Venturer account

by Asher Spencer

Our time at Alpha 2 started with a heart warming black tie dinner. Both Venturers and PMs went all out with their costumes either wearing penguin suits or dresses. Inhibitions were broken down as the camp was rife with dancing and laughter; the ridiculous costumes were a great way for us to bond as a new group.

Work began at the weir and involved digging trenches to lay the pipes by the header tanks and mixing cement to concrete the weir. Despite a minor setback from a small leak in the pipe the problem was quickly resolved. Laying the pipe itself was hard work but immensely satisfying once complete. The group could finally see the fruits of their labour as the gravity water feed began to take a firm shape. The excitement in the air was and still is palpable.

Clearing the route was also a key part of our work. This involved using parangs to slash away at dense undergrowth to create a path for the pipe to be laid. Unfortunately, we were often reduced to watching as Aunty (the Head of the Village) and her fellow villagers had ninja-like abilities with a parang and worked them with ease and sped the process up.

Our first night staying at Aunty’s house was hilarious. All the villagers came together to welcome us. There was a really vibrant energy coursing through the house and once again the place was alive with laughter and dancing. The cause of much of this laughter came from our pretty awful karaoke efforts. The night was a major success and both the locals and Alpha group parted the next day feeling considerably closer and more comfortable with one another.

Soon it was time for a well deserved and much needed rest day. An impromptu barber shop was set up as Sal produced a mixed bag of haircuts. Two stripes for Alpha 2 were branded into many heads – we even managed to attack members of the Loop. We also spent the day filming some of the Expedition music video which began to take shape with some hysterical spontaneous choreography.

Our second night at Aunty’s was slightly less energetic but the food was very impressive, with a range of dishes for us to try.  Everyone was really eager to dig in and there was a really great atmosphere between the villagers and us. We were bursting with a real sense of community and left the next day with full stomachs and big smiles on our faces.

World Water Day was arguably the most emotional and significant day the team experienced. Both Mitch and Jimmy gave moving speeches about water co-operation which were translated by Sabrina and Shirley. Then it was Aunty’s turn and as she spoke tears began to flow freely down her cheeks. No translation was needed to convey the power or intensity of her emotions. It was a touching moment which will surely be etched into the memory of our group for years to come. The speech was followed with the cutting of AWAS tape and the weir was declared finished. We watched the water rise to the top in awe. Yet another memorable day in Alpha 2.

The rest of the phase was filled with clearing paths and laying lots and lots of pipe, integrating with the local community and enjoying ourselves as a group. Our fancy dress efforts remained fantastic until the end and watching the gorgeous sunset in Bulud Batu as the pleasant afternoon slipped into a cool evening was always great. It was a unique experience, during which the entire group shared an equal appreciation of the wonderful community in which we were living.

A day on Dive Island with Alpha 7


Waking up early in the bashas and getting up to watch the sunrise over Mount Kinabalu was the perfect start to yet another great day with Alpha 7.

Eva and Fiona
Beginning the final phase on dive island is giving everyone a great opportunity to spend some quality time together and bond properly as a team before they tackle the trek.

Lee, Fiona, Hugh, Casper, Sarah and Chris set off to complete more of their Open Water and Advanced Open Water dives and us non divers spent the day together on the tiny island of Mamutik.

Nav, Lewis, Mitch and I went for a for a little walk through the trees to the other side of the island and watched the sea lapping against the rocks. It is such a beautiful place.

Time for some snorkelling and even those who weren't diving saw lots of brightly coloured fish and coral just a few seconds away from the soft white sand.

Alyrene, Lewi, Nav, Mitch

As we regrouped for lunch, its clear to see how well the group are getting on already. Some of them have been on phases together in the past and for some it’s their first time working together but the mixture of personalities and humour are a great combination.

The divers then had to complete their exams (which we found out later that they had all passed with flying colours!) The rest of the team chilled on the beach with some more snorkelling, reading, chatting and generally making the most of this beautiful setting.

Hugh, Casper, Ian and Jake doing the radio check

Being a static site the cooking facilities are great and the chefs tonight, Lee, Eva and Steven, cooked up a treat of fried rice followed by pineapple fritters with chocolate sauce. 

They were hard at work in the kitchen as the rest of the group hiked up to watch the sunset. Such a stunning place to watch the sky turn orange over the south china sea as they pondered what country they would end up in if they swam directly North from there.

Lewi and Hugh watching the sunset

Steven and Fiona were in charge of the evening entertainment so after the ‘Legend of the Day’ nominations they organised a great quiz with a round of 'Murderer' (as played by Alpha 3 on phase 2), guess the embarrassing moments and lots of fun as everyone got to know each other better.

The team then watched the moon rise from the jetty before drifting off to sleep in the bashas in preparation for another incredible day on the island.

Dive Island