Note: This story initially was published in Going Places, the in-flight magazine of Malaysia Airlines, and is being reposted with permission on Coca-Cola Journey.
All eyes are on Sadin Limun as he turns on the newly installed tap in Kampung Kalampun's common area. The sight of cold water gushing out, which many of us take for granted, brings wide grins to everyone's faces. "It's much easier now," Sadin, the 57-year-old village chief, says enthusiastically. "Much more convenient."
Surrounded by lush jungles, Kampung Kalampun in the east Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo island is home to about 150 villagers from the Murut tribe, who mostly work in palm oil plantations. The village is well-organised and has electricity, a kindergarten and school, and a spacious community hall.
But up until recently, villagers relied on a rainwater harvesting system for their daily drinking, washing and cleaning needs. On days when the rains failed, the womenfolk hiked to a river two kilometres away to collect water in buckets. Now, each household is served by an improved public water supply from four tanks in the village, thanks to youth-based charity Raleigh Borneo, which came in to install a gravity-fed water system (GFWS).
The charity is a branch of Raleigh International, a non-profit organisation dedicated to developing youth leaders through community programmes in Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nepal, Costa Rica and Tanzania. Its programmes mostly revolve around water and sanitation, and a majority of its volunteers are between 17 and 25 years old.
In Sabah, Raleigh works with
Since its inception in 2006, the programme has reached over 20,000 people from 42 villages across Sabah. “The need for clean water in rural parts of Malaysia is a hidden need. Unless you’re willing to come out into the remote regions, you won’t be able to see it,” says Rashida Bhaiji, Raleigh Borneo’s Country Programme Manager.
To identify communities in need, Raleigh works with PACOS for technical expertise, networking and understanding of local customs. Once a village is chosen, it will meet up with the community for a baseline survey and asset mapping. Certain criteria must also be met.
The water source, usually a river, must not be polluted and should be free from chemicals or fertilisers. It should also be located on higher ground. Next, the villagers have to agree to participate and maintain the facilities. “We want to ensure that the system is sustainable in the long run, and that the villagers will have the knowledge and skills to repair or expand on existing infrastructure,” Rashida elaborates.
Volunteers and villagers often sleep, eat and work on a project together. In Kampung Kalampun, one can see the profound impact volunteers have had on the locals and vice versa, despite their short stay. Basic English phrases written on manila cardboards are plastered all over the community hall, as are art pieces done by the local children together with the volunteers.
“We intend to return to communities and to nature an amount of water equivalent to what is used in our beverages and production by 2020, and we are working towards that through more community water projects,” he adds.
Raleigh targets to reach another 10,000 people in rural Sabah under its Clean Water For Communities project. It also plans to expand its network across the region while encouraging Malaysian youths to participate in its volunteer programme. “Between 2017 and 2020, we would like to see at least 32 Malaysians and maybe 10 international volunteers on any given expedition,” says Rashida.
To volunteer, register online at raleighborneo.org.
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