My experience volunteering with Raleigh International in Malaysian Borneo by Sophie Babbs.

Firstly, before I begin I would like to say a huge thank you, for the grant I received from the Eleanor Peel Trust, terima kasih. It was a massive help towards my target, for me to have the ability to participate in the 10 week volunteering trip to Malaysian Borneo with Raleigh International. This trip had three different aspects to it an environmental phase, an adventure phase, and a community phase.

My first phase was the environmental phase, based at Danum Valley Conservation Area. Danum Valley is 438 square kilometres of primary and secondary rainforest and is a highly protected world-renowned conservation and research area, famous for its rich biodiversity and abundant wildlife. I was aiding Raleigh International and the Danum Valley staff in building a suspension bridge. This bridge will provide better access to the primary rainforest for researchers, subsequently, aiding in more efficient conservation work being carried out. Even though Raleigh did not finish the suspension bridge, we helped with a significant amount of the work. Another task we helped the researches with is camera trapping, to aid in cataloguing the species and number of animals in the area. Both, the bridge and camera trapping, will aid Danum Valley on its path to getting a UNESCO world heritage status in the future.

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My second phase was the adventure phase, which was a 17 day trek through the Crocker Range rainforest. This trek is designed for us to develop as individual people and as a team, to see what we can achieve physically in arduous and challenging terrain. We had to be self-sufficient, carrying all that we would need, supplies and equipment, between the group. We were wild camping along the trails and had to have a minimal to no effect on our surroundings, so the rainforest or environment would not be harmed.

My third and final phase was the community phase, based in the village Kampung Mempakad. Upon entering the village there were no sanitation facilities, or access to any safe and reliable running water. We helped the villages build, a dam at the natural spring, with water pipes around the whole village, and with a tap for each of the 38 houses. We also helped to build three toilets and handwashing facilities for the village to share.

This whole experience is something that I would could never have had the opportunity to do anywhere else. This trip was phenomenal, and an eye opener at times too. Danum Valley I found magical for the wildlife I got to see, seeing monkeys most days, having wild orangutans over our camp and work site, having bearded pigs and civets in camp, and even just the noises of the insects at all times of day. Being able to have trekked into the primary rainforest, which is a rare thing to be able to do, was just amazing, and an experience I will forever treasure.

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Trekking the Crocker Range, I found one of the hardest things I have ever done, both physically and mentally, with 20kg rucksacks filled with all of the provisions we will need to be self-sufficient. We were required to be day leader at least once and lead the group on the trek, setting up camp,  delegating the tasks, and making group decisions for the day. This I found challenging, but I am pleased I did it as it, made me stronger as a person and a leader, having done it in a harsh environment. Overall, trek was very rewarding, with some amazing mountain range views every day, and I got an amazing feeling upon walking back into base camp at the end. Which I have never felt or will never feel that type of feeling again knowing I completed, the 17 day trek in the rainforest completely self-sufficient, was amazing.

Mempakad was a massive eye opener to the ways some people have to live, and this made me more aware of what I am doing. Seeing a village where everyone has smartphones, yet no access to running water was a mad thought and yet it was happening here. It showed me that not everyone in the world has access to running water or sanitation, that one of the ways to help them, is for charities like Raleigh going in and lending a hand. It was also important to work with the villages, teaching them how to maintain the pipes after we had left, therefore, if there was a problem they could fix it themselves, rather going back to where they were before we arrived. I will never forget the joy on the people faces when they got safe running water to their village for the first time in 50 years, it was an extraordinary feeling to know we have helped them. Additionally, volunteering here showed me that I can change the way I live at home, like trying to use less water, after having lived on water rations during my time in the village.

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Overall, this was an amazing experience for me to have had the opportunity to have, and was a massive eye opener in many ways, but something that I really want to do again and raise awareness about. I realised how privileged we are just because of where we were born and how anyone can achieve anything they set their mind to no matter how hard it may seem at the time. I have gained in confidence as a person, in who I am and travelling. I have come out of this whole experience knowing what I want to do to help the world, not only in conservation, but now in communities too. One of the other most rewarding parts of this entire expedition is how genuine friendship have been built between volunteers from all over the world and communities I was in, and I will treasure these friendships for the rest of my life.

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