Comms Officer Helen visits Alpha 7..

31st July 2013

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Alpha 7 are currently carrying out a special 3 week project during Phase 2 of expedition. I went along to see how the team are getting on in Kampung Tiong, a small village nestled in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.

"In the morning the sun rises up behind Mount Kinabalu - we feel so lucky to wake up to that each day"

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In 2004, Raleigh built a Kindergarten for the village of Kg.Tiong, located in the Taparuli region of Sabah.

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Education is a basic need which most western societies take for granted.  It is well documented that children who fail or drop out of education at any stage are hugely disadvantaged in future life.

DSC00697In Malaysia, the Government provides primary and secondary education for children aged 6 and above. But before a child can gain a place at school, they must first achieve a minimum standard of literacy and English at kindergarten.

However, young children have to travel (usually on foot) for many hours to reach one, a barrier to education Raleigh is helping to remove for numerous remote communities across Sabah.
 

The Kindergarten built by a previous Raleigh expedition 9 years ago has been well used by the community of Kg, Tiong. As well as a kindergarten, it also serves as a child day care centre to enable the parents to go to work. Raleigh is now back to give the building some well-deserved TLC and maintenance so that it can continue to serve the community.

Alpha 7 are spending a busy 3 weeks working directly with local villagers to repair a bowed floor, a leaky roof, replacing the ceiling, painting the interior and exteriors walls. Phew!

The Kindergarten also requires a toilet (or tandas) so that children no longer have to cross a road to reach a nearby building to use one. Additional pipes are also being laid to increase the supply of water for the Kindergarten's gravity-fed water system.

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It's a lot to get done inside a tight timeframe, yet Alpha 7 have still found the time to see first-hand why Sabah people are famed for their warmth, generosity and welcome.

 

 

 

 

“This is an exceptional village. They are generous with their hospitality, they are generous with their time and smiles. We work as one big family and we genuinely feel a part of it”

As soon as I arrived at the church building where Alpha 7 have made home, I was immediately greeted by the woman of the community, friendly dogs and beautiful children.

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Sadly, it was a rainy day when I visited and the low cloud was hiding the spectacular view of Mount Kinabalu. But this wasn't dampening anybody's spirits!

The women eagerly introduced themselves with the traditional Malay handshake known as a ‘salam’, a simple touching of palms.

Even the children took the time to run across and greet me with a handshake and welcome.

After radioing into Fieldbase to update 'Zero' on arriving at Kg.Tiong safely, I was kindly escorted under umbrellas across to where Alpha 7 were already boiling the kettle and '3-bowling' mugs for a nice cup of (Sabah) tea and a catch up. At the time of my visit, Alpha 7's Day Leader was Sam, he explained that the warm welcome I'd received was nothing out of the ordinary. Sam said:

 "On the day we arrived at Kg.Tiong we nearly didn't make it!”

“Kg.Tiong is in a hilly area overlooking Mount Kinabalu. The bus bringing us and all our team equipment was too big to drive around the tight corners of the very windy road leading to the village. We were stuck, and wondering how we were going to get everything and everyone to our destination safely and before dark. Then the villagers came out to meet us in 4x4 vehicles. They picked us up and between them shuttled everyone and all our kit in!"

He continued: "Because it was late, we were fully prepared for a meal of Raleigh Ration crackers, but instead we were led to the village community hall where they were holding an annual political meeting and served us a huge dinner of noodles, rice and chilli."

"Immediately we were brought into the heart of the community"

Kg. Tiong are a Dusun tribe consisting of around 32 houses with over 100 people living there. The school principle and community leader is Pusakag President Christopher who is the driving force for bringing Raleigh back to the village with the support of the kindergarten teacher Loidah Gokin, the political head in the community.

Mairi explained to me: "Pusakag President Christopher sat us down to talk us through the Do's and Don'ts of the village”.

They are:

  • Don't wear revealing clothing
  • Don't make loud noise after 10pm
  • Don't be shy
  • Do get involved
  • Do explore the village and treat it as your home

A pretty fair set of rules I thought!  Sophie agreed with me: "The community here are keen to make sure we don't feel isolated. They told us - If you see someone in the village, just follow them and see what they're doing. ha ha".

An attitude I would love to adopt at home. As I chatted to the team, the kindergarten teacher Loidah Gokin and women I'd just met started setting a lunch out.

IMG 2111Rosie explained: 
"Today they've made us a special lunch because we have visitors. We have eaten at houses in the village nearly everyday. The people have been so generous.

On my birthday, we were invited into a family household who cooked a whole chicken and baked me an amazing cake".
 
Harriet continued:
"We brought our own homemade contribution too! I cooked a dish of peppered beef with garlic and chickpeas using our Raleigh Rations. They loved it and there was more than enough for seconds". 

 
Social eating is a big part of this community

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The village grow their own rice in nearby paddy fields, there is an unlimited supply of freshly grown pac choy, vegetables, pineapples, mangoes and coconuts paranged from the neighbourhood trees!

I ask the PMs, Chris, Tamsin and Eva what the team do when they are not eating and dining out with the villagers?

Tamsin said: "There was a short delay with the delivery of materials when we first arrived, so we have put the time to good use by organising daily English lessons".

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"Once we have finished our daily work on the Kindergarten, we hold lessons for an hour a day. They've been teaching us some Malay and the dialect of Dunsun. It is just a simple few words in their language but they are so happy when we try!"

"Learning from each other has really brought the community together"

Chris said: "We have also been hosting football matches in the evenings".

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“The football teams are a mix of ages, genders, villagers and Raleigh but it still gets competitive!" 

I ask Eva how the kindergarten repairs are going. She said:

IMG 2067"In the short time the team have been here, we have dug the holes for both the new toilet block and kitchen foundations.

It's hard stony ground, so it's been a tough challenge to shovel the earth out".

"We've also been sanding and painting the walls and look forward to getting creative on the interior. The Venturers want to paint traditional English nursery rhymes on the walls to help the children learn the language".
 

Eileen added: "We've helped them create a brick and concrete welcome sign to the village at the entrance to Kg.Tiong, and we enjoy helping the locals at their rice farms for an afternoon".

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After a prayer in Maley led by Loidah, everyone sits down together to enjoy a hearty lunch of rice, vegetables and fish.

I then hand out the Venturer's blog messages and letters from home - it's the best bit about my role on expedition.

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While I overhear Alpha 7 telling stories friends and families have sent to them and laughing at funny things mum and dad have said, it's time for me to gather my things, wave farewell to the new friends I've made in Kg.Tiong and head back to Fieldbase..

..a little sad to be leaving an exceptionally hospitable community.