What is involved in being a fieldbase PM on a raleigh expedition?

19th April 2017

I was lucky to be allowed unpaid leave from my usual job at Warwick University so that I could join the 17A expedition here in Borneo.  I am not alone in this and was surprised to find that a large number of the other VMs were either taking time out, considering complete changes of direction or had just resigned prior to joining Raleigh.  The majority are quite a bit younger than me and we are all at different stages in our lives, but as Raleigh encourages applications from people aged 25 – 75 our team has a great wealth of skills and experience.

12 weeks ago we arrived full of enthusiasm, eager to find out more about the work that Raleigh is doing in Borneo and wanting to get involved as soon as possible.  The VM team is made up of – fieldbased VMs whose  roles includes administration, communication, logistics and photography, and project based VMs or Project Managers (PMs), who go out and work alongside venturers on project sites.  We also have medics who have a dual responsibility as both fieldbase medic and a PM.

Fieldbase PMs

So… why would a fifty something year old woman like me want to leave her family and job, and travel to Malaysia to spend almost four months volunteering?

Well, I have wanted to visit Malaysia for many years and the sustainable development work that Raleigh carry out is something that I am very interested in.  At various stages I have worked with young people in a variety of roles and also worked in the charity sector both paid and as a volunteer so being able to combine my love of travel with volunteering was a definite incentive when I was thinking about taking some time out after a very stressful year.  A couple of people I loved dearly had lost the opportunity to do things on their own wish lists due to terminal illness and it made me realise that you don’t know what is around the corner and that if I really wanted to do this then I needed to make it happen. Luckily I have an amazingly supportive family and boss, so here I am.

My paid employment is an admin role so it made sense to apply to be an Administrator at fieldbase where I could best bring my experience to the expedition. The application and assessment process are the same regardless of what role you apply for and it was great meeting people from a variety of backgrounds during the process.

The main responsibility I have as expedition administrator is being a member of the operational team, supporting the expedition from the office on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu.  It is my role to maintain the administration systems of the expedition both within the main office and through a mobile office at basecamp where we hold induction and changeovers.  It also means laundry and stationery runs and taking a turn on 24-hour radio duty.

Field based doesn’t mean being confined to an office environment, as with venturer induction and two changeovers taking place at basecamp we have also been busy driving the bravos, our Land Rover Defenders, back and forth fully loaded with supplies and equipment to establish a fully functioning training environment. During these periods, we have great opportunities to be involved with the groups themselves, meeting the venturers and hearing about their experiences and stories from phase whilst providing a station so they can call home and running the well-received shop where they can buy treats and essential toiletries.

Joy helping to carry the logs equipment at basecamp ready for the venturers arrival

In addition to my expedition admin responsibilities, I have helped the logistics team, carried out some research for the Country Director and have also been involved in the administration for a bespoke project which ran alongside expedition for some engineering undergraduates.  I have also been to visit project sites on “The Loop”; taking the shop, messages from home to venturers and PMs and any replacement equipment/supplies.  During these Loop visits we had the opportunity to stay for a few days with groups at each project site, finding out more about what they have been doing, such as visiting dams, helping with baseline surveys and doing a bit of sand/gravel shifting.  Sleeping arrangements have varied from a metal framed bunk bed (fieldbase) to hammocks, sleeping on the floor in a wooden stilted house, a community hall, a hostel and a visitor cabin. At arrival to each group the welcome and entertainment from the venturers has been great.  A prize is awarded each phase for the best loop entertainment which is a bit of an incentive and we have experienced everything from star gazing, a proposal/engagement dinner/wedding in two days plus villagers making musical instruments from bamboo leading to a fabulous afternoon’s musical entertainment.  We have also been cooked some amazing meals by venturers and VMs from a well-stocked but basic list of supplies – who knew chicken luncheon meat could actually taste quite good – and been served fruit crumble and even doughnuts.

A traditional malay house the project team lived in whilst on community phase and also where the fieldbase team stayed whilst on ‘the loop’

Bringing safe water and sanitation to rural communities is vitally important, and being able to visit these communities and meet with the friendly and generous people who live there has been an amazing experience.  The ability of the venturers, along with their VMs to build dams, lay pipes, build platforms for water storage tanks and construct tandas (toilets) within a short timescale is astonishing and the impact is life changing for the communities they are working in.  I am so impressed with how much the venturers have managed to achieve and how much they have developed both as individuals and part of their groups.

I have also had the opportunity to visit the two NRM (natural resource management) projects.  In Danum Valley Raleigh are helping to build a pedestrian suspension bridge to help scientists and tourists  access to part of the primary rainforest which is currently difficult to access easily, assisting the sustainable forest management work being carried out in that area. At TRCRC (Tropical Rainforest Conservation Research Centre) a group has been working at a nursery with staff who are collecting seeds from critically endangered species of trees, and then planting seedlings in an effort to conserve and preserve the tropical rainforest.

Kathy from the logistics team helping with the work at TRCRC whilst out on a project visit

Five or so years ago I would have been desperate to experience trekking the Crocker Range – the adventurous part of the venturers’ experience here. I am certainly not fit or agile enough now to trek for 17 days, but, we all had a taste in our induction and I know from visiting the trek groups on the loop and hearing their stories how proud the venturers are of completing such a tough challenge.

What a fantastic experience I am having and all from volunteering with Raleigh.  The Raleigh Borneo team of employed staff have been a great source of knowledge and expertise to us volunteers.  Whatever your age and circumstances, I would encourage anyone who has an interest in sustainable development, and working with young people, to consider making time to volunteer.  Raleigh have projects of varying lengths and there will be a role for you. I will leave here having had an incredible time working alongside some inspirational young people.   I have visited some amazing communities, spent time with some really interesting local people and will take back some great memories.  Thank you Raleigh!



Climate and Conservation Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Youth In Civil Society Malaysian Borneo