Raleigh volunteers have “enthusiasm, passion and a sense of adventure”

2nd August 2017

There’s a framed magazine cover on the wall – global business magazine Forbes proclaiming Dato’ Tengku Adlin as ‘Sabah’s eco-warrier’. It’s accompanied by an image of the now 77-year-old’s face being buffeted by wind just moments after he leapt out of a plane.

“Oh that,” he practically dismisses. “Someone came and asked me questions like you are here talking to me now. And a few years later someone told me that they’d seen me in Forbes.”

Dato’ Tengku Adlin has not spent decades working to protect Sabah’s environment for fame. Neither does he really have the time to fully comprehend who is in his office asking him questions. But his unrelenting enthusiasm for the incredible biodiversity in the rainforests of Borneo means he will always find time to talk to whoever is interested.

It all started in 1986. Dato’ Tengku Adlin was working in ancient tropical rainforest in Danum Valley where research scientists needed some help with their fieldwork. Dr Clive Marsh, a British scientist who was to become instrumental to the area becoming protected, suggested Operation Raleigh might be able to assist.

The first expedition in 1987 involved five projects including coral reef surveys and building a community centre in a rural community. Volunteers also carved new trails and installed ladders up the almost untouched eastern side of Mount Kinabalu – enabling scientists to research the stunning biodiversity there.

“It was a landmark project, because it enabled people to climb east Kinabalu, which never happened before – we only knew the west side of the mountain. We needed to have more exploration and research to protect the botanical species which are there.

“Unless you know them you don’t understand. It’s why you do all this research. If you know you will understand. If you understand you will appreciate nature. The moment you love you will automatically conserve.

“Borneo is a model for the world about how the community can live in harmony with nature.”

When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Sabah in 2012, Dato’ Tengku Adlin was responsible for hoisting them up some of the world’s tallest trees. His explanation is simple: “81% of life on earth is in the canopy of trees.”

“The rainforest is our natural resource. It’s our tank to give oxygen to the world.”

His own journey to Sabah was reluctant. Dato’ Tengku Adlin grew up in Peninsular Malaysia and, against his own wishes, he was sent to Sabah to start a housing authority for low income families when he worked for the government.

“When I arrived in Kota Kinabalu I saw the sea and I saw the mountains…” he trails off, as he recalls the start of his love of Sabah.

“I like the environment so I just naturally gravitated towards it.”

From Raleigh’s arrival, Dato’ Tengku Adlin was impressed by volunteers’ “enthusiasm, passion and sense for adventure”.

“They also grew a respect for the community and they want to do more for the community and nature when they leave.

“I did not imagine Raleigh would still be here 30 years later – I’m really pleased that Raleigh is still in Sabah. Without them we may have found volunteers, but it would not have been as structured, well trained or properly run.

“It’s a great example of how an international NGO can come here and do something sustainable and be well received by the local community, accepted by the people who live here.”

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