Rob’s story: Inspired to continue to make an impact

18th December 2017

What made you take part in a Raleigh Expedition?

I’d gone through a tough final year of University and wanted to get away and do something useful with my time. Raleigh International was a big organisation and Borneo sounded like the coolest place out of all the options. It was quite unplanned, but I knew that I wanted to do something useful. I have to admit that I didn’t do a huge amount of research behind it but I was excited about the adventure.

What did you learn from the experience?

It was the first insight into different cultures that I’d had. I have travelled quite a lot through Europe but coming to Asia was a big jump and I learnt a lot. Whilst living in a community, I saw how different people from a rural culture live – what’s important to them and how much that is overlooked in the UK. We seem to worry about a lot of stuff that people don’t need to worry about. The stresses of working life at home are unnecessary. I learnt a lot about the importance of family and friends and not to worry about the little things.

What projects did you do?

I helped build a rural workshop where I spent three weeks living in a village called Sungai Magandai in North Sabah. We did a lot of the groundwork at the beginning of the project. I took part in a 16-day trek, which was another level and another step into the unknown with the group which was cool. Living in the trees was unreal, sleeping in just a hammock. If it rains you get absolutely soaked – you just sleep in a puddle, but the next day you put your bag back on and just get on with it.
Finally, I went to the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre (TRCRC), where we planted trees and learnt about deforestation and the effect that palm oil plantations have on the environment and the orangutans. That was the last project I did, and it really hit home the importance of our work. It really put it into perspective how we need to make a concerted effort to look after the world we live in.

Rob at TRCRC
Rob at TRCRC

What’s your favourite memory of the expedition?

The village was my favourite part. An important part of it was getting to know the villagers there and the project we were doing was cool. The only sad part was being the first group there so we weren’t able to see the end. I could only see what was going on via photos. The people there were the best part. That’s why I wanted to come back and see what, if anything, had changed.

What has it inspired you to do afterwards?

Going back, it took me ages to settle back into life at home. I knew I was going to come travelling again after University, but I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I knew that my friend, Joe wanted to go travelling as well. I wanted to challenge myself before enjoying the standard travelling stuff. So, we thought, what could we do before going to Asia? I spoke to Chris (a VM from 16E expedition) about what he’d been up to before we’d met in Raleigh, he mentioned about travelling to Nepal and trekking to Everest Basecamp. He highly recommended it and he also gave me the name of his guide, Arjun, who we ended up spending our whole month with.

Tell us about how you got involved in a WASH project in Nepal.

Arjun, our trek guide mentioned that his village was struggling to get any water. In Nepal, there is a wet season and a dry season. The dry season is very dry for them. The hills are very steep, so this means that they have lots of rain during the rainy season but barely any during the dry season and their drinking water supply dwindles. Many of the houses in the village were also devastated by the earthquake in 2015. We felt extremely motivated to do something about the water so decided to fundraise to build a gravity water fed system.

In April 2017, we set up a JustGiving page and asked all our friends and family to support the cause. As part of our fundraising, we did some car boot sales and a charity quiz night. Over 120 people turned up for a quiz, some fish and chips and a beer night. People were incredibly generous.

What was it like when you reached Nepal?

The site of the WASH project
The site of the WASH project

We had one day in Kathmandu before heading to the village, to have a look around and meet the families there. It’s a completely different world, there were about 10 houses, spread out and it’s very rural. We used a 10-metre piece of string to measure out the length of where the pipe will lay.

It was all put into perspective when we were living in the village about how little the villagers had. It was an important experience, but we struggled a lot that first week with the culture shock. One of the best parts was getting to know Arjun’s family.
We then contacted several warehouses to make sure the supplies were available and what it would cost. We knew that before we went trekking so that it was all in place when we returned. We also continued to receive several donations whilst we were out in Nepal. It was important for us to keep everyone updated on the progress of the project as we felt like they were as invested as we were. Arjun stayed with us in Kathmandu after the trek. He had a lot of different contacts which helped us get everything we needed to the village. We wanted to travel with the truck carrying the pipe. Unfortunately this was not possible, there was a National Holiday to celebrate a religious festival which made things very difficult to coordinate.

Whilst we were sorting logistics out in the city, Arjun was speaking to the villagers and asking them to start digging the trench for the pipes. They had to dig a certain depth down for the irrigation pipes so that when they were ploughing rice fields, they wouldn’t damage the piping. When we arrived in the village again, most of the pipe route had been dug. We helped the plumber there to connect all the pipes together and lay them correctly.

What was about Raleigh that helped you gain the skills to deliver this programme?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Raleigh – it was a truly unforgettable experience. It gave me the motivation to want to step up and lead a project and handle the logistics. Without Raleigh, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to take it one step further. If I hadn’t had the experience of living and working in a different culture I don’t think I would have been able to make the Nepal project work. It was because of simple things like packing your bag and having everything where you need to it be. If I hadn’t have been on Raleigh I wouldn’t have known how to do it – it’s been able to focus on certain things, make decisions quickly and be aware of what is achievable. I was able to put in place forward thinking and be aware of the impact it might have as well as being patient and understanding when things don’t quite go to plan.

Why did you visit Sungai Magandai again?

Rob during his expedition at Sungai Magandai
Rob during his expedition at Sungai Magandai

The original project was to build an electrical workshop for people in the village to build and maintain solar panels. They had elderly women in their village who went off for training in India for 6 months to learn how ‘Solar Grannies’ become Solar panel technicians. It was a great boost for the whole village. When my team arrived, it was just a field so we had to clear the ground for the foundations and build a frame.

It was always my aim to come back and see the finished project and catch up with everyone. We came back within a year and I couldn’t wait to see the people again. It was an ideal opportunity as we were over this side of the world. I remember there being some solar panels in disrepair at the school on our first visit, so it was great to see they’d been fixed and that there were panels on most of the roofs. The workshop looked fantastic and the community really appeared to be thriving.

What’s next?

The project in Nepal is well on the way to being finished and we hope it’ll be done in early next year. Until then, we’re continuing travelling and then starting jobs in March. We’d like to continue to support Arjun and his trekking company and we hope that we can do a lot of this from the UK. Our aim is to help create a base for volunteers to stay and help out in the village.

Interview by Florence

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Malaysian Borneo