A small market hums in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. As the sun beams down on the team stepping off a cool, air-conditioned coach, heat and anticipation hang in the air. A gentle breeze makes brightly patterned sarongs hanging from stalls dance with each flurry. Exotic fruits, rambutans and langsats, are piled high, each a mystery as yet undiscovered as storeholders sit in the shade, inviting the volunteers to smell, to taste. As the team waits to be collected by the villagers of Kiau Nuluh, our project site, we buy some fruit, not knowing the next time we’ll have fresh produce to complement our Raleigh rations on community phase. It isn’t long before villagers arrive and a train of cars crunches down a winding gravel track, taking us to our home for the next three weeks.
‘Coming down the road from the market is breathtaking,’ says project manager Sally and, truly, it is. At an altitude of over a thousand metres, the view from Kiau Nuluh is incredible, with wisps of cloud rolling down a valley that stretches as far as the eye can see. The sunsets here look like something from a painting, with dashes of violet streaked across the sky, the clouds in the valley glowing pink with the light of the setting sun. ‘Sitting watching the sunset, the fields, the mountains, the mist…we don’t get anything like this at home in the Netherlands,’ says Jorrit.
‘The first thing you see is the scenery but the next thing is the community members and children,’ remembers Oscar on arrival in Kiau Nuluh. We were made to feel welcome as soon as we set foot in the village, children running from the community centre, smiling and waving. ‘We are flattered that the villagers have given us the use of their community centre and clinic,’ says Thomas. The community centre is where the villagers are generously letting us stay and has become a kind of home for us. ‘It’s a bit of a reality check,’ muses Alena, ‘we all come from such a modern world, but it’s only really a small part of the world. You make this a home, sleeping on the floor, settling into a routine…I didn’t think we would become so comfortable!’ ‘It makes us grateful for what we have at home,’ adds Hidde.
Outside the clinic, a jagged crack cuts through the earth, a reminder of why Raleigh is here. In June, Kiau Nuluh experienced a 6.0 magnitude earthquake, the strongest to affect Malaysia since 1976. Although the village has several gravity fed water systems, two of these received structural damage due to the quake. This has limited the flow of water to the village and, with a population of 700, this supply is not adequate for the needs of the community. Making the steep climb out of the village, you can see how many pipes are broken and precious water wasted. Raleigh is here to help the villagers make repairs to existing pipes as well as laying an additional kilometre, thus increasing the flow of water to Kiau Nuluh.
As Raleigh volunteers, we are working alongside the villagers and PACOS (Partnership of Community Organisations Sabah), an organisation that strives to empower indigenous communities, to accomplish this. ‘This is their system,’ says Sally on the villagers of Kiau Nuluh. ‘They are proactive and want to do this in a way that is sustainable for them,’ a standpoint that echoes Raleigh’s own values of sustainable development. Indeed, the villagers have been very motivated, with one member of each household volunteering to work on the project in the coming weeks. Working as one unit, we have already made a level platform for the water tank with a safe path and stairs leading up to it. We have also carried pipes over bubbling streams, up steep banks and fruit-bearing farmland to where they are required above the village.
‘It’s good to feel we’re helping out,’ says Freya on our progress. ‘The villagers are really friendly and appreciate what we’re doing here,’ says Hidde. Even though the villagers have experienced losses, both infrastructural and personal, in the aftermath of the earthquake they are still friendly and upbeat. Setting up the radio as the sun was setting one evening, a woman stopped and gave us a gift of rambutans. Another day, a little boy climbed a tree and picked a bag’s worth of langsats for us to eat as we worked.
The real challenge of laying the pipe is yet to come, but we are pleased with what we have already achieved. ‘We have built a significant platform which should not only be able to aid our own phase, but on which other phases and locals can base later work,’ reflects Oscar. The work that Raleigh is doing is something the community wants, and needs. With their positivity and motivation, this project is something that will last long beyond the lifespan of this phase.