Sharing from Raleigh Borneo Expedition 2019: Elsie

 By: Elsie

I’m not good at expressing feelings or telling stories, but here I am, sharing with you all about my first Raleigh experience and how Raleigh has changed me a lot.

To be honest, I did not know about Raleigh up until this year, when my colleague asked me if I was interested to join Raleigh a month before the expedition was to start. After a brief introduction about them, I instantly fell in love with Raleigh and what it does, since I really like volunteering. My fundraising is also fully covered by Ability Expeditions, so I decided to sign up for it.

As time is ticking, the day finally comes. With my heart racing, I was the first venturer to arrive at basecamp. Feeling lost and shy, I was welcomed with a warm smile by the Raleigh venture managers (VMs) and I met my lovely VMs Doris and Xing. After settling my things, I followed them to the airport to welcome the other venturers. After hours of waiting, everyone came and we departed back to basecamp.

During the four days of induction, I met my Delta friends. I was very happy to meet them but at the same time, I was curious and excited about what will happen for the next few days. There was one night when Doris and Xing asked me to share something about Borneo, and I was like ‘wow, can I do this? What should I share with them?’ I was very nervous as I’m not used talking to people whom I just met, but hey, I did it even though my explanation was not that good.

The days go by, and it was time for Phase 1 to begin and to join a new group (Alpha 1). I was meeting the new group members but I have difficulty in remembering their names because all of their names are in Chinese. But that didn't stop me from getting excited for my 1st phase, which is trekking.

Eleven days of trekking taught me a lot of things. I can never actually believe that I completed this trekking phase. During trekking, I suffered from chest pain and the group had to stop for a while. At that time, I cried in pain. I felt like I was such a burden to them because I slowed the group down. However, my group members helped me carry my hammock and pots. I’m very grateful for their help but I’m a bit disappointed with myself because I needed other people to carry my things.

I’m disappointed because I rarely ask other people for help. I’m not used to asking for help. I have the belief that “I can do this by myself” since I was a kid. I told myself 'you need to this by yourself and don’t burden others, as they also have things to carry.' However, after Laowu told me that I can ask for help and be dependent on my group members, I came to realize that I can't do everything by myself. Sometimes, I need and can depend on my group members for the things I can’t do by myself when I need to.

I also remember there was a night where everyone was having a discussion. I was at the corner, listening to what they were talking about and suddenly, tears started streaming down my face. I knew at that moment, I was at my limit. I felt so sad because I did not understand what they were talking about and discussing. I was sad that I couldn't take part in the group discussion, I couldn't raise my arguments and I couldn't give my opinions.

Every night, I felt that I was being left out and I was not in the group. This was one of my biggest challenges during the whole month of expedition. Actually, there’s Yeemun and Henry, who can help me with the translation. But I didn’t really want to depend on them to always help me with the translation. I really didn’t know what I should do in order for me to tackle this challenge until Carrot gave me an advice that maybe, I could use this and that way to communicate with them. He even challenged me to be the next day leader.

So, for the sake of change and to be a better me, I took his challenge and gave it a try. Starting from teaching them how to cut pineapples, rebung (bamboo shoot), teaching simple malay sentences (“Aku cinta kamu”, “Terima kasih”, “Sama-sama”) and how to sing our proud Sabahan song called “Sayang Kinabalu”. Interestingly, it is not hard to communicate with them as long as I have a topic and I am brave to talk to them. 

In addition to that, I also gained a lot of knowledge from our jungle guides, like jungle medicine and how to make bamboo craft. I’m just so amazed that plants in the jungle have so many uses and it can also turn into a beautiful big and small crafts. Well yes, I do know about it, but there was so much input that I got during the trekking and it just made me happy to learn about it. Apart from that, I enhanced a bit of my “parang” (machete) skill.

As the trekking phase came nearer to its end, we became closer to each other. I can see that actually. The best moments that I really can’t forget during the trekking phase was when everyone gathered to eat together, the moments when everyone encouraged, supported and helped each other to keep going on, especially on the hilly parts, and the moment when everyone enjoyed and saw the beautiful sceneries, sunset and sunrise along the trek. One thing that I want to say is that I’m really thankful to have met and been in one group (Alpha 4) with them, as they are the best group I ever be with. “THANK YOU ALPHA 4”

Moving on to my Phase 2, I was sent to TRCRC, Lahad Datu for the environmental project. Before I knew where I was going, Xing came to me and said that she will miss me. At that moment, I knew that I will be going for an environmental project with a new group (Alpha 2), new team members and new venture managers. During the index, the local venturers were asked which do we prefer, community or environmental? For me, I really wanted to go for a community project, but luck was not on my side.

Since I’ll be going to TRCRC, I told myself that it’s okay, plus going there was not bad at all because I was working with Ability Expeditions, a company that runs educational expeditions for schools, universities and youth clubs, I can learn something from TRCRC that I can share with my colleagues and contribute something to help develop our small nursery at TAC, which we can use as an environmental project for our school expeditions in the future.

During the 12 days of Phase 2, of course, there were language barrier and communication problems, but it was not that bad like Phase 1. Why? Because everyone was trying to speak English and whenever I wanted to know something when they’re talking in Chinese, I just said “why” many times. I was also learning simple Chinese words from them. In exchange, I taught them English. It’s fun to learn Chinese with them. To be frank, I used to learn Mandarin before when I was in university as my elective for a year and a half, however, I can only remember the basic words.

While in TRCRC, most of the time, we were transferring polybags. With that small act, we already contributed a lot to save the rainforest in Sabah from deforestation for agriculture and development for the future generations to see. I also learned how to make Eco-Brick from Anu, our Medic VM, during Phase 2. Eco-brick is very easy to make and it is one of the few ways to effectively sequester plastic.

Due to that Eco-Brick idea that Anu introduced to us, I’m proposing and currently doing an Eco-Brick project with Ability Expeditions and adding this to our environment and community service projects. I enjoyed my time in TRCRC, especially during the trip to the quarry to see the sunrise and caving at Tepadong Cave. It’s good to sometimes have a break from bustling life and from the phone to just enjoy the surrounding nature. It makes me closer to nature and has this kind of healing that I need while doing all those volunteering work at TRCRC.

Sometimes, I also have deep thoughts about life while watching the sunrise and stars at night, which I rarely do. At TRCRC, I love the moment when we all do the job together, like through a “human chain” to transfer the polybags, the sweat while working, gazing at the starry sky and sunrise together and eating with the TRCRC staffs. For me, those moments are valuable because it is something that I rarely do due to my busy life and as I stay in the city.

After the Raleigh expedition ended, I have the so-called expeditions blues for almost two weeks. I just missed everyone and hoped those 5 weeks of expedition can be extended, but of course, that can’t happen. Coming back to work the next day, I shared all my experiences and knowledge I gained from Raleigh. I was very thankful to Ability Expeditions for giving me this opportunity to join Raleigh.

Raleigh taught me a lot of things. While everyone was a stranger at first, they have now turned into a family of mine, a Raleigh family. Spending the days and nights with everyone, I came out from my comfort zone and gained self-improvement, improving my leadership skills and other aspects as well. I learned to be adaptable and brave each day to overcome my challenges and to embrace the knowledge that I gained from the guides. I can use these lessons to guide other young people that I will work with in the future.

Not to forget, to practice and to be a positive influence to others on creating awareness about environmental issues and to be thankful for everything that I have right now. 

“Be brave, take risks, nothing can substitute experience” a quote by Paulo Coehle simply says that success of any kind takes risks, it means putting yourself on the line and risking failure in order to better yourself and your life. As for that, I hope in the future I can join Raleigh again as a VM to see young people develop themselves, to see how they go out from their comfort zone and at the same time, learn something from them and be a better version of myself.