Why you should step out of your comfort zone - by volunteering

It’s been a month since I was back from my 10-week expedition (yes, almost 3 months!) with Raleigh International in Sabah and I’ve been reflecting my experience on what I had really gained throughout my whole adventure.
So what have I done for the past 10 weeks in the middle of nowhere in Sabah?

1. For the first 3 weeks, I was involved in the construction of a suspension bridge in the Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (Environmental Phase)

Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (ICCA) is one of the last untouched and relatively unexplored primary virgin rainforests in Sabah, if not the whole of Malaysia.
And to get to this place, we had to take a 6 hours ride in order to arrive at Imbak! (including 3 hours in 4x4’s and it was a horrendous experience because Jess Pomeroy spilled a bottle of so-called “watermelon” perfume and we almost suffocate throughout the ride *dying face*)
So, why are we building a suspension bridge in the middle of the jungle which is so isolated?
Yes, it may sound crazy at first, but the completion of a suspension bridge which will provide an important piece of infrastructure which will allow rangers and researchers to cross Imbak River safely throughout the year. I’m not gonna lie, working in such secluded condition is demanding; Aside from shifting gravel and sand for the past 3 weeks from point A and B (which is the laborious part), I really enjoyed myself waking up by the playful calls of the gibbons in the early morning; having waterfall showers every evening (when it’s not raining heavily *finger crossed*) as well as having good night chat and game sessions with my friends everyday;
Hence, we are contributing to a larger picture - in the long run!

2. And for the next 3 weeks, I went on trek at the Crocker Range (Adventure Phase)

Oh boy, trek.
Trek is one of the most feared phases of all at first; I remembered the moment when we were announced that we are not having trek on the first 3 weeks, we cheered and laughed the crap out of the one’s who got trek as their first phase.
The trekking was across arduous and physically challenging terrain, which often means that the team are extremely remote and need to be fully self sufficient, carrying all their own supplies and equipment.
Yes, it sounds daunting, the mere fact of carrying a week’s supply may deter people from taking up this challenge. But that is not all, guess what?
I broke the straps of my rucksack on the FIRST day of trek (Hooray!) and got bitten by a “potentially venomous” centipede later on. But when shit hits the fan, you just have to suck it up and keep on trekking (not literally tho, pls don’t do that ).
So what’s the point to trek for 19 days in the jungle? Does it have anything to do with volunteering?
Yeah, that was the question which initially came to me when I participated in this expedition; but the program itself does not only focus on what you can bring to others, but also focus on the development of you, yourself. It’s mainly emphasize on your personal growth in terms of leadership, teamwork and your attitude towards the situation you are put in; Overall, trek could be summed up to what we call “type-2 fun”, which is fun......when you think about it when you’ve finished it. (I’m just kidding, it’s really fun! *heh*)

3. For the final 3 weeks of my whole expedition, we went to Kampung Dimala to build a centralized water point. (Community Phase)

It reports that 25% of households in Sabah lacks a regular water supply
I was traumatized by the fact that access to clean water, a right that we took for granted and also an essential part of our daily life, seems to be a luxury for those living in the remote, hard-to-reach rural areas.
So, what can a bunch of volunteers with no specific related skills do? We worked with local NGOs (Inner Wheel Club, Rotary Club, and PACOS Trust) to install a centralized water point to provide the village with an easily accessible and clean water supply. Although it was not an easy task, but the thought of working with people who shares the same passion and ideologies with you really motivates you and no work is unachievable because we are all having fun, in a serious way! *heh* Moreover, I believe the TOP reason for people to volunteer themselves as tributes (okay, I know it’s not funneh) is because we all want to help people in need, the humanity aspect of it.
And till now, I still can’t forget the great moments we shared with the villagers during our stay!
  1. We celebrated Sinter Klaas with the kids (A dutch traditional celebration).
  2. We had Zumba sessions and football matches at the community center.
  3. Church visits and services on Sundays.
  4. Having loads of fresh supplies from the villagers that we are not able to finish (because we don’t have a fridge *cries*).
  5. And eating overcooked noodles by our lovely chefs - Thomas Bain & Guy Taylor;
  6. Duct taping an unripe papaya after slicing it into half by Doortje Smeets.
And the best part of the community project was that we are able to complete the whole gravity-fed water system within 3 weeks, by 15 venturers, 2 project managers and not forgetting, the villagers themselves;
Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us. - Wilma Rudolph
All in all, I stepped out of my comfort zone into the unknown by volunteering with a bunch of young people just like me; of course, volunteering itself does not limit to only the long term projects like I was involved with!
Volunteering can be with any organization that needs help, whether it’s something small or big; you never know how far your ripple may reach. So, where can I start?
No matter you are considering to be a day volunteer with your local zoo or helping the ones in need like what our passionate Malaysians are contributing at Street Feeders of KL, just prioritize a small amount of time in your schedule, and most importantly, action speaks louder than words :) Volunteering is underrated among the youth, it should not be an option but a way of life. Therefore, if you are not able to contribute at the time being, inspire others to contribute! :)
The world can never have too many volunteers!
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