A trip to Kampung Nibang, Sabah

Since February, Selangor, Malaysia’s most populous state and its economic and industrial hub, has been in a water rationing programme.

Severe drought in months prior to the rationing had reduced water levels at key catchment areas to almost rock bottom. Even with rain showers returning recently, it had not hit the right water catchment areas at all. With prolonged rationing and a worrying outlook, the public and businesses are in a furore over the government’s past water management methods and the contractors appointed to do the job.

The public have now resorted to collecting rainwater just to have a consistent source of water.

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The state of being without clean water and not having water flowing out of taps and showers in a home and in the office is indeed a nightmare for many urbanites used to having clean water gushing out from opened taps. The discomfort and inconvenience of not having a proper shower, to cook, to wash clothes etc. interrupts daily lives of adults and children. Time is wasted on water collection, be it from a water truck, a friend who has water supply, or another natural water source.

It was timely then, that we were recently invited by Coca-Cola to visit a rural community in the northern Pitas district of Sabah state where the famous soft-drinks maker, partnering with Raleigh International, has been delivering a safe and reliable water supply to a rural village.

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I was traveling with Kadri Taib, Coca-Cola Malaysia’s Public Affairs & Communications Director, to Kampung Nibang to attend a ceremony to officiate the “Clean Water for Communities” project completion. This was a partnership between Coca-Cola Malaysia and Raleigh International, since 2006, in the deliver of gravity water fed systems to remote villages.

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Mount Kinabalu peak

Landing in Kota Kinabalu, we were transported overland to a major town in the North, Kota Marudu. On a busy single lane road, we passed by villages, paddy fields, mountains, and even got a glimpse of the majestic Mount Kinabalu. Kota Marudu isn’t as sleepy a town as I imagined.

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Throughout the day, this is the key point where lorries, trucks and cars fueled up or carry back diesel to the remote areas. Large warehouse retail outlets provide a widespread choice of tools, machines and household needs.

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Intricate weaves – a Rungus tribe cottage industry

At the hotel, Kadri met up with 2 Rungus women who had been traveling several hours earlier and at great expense to show him traditional weaves as potential souvenir gifts. They had been recommended by Pacos Trust, a community-based organisation (CBO) dedicated to improving the socio-economic and wellbeing of indigenous communities in Sabah. We were rather impressed with the intricacy and detail of the designs.

With some free time, I walked some distance on a busy, dusty road to Taman Goshen, a bustling retail center, for food and household shopping.

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Vegetable Market in Taman Goshen

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Lucy manning her families vegetable ‘plot’

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‘Meja Bola’ or Pool, a favourite past time in Sabah

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Very, very fresh seafood – clear eyes, red gills, no stench, firm flesh

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Yellow Fin Tuna – cheap enough?

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A friendly lady who struck up a conversation with me thinking I was Korean

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Papaya flowers, a favourite of this lady. Papaya flowers are boiled to reduce its bitterness then fried

During dinner, the affable Kadri who loves his rice and lauk pauk (local cuisine), shared that the clean water project is part of Coke’s social responsibility and commitment on water sustainability. To date, the project has benefited almost 16,000 rural folks. Coke’s global social agenda is to return to communities and nature an amount of water equivalent to what they would use in their beverages and their production by year 2020. Its a big task, I thought.  At present, Coke sells 1.9 billion drinks a day, globally.

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Crazy wheels from a Kota Marudu car modification enthusiast

The next morning, we met the Raleigh team, and convoyed our way to the village on a truck. The first hour or so, the journey had been smooth on decent tarmac roads lining the coast and fishermen villages. The conditions soon diminished into disrepair – roads with sunken holes, and eventually dirt trails as we entered the forest inland. The journey slowed down further as the truck negotiated uneven and corroded clay surfaces, and high gradient climbs and descents. We were lucky it had been a dry spell. Being stuck in mud would have increased our journey time by several hours. Definitely unpleasant if we weren’t in a well equipped and modified 4X4.

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We arrived Kampung Nibang mid day to humidity and searing temperatures which would continue to rise throughout the afternoon. Fresh out of the air-conditioned truck, our skin soon glossed over with sweat, from the heat and humidity. Kampung Nibang has 268 people, most of whom are subsistence farmers, and 56 households that are very widely spread (the furthest being about 3 hours trek apart).

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I walked across a suspension bridge over a big river to reach the village. This got me thinking why river water couldn’t be collected for cooking and cleaning. I found out from Philipa Newell, the Raleigh Borneo Country Manager, that the river water is not safe for consumption due to pollution from plantation fertilizers, human waste, and animal waste.

I noticed there were new power lines along the journey in and there were cables coming into the village but there was no electricity. The foundations had been laid several months ago. Better things to come? The villagers are probably still eagerly awaiting that day to come.

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Chants of children reading their books aloud could be heard from a school on a hill. We crossed a field then followed a path, passing by dilapidated houses, to a community hall where a crowd of villagers had already gathered, waiting for honored guests to arrive to officiate the big event.

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Inside the hall, a wooden shack built by past volunteer groups was still, devoid of wind and fan. It was a little like a mild sauna. The heat was barely manageable for me but villagers and the young Raleigh volunteers calmly listened to congratulatory speeches made by the village head, heads of  JKK, Asian Forestry Company, Raleigh International, and also Kadri.

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Philipa in her speech, mentioned that having safe and reliable water is an essential human right. Without access to this basic necessity, it is a burden on villagers, particularly women and children who spend hours toiling with water collection duties. This impinges on their quality of life. The completion of the project therefore provides the folks of Kampung Nibang more time to study, play and concentrate on pursuits that improve their economic status and well being. Villagers are also educated on how to maintain the water system and sanitary measures so there is community ownership. This makes the project sustainable without further assistance.

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Philipa, Kadri and the village children

New to this years project is the WASH program which adds the building of a sanitation system and inculcates sanitary education to villagers. This provides an added value to the clean water program. The necessity of the WASH program was imperative, due to studies showing villagers had poor sanitation conditions and practices even when clean water was already provided.

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Lisa Glithero, a Raleigh project manager recounted her experiences together with the other project leaders working on the project. She mentions that the clean water project removes the burden of having young children go out to collect clean water from a highland source, several kilometers away. A chore that not only takes away the child from education but apparently robs a parent of a child each year due to risks involved in getting to or returning from the water source.

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Left to Right: Roel Brinkhorst (Holland), Lee Jia Wei (Malaysia) and Louis De Monfort (UK)

Before the meeting concluded, a young volunteer aka ‘venturer’ recounts his  joyous and difficult moments on joining the NPO, working on the gravity-fed water system and sanitation centers, and his personal development.

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Louis giving his speech and translated by Jia Wei to Malay language

There are big challenges when joining the program. Volunteers, between 17 to 25 years,  first hurdle is to raise funds to contribute to the program. Next there are the challenges in working and living in a new environment. For 10 weeks, a volunteer is subjected to not-so-comfortable living conditions, a new culture, language barriers and possibly exposure to diseases. These experiences test one’s ability to accommodate, compromise and work around difficult situations. It is not easy for anyone young or old to handle. It builds character, helps one to appreciate the little things, and toughens one up to harsh realities of life.

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Waste disposal system for the toilets

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Tippy Taps – ‘ technology transfer’ from Africa

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I once visited a Raleigh recruitment drive but I was way past the age limit by then. At the village, I was informed I could volunteer as a project leader but I’ve become too eccentric in my ways and prefer the comforts of a city over communal living in a remote area without ‘connectivity’ for weeks on end.
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Signage made by the village children

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It isn’t all just hardwork for the venturers. Through observation, and chatting with them, I saw how a strong bond had form with their teammates as well as with the village folk. The children have their favourite venturers and you can see them running towards them, embracing and holding their hands. Cultural and language barriers are broken. Both the lives from the east and the west have come together to celebrate something good. It is a touching view.

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And she was just standing there; some fear, some excitement and some curiosity over the visitors to her village

More images from the visit…

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Comments

  1. It seems like a very worthwhile project. I salute companies that are serious with their CSR activities. I do wonder however if Coca Cola is using the local water supply to bottle and sell and what are the long term implications/ cost to the environment and society of bottled water?

    • From what I’ve gathered through discussions, local water is used. By how much? I do not know. The water undergoes a strict quality refinement process before it is carbonated and mixed with the syrup. Long term implications and cost to the environment? Well IMHO it depends on the global climate conditions.

  2. It’s great to see corporations do good for a change. I also enjoy seeing pics of Sabah … I visited this state of Malaysia a few years back and I have warm memories from my time there!

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