How many of us would ditch our phones and live off the grid among the hills for a week in this day and age? Well, that’s what eight volunteers from all over Malaysia did.
Kg. Muk Ayun is located in Sarawak, approximately 60 km away from Kuching—an hour away by car and another ten minutes by boat from the jetty of Bengoh dam. It’s surrounded by a scenic view of lush hills, a lake, waterfalls nearby, and friendly villagers from the Bidayuh tribe. Currently, the population consists of 180 villagers and their main source of income comes from farming pepper, galangal, lemongrass, and vegetables.
The villagers fully depend on power generators for electricity and a gravity-fed water system which was built in 2015. However, water access to the village remains scarce and inconsistent due to damage of the dam. Because of this, villagers would have to collect water from the lake—which takes up too much time (think thirty minutes per trip)—or any other water source, including the rain as they have no storage tanks near their households.
Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Malaysia and ConocoPhillips saw this issue in the community and decided to partner together to ensure the villagers receive a consistent water supply via a fixed dam and water storage tanks. This would save a lot of hours for the villagers as well as help them in their livelihood activities so that they are able to get a stable income.
As this project required a bit more manual labor, GPF Malaysia decided to recruit volunteers as part of the fifth and final Global Peace Volunteer program for the year 2022.
What seemed like a daunting experience initially (imagine no phone signal or internet for a week), these eight volunteers took up the challenge and flew into Kuching from all over Malaysia, including Sabah, just to create a positive impact for the community.
Hard Days, Joyful Nights
A day before the arrival of the volunteers, the villagers transported the required materials for the water system from the Bengoh dam to the village. The next day, the villagers made their way to the water catchment site for a clean up session before the building of the dam commenced.
The first task that the volunteers had to carry out was to transport sand from the Bengoh dam to the village. This initial duty itself tested the volunteers’ mental and physical strength as they had to carry heavy bags of sand to the boat and off the boat and into the village.
The next day, they were divided into two teams with one team carrying materials from the jetty of the village to the water catchment site while the other team worked at the water catchment site itself.
In the middle of these labor-intensive days, the volunteers were brought lunch cooked by the women of the village, transported via bamboo; rice served in pitcher plant and wrapped with leaves (to be doubled up as plates), grilled fish, chicken, vegetables, and fruits to keep them fueled until the evening.
In the evenings, the volunteers and villagers got together in their community center where they were taught how to play the gong and learn traditional dances as well as engage with the locals and learn their culture.
Midway through the week, the volunteers were given a rest day which turned out to be rather eventful. They were taken to the waterfall for a picnic and then to a pepper farm and rice field to introduce them to the local way of farming.
The villagers took care of us really well, they made sure we always had enough food to eat. The nature surrounding Kg. Muk Ayun is so beautiful as well. Everything about this volunteering program is awesome. —Nurbatrisyia, volunteer
On the remaining days, the volunteers were then tasked with connecting pipes to the water storage tanks and the houses.
A farewell dinner was organized by the villagers on the last day to thank all the volunteers and the team that facilitated the project.
I learned so much from the villagers here, especially about their beautiful Bidayuh culture. —Amirul, volunteer
Dams Built, Bonds Strengthened
Despite a couple of volunteers falling ill during the week, a bee attack during one of the activities, and the erratic weather, all the volunteers managed to get back on their feet and kept going strongly. Some, if not all, of the volunteers had no prior experience of building water systems and fixing pipes but nevertheless were keen to learn and to execute the tasks.
We’ll take home a lot of lessons but the highlight for me is working with this team and the villagers—We’re powerful enough by just using our human forces and simple tools. We managed to move everything around and fix what we were supposed to without any heavy machinery. —Daniel, volunteer
As most of the volunteers were students and young professionals, their energy and enthusiasm was relentless and infectious to those around them. They created an impact in the community not only by the work they did but also by the bonds they created with the villagers.
We would like to say a huge thank you to our partner Conoco Phillips, the facilitating team, the villagers of Kg. Muk Ayun and the volunteers for a successful and impactful project completion. To many more in 2023!