From adventure activities to community service, taking part in an Operation Raleighexpedition has left WILLIAM CHAN GUANG YU with many priceless experiences and memories.
Journal Entry: I’m sitting in a waterlogged hammock, with a tarpaulin over my head that (evidently) doesn’t work, my clothes soaking wet, my rucksack muddy, my headlight attracting an array of insects, on a treacherous hill someone brilliantly decided to name “The hill of death” And yet I’m having the time of my life. Arai maitti, as the Sabahans say... I’m loving it here.
ONLY ON a Raleigh expedition could I have felt so miserable one moment and ecstatic the next. I was put on a rollercoaster ride of a lifetime.
In February, while most of my peers were getting ready to start college, I decided to drop it all and embark on expedition 06A. I found out about Raleigh through my sister, and then joined RIKL, the Raleigh International Kuala Lumpur support group. Having just finished my SPM, worn-out after years of study, I needed a spark in my life to reignite that burnt-out passion. I decided that the timing was right to do something different with my life.
Raleigh International is a UK based youth development cum community service charity organisation which aims to inspire young people aged between 17 and 25 from all over the world through meaningful projects. These projects, divided into adventure, community and environment phases are carried out during three-month long expeditions.
To fund these expeditions participants are expected to raise a set amount of RM1,500 and another RM1,000 for the purchase of equipment and other miscellaneous uses. Fundraising takes place through various means such as sponsorship, donations, jumbo sales, selling t-shirts, etc.
Venturing into the unknown
I arrived at the BK2 terminal together with the other Malaysian venturers Justin, Jason, Aaron, John, Yew Weng, Shieh Ning and Pei Ting. We joined over 100 foreign venturers, most of them from the UK.
Before the expedition we underwent basic training. We were then put into our separate groups. I find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that I am now a minority in my own country. These foreigners seemed to be a weird bunch – some of them practised river crossings in their bikinis.
Before we parted on our separate ways, we were taken to a nice resort by the beach known as changeover. I and my team Alpha 5 are sent to Imbak Canyon Conservation Area, one of the last unspoilt and relatively unexplored places in Sabah
Three quarters of our way into Imbak, we stay the night in a makeshift hut by the banks of a river. It rained all night. In the morning we woke up to find out that the river is too high to cross and the locals say that landslides have cut us off. We are forced to spend the next four days in the hut waiting for the river to subside.
This proves to be an invaluable time to break the ice. I finally get to know my team-mates better and start to make new friends.
When we arrived at Imbak the first thing we did and set up our base camp and radio. We spent the rest of the phase working on our project site, working with Yayasan Sabah to build a rangers lodge.
Most of the memorable events happened outside the project site; Sam convincing me to shave my head bald, Matt and I on camp duty burning the rice into a nice shade of yellow, seeing how far upstream the river we can swim, celebrating Cat’s birthday, sneaking off to the rangers rooms to have a meal (and getting caught), our incredibly lame Valentine’s Day speed dating session and all in all just generally having a blast.
The BBC drops by
Halfway into the phase the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) decided to drop by in a helicopter, though they seemed more interested in the wildlife than us. They told us that they were looking for a place to shoot their documentary, and jokingly said wherever they had been they had managed to stumble across Raleigh.
I really enjoyed my stay at Imbak whether it was the wildlife, the rangers (who have got to be some of the nicest people in Sabah), or my teammates. By the end of the phase my entire perception of my teammates had changed dramatically; I loved these guys!
The end of my first phase marked the start of phase 2, the community phase. After a short recuperation period at changeover, I was put into my new group, Alpha 1 and this time around our project was the construction of a kindergarten in the remote village of Kg. Saguan. Built by Raleigh, coordinated by PACOS (Partners of the Community Organisation) and sponsored by Nestle.
I taught English in the local village school and discovered that pupils who were going to sit for their UPSR couldn’t recite the days of the week in English. How could this be happening in Malaysia? When the foreigners pointed out that KL and Sabah were part of the same country yet so different, I didn’t know how to answer.
The second changeover was really meaningful to me because that’s when I found out my SPM results. I was really nervous and debated whether I should wait till after the expedition, but my friends convinced me to make the call. I got straight 1As! I almost ran to Carmel, Lu, Ben and Jenna to tell them the good news. We sneaked out and celebrated in a restaurant down by the beach.
For my third and final phase I was part of “The cursed Alpha 6” as people had started to call it. This was because the last two phases had been plagued by a remarkable amount of setbacks. Such examples include a venturer falling of a cliff, outbreaks of diarrhoea and vomiting, venturers almost getting swept away while river crossing and altitude sickness problems, among others.
To kick off our phase we headed to Mamutik Island, part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. There we took a four-day PADI open-water dive course programme. Being someone who has never dived before, this was truly a bonus to an already amazing expedition, especially considering it would have cost me around RM800 had I done the course outside. Once we had gotten our qualifications, we began conducting underwater litter sweeps in the surrounding area. It was actually a really good chance to practise the skills we had learned.
For the next few days we were stationed at the Mahua Tambunan sub station, in the Crocker Range Park. After a short trek from Mahua Waterfall, we arrive at the famed hill of death. We’re there to complete the trail maintenance project the other Raleigh teams started.
Next up was trekking the ancient salt trail in the Crocker Range. To be honest the initial prospect of lugging around a 25kg rucksack and sleeping in the jungle was not very enticing but, looking back on it, trekking turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of my Raleigh experience.
I joined Raleigh with the intention of helping others, “saving the world,” as I would tell my friends. But in the end I was the one who benefited the most out of it. I received so much more than I could have possibly given. I learned so much during those three months, Raleigh will leave its venturers wanting for more.
Being away from home for such a long period of time however does entail some sacrifice, whether it’s missing your favourite EPL matches (or now perhaps the World Cup) or your sister filling up your PSD scholarship form wrongly.
However, all in all, Raleigh was a great and hugely rewarding experience and I’m proud that I was part of something so special. If you are interested in pushing the boundaries of your limitations look no further than Raleigh.