Macquarie University and Global Leadership student Elizabeth King recently lived and worked in Borneo as part of her PACE (Professional and Community Engagement) studies. Here’s her blog about the unforgettable volunteer experience.
“Living and working in the jungle environment of Sabah, Borneo, was a truly amazing and unique experience. Myself and seven other girls from Macquarie University were lucky enough to be selected by PACE International to learn about village life and the struggles these remote communities face in relation to land rights.
We lived in a wonderful homestay in Kipouvo village, and although there were many comforts from home that we missed, after a week of adapting, laughing and learning, we learnt how to wash our hair in a challenging shower situation, how to deal with giant bugs and scorpions, and how to perfectly chop a pineapple.
Many of us conquered some significant fears too, including heights, eating fish and chicken feet, living without a proper fridge, trekking in 40 degree heat and roughing it in very remote communities. Every day brought laughs and challenges.
Our first week was spent with the staff of PACOS Trust, a non-government organisation that has supported and empowered communities in Sabah through a ‘grass roots’ approach. With the help and hospitality of this amazing organisation, we were able to gain an understanding of the land rights problems in Sabah, and begin to prepare for our field trips the next week.
We split off into two teams visiting Mangkadait and Malinsau. These villages are about five hours inland from Kota Kinabalu, and are situated among majestic and beautiful mountain terrain. It was not until we arrived and began to adapt to village life that we began to understand the very real and troubling nature of the challenges these wonderful communities face.
After five days of personal interviews with women, men, leaders and youth, as well clearing burnt forest areas, planting rice paddy and integrated farming (crops and animals that support each other), it became evident to us that there is no life for these people without their land. Their land is a sacred part of their community history and of their personal lives in a very intimate way, as well as being a necessary source of food, water, medicine and other materials. Being able to cultivate land together facilitates a strong sense of community, which ensures positive relationships, health, and excellent use of resources.
What we have seen and experienced has inspired and motivated us to do what we can to help these communities strengthen their Native Customary Rights, and gain official ownership of their land. We’re now working very hard as a team to consolidate all of our knowledge on the social, economic, political and spiritual aspects of these communities, and to prepare a document that can be used by the villagers to help claim proper, legal title to their land.
We are all very grateful to have had this opportunity to become immersed in a wonderfully different and challenging culture, and we encourage everyone to take that leap of faith and make the most of all the opportunities out there, especially the ones offered by the Global Leadership Program.
Once you see what is out there in the world, beyond your comfort zone and realm of understanding, you will feel a greater sense of responsibility as a global citizen, and will feel empowered to do what you can to help those who face intense daily struggles.
PACE International has helped me achieve my life-long goal of working overseas, and provided me with an amazing team, support and endless advice and encouragement so that I appreciated every minute. I came home with a greater understanding of different cultures and how we can make a sustainable difference in the world.
If you are wondering what to do with your next holidays, start to look for some opportunities, and make the most of your time as a student. You will never regret it, and never forget it!.
PACE International has opportunities for students to volunteer in Borneo, Vietnam, India, Cambodia, the Philippines and Peru this Summer vacation.
Elizabeth is studying a Bachelor of Arts with a Bachelor of Laws. International students can study a Bachelor of Arts in International Law and Global Governance.