A group of youths on a two-week trip to a secluded place sounds
like something with high potential to backfire, or at the very least the
introductory line to a cautionary horror movie. I’m very happy to say
that things did not backfire. Well I mean, apart
from some casualties every now and then (swollen foot, stung by bees,
gastric pain,
the usual) but we had fun together. We had a lot of fun together.
Between the 11 of us we have an entire afternoon at the
Tom Harrison Memorial Hill, chilling out at the white verandah, beading, and
selfies, selfies, selfies. 

My experience in Bario could not have been as awesome as it was if any one in my team had been different. I’m glad to have been given the opportunity to meet and know such strong, intelligent people, and it’s nice to know that although the project has ended, we will always have Bario.

(I don’t actually have a story here, just wanted to show off the picture I took of the beads.)
Moving on to something a bit more serious, after coming back from Bario, when I came back and told people about my trip and life in Bario, I found that most of them reacted with stuff like “wow paddy planting! What a tiring life.” and similar things. Now, I will admit that when I first came to Bario, I compared life in Bario to city life quite often, but these days, I don’t know. I guess the words are said with good intentions but I find myself getting somewhat defensive because it just sounds patronizing. Sure, maybe some people are genuine and maybe I am reading too much into it. Or maybe I just know a lot of terrible people, I don’t know. But there is always this undercurrent of oh my god how could people live like that
in the words that I’ve come to expect when I tell people about my trip. Because I walk into Sina’s mother’s kebun
and she is perfectly contented tending to her fish pond. I watch my Sina
and her family effortlessly adapt to water rationing without a struggle.
And even if there was, it doesn’t make city life any better. 
I’m actually doing a terrible job explaining my thoughts, but luckily my fellow Project WHEE! participant Kan Wai Min similarly blogged about it in a way that is far more eloquent than anything I could say, in his post, Reassessing Happiness, Redefining Success.

Wai Min says: “It’s so fundamentally flawed to think that just because
someone doesn’t want, need or have the same things (tangible or intangible) that
you do, their sense of happiness is less
valid – because it is not.”

I probably sound like some spoiled person saying this but 2 weeks in Bario taught me that there is no rightful way to live. Just because someone spends their 9 – 5 planting paddy, it doesn’t mean that that value of life is any less compared to a 9 -5 in the office. Two weeks in Bario taught me to be open-minded when it came to new things. And not the kind of open-mindedness about accepting each other no matter our size or color (although that’s a very important things to be clear about so do keep your minds open!), but to really go in with a blank slate, watch and listen, learn and understand. 

The Essence of A Kelabit Woman

The Essence of A Kelabit Woman

On the first morning everyone was to officially start
following/ accompany their assigned Tepuqs and Sinas, Daniel received a text
from Aunty Dayang Nalin who is the lady I have been paired with saying she’ll
be late in picking me up from our longhouse because, get this- she had to put
out a bushfire!

I envisioned this woman in a firefighter uniform- looking
extremely badass- holding a big pipe with water blasting out extinguishing the
bushfire. Obviously I was over imagining but the feeling of awe was definitely

Aunty Dayang is tall and slender, with light makeup
brightening her elegant features and she wears jeans and three- inch wedges;
not your typical Kelabit women get up. But that’s Aunty Dayang for you- wearing
three- inch wedges when putting out bush fires.

Aunty Dayang and I at the airport

What is a typical Kelabit women supposed to be like though?
Well for Aunty Dayang’s case, she does everything in the name of servicing the
community. She is the person who escorts ministers sent by the government; she
deals with government officials regarding the agriculture of Bario, she also
goes out of her way to give anybody who needs a ride to the airport.

There are days where she is so busy that she doesn’t have
time to cook lunch for herself or drink water, hence the common occurrence of
dry and cracked lips. She sacrifices her own time tirelessly driving around to
have meetings with various people. Even if she has time to go home, she will
always find things to improve in her homestay.

The picture below shows Aunty Dayang’s homestay. The banners on the wall are a compilation of pictures she took herself which showcases Bario’s culture and people. She carried the tall ladder and and heavy banners herself, climbed up (even though she was afraid of heights) and nailed it on.

We coincidentally colour coordinated with the table cloths behind!

Aunty Dayang does have tiring days where she has to wait on
people causing her schedule to be messed up or she just has so many issues to
attend to she feels burnt out. But whenever the request for her help is needed,
she is ready no matter the circumstance.

She always tells me during our car ride conversations that
she is always willing to do anything for the benefit of the community. She
doesn’t need to, but she wants to. And that itself is a reminder to me that I
can’t afford to be selfish all the time.

And I have concluded that Kelabit women are just so selfless
and able. Everyday they are kept busy with the hard labour of planting,
reaping, sowing and maintaining their land. They practically uphold the
agricultural production considering they do all the planting by hand, yet they
still find the energy to cook, wash and care for their families.
Perhaps without them, the Kelabit women, every one of us project
participants wouldn’t have experienced such hospitality and care like we have.
And I admire their openness to accept us and be perceptive to the project
objective. Being the age of retirement, yet so eager and striving to learn
English is a great motivation to all that we are all able.

Ai Jin 

To, Tepuk Uloh; Sincerely, Ganit.

To, Tepuk Uloh; Sincerely, Ganit.

Tepuq Uloh, my assigned lady; whom I fondly call Tepuq (Grandmother) now, is one of
the few ladies in Bario, Sarawak to still harvest paddy all on her own
physical self. No additional help nor machines. Little did I know, that this one aspect of my Tepuq led to so
many other interesting facts that would still stay in my mind as a reminder to
gratitude and moderation.
Due to my delayed arrival to Bario, my meet and greet session with my Tepuq was a 10 minute conversation over the dining table and that was it! A day before my work day, I
confirmed with my Tepuq what was I going to do the on my first work day. It came as a surprise when she told me to meet her at her paddy field the following morning. I must say of everything I expected, I did not expect us to head straight to the paddy field! I was a little disappointed that I could not stay
back at the home and simply get to know her further before getting into work,
but I had to also understand that taking away work time from her would have meant wasting great amount of hours on a bright day which permits completing or partially completing to plant paddy on one of her paddy fields.
A sleepless night filled with
anxiety and excitement all at once lea me to a little hut, close to a big plot
of muddy, empty land the following chilly morning. Closer to the mountains, so
beautiful and so serene. I could actually hear birds chirping and unknown
sounds from the surroundings. Extremely calming to the mind. Tepuq Uloh’s paddy field was there, empty. I was slowly getting excited to kick start the planting of paddy! 

that my clothes would get dirty in the mud, I was given a pair of trousers and
cardigan to protect me from the heat. I was moved at her level of concern when
I told her I was going to go in the paddy barefoot, and she had a good laugh
when I mentioned I was to go in barefoot because she was going in barefoot too.
All of these little moments, taking place after only about a 10-15 minutes of introduction
the day before.

Stepped my right foot into the paddy
with chills running down my spine. The feeling of a new adventure; so
refreshing, so delightful and so comforting in the hands of a caring Tepuq.
Whilst teaching her English words only related to the surroundings and the
planting season, I realized that she too, wanted to really just share some of her
stories and get to know me further. From there, I understood that she has
multiple paddy fields around the area and works all of it by herself. Almost half
a day into planting paddy, my heart just sank thinking how one individual, ONE
individual, does all of these immense physical work on her own self.
At this point, my back feels like
it’s breaking into two, my thigh muscles feels like its tearing and here is my
Tepuq next to me, who is 70+ years old bending her back to plant paddy, for
five days a week from dawn till dusk on
all her paddy fields while the season allows and above it all still able to crack really funny jokes. I wondered at their perseverance, hard work, and most of all, the ability to really just
smile and simply enjoy their day at work. I really admire how strong my Tepuq is!

was still my first day with her at the paddy field, and she kept asking my name
again and again in between casual conversations when later, she starts to call
me random names. It took me a while to notice that they were all Kelabit names.
 After a few names, she said, ‘Saya
panggil kamu Ganit!’ (‘I will call you Ganit!’) This moment still gets me every
time as I still remember how I was missing my father and when she said, ‘Ganit!
‘, I was thinking what a coincidence it is to have been given this name. To be
honest, I never thought I will leave Bario with a  Kelabit name, knowing how special it is to
receive one, thus; I felt very special to have received one so quickly and the
fact that she shared her grandchild’s name with me.
It was the days I spent at the paddy
field with my Tepuq that I learnt, one should not worry too much. If you enjoy your work; not as an obligatory job you must rigidly
fulfill every day, but really as an acceptance to what makes your heart feel
light, you can smile at the end of your day. The exhaustion just to plant one
box of paddy field taught me moderation. From the first day of paddy planting,
I made sure I am always moderate in the amount of rice I take on my plate as
wasting a grain feels like a fear. It is so sad to know how much we waste food
on an average not knowing how much it takes to produce a grain of rice, what
more a bag of rice.
For the entire life lesson series you
have directly and indirectly shared with me over my paddy planting hours; for
reminding me that having wealth in the form of dough does not mean the world,
for reminding me, that being grounded and humble will bring me a long way in
life and for celebrating life with a lot of simplicity.
Thank you for accepting me so quickly into your life and trusting me in sharing all your personal stories; Terima kasih, Tepuq  Uloh! 🙂

How Bario Has Changed Me

Our stay in Bario was an
eye-opener to many of us in different ways. Subsequently, after having spent 16
days there, I have changed my attitude towards electricity, medical staff
availability, and food.


Bario’s major electricity
comes from their small hydro dam which is located about a half an hour walk
away from the longhouse in Bario Asal. So because it is such a small hydro dam,
it cannot generate a lot of power which means Bario is supplied with
electricity for about four hours a day only. They usually have power from about
7pm until 11pm. This made things like charging our phones or other chargeable
electronic equipment a bit challenging. And at night, we literally had to
lighten our ways by using our own torches – the lights didn’t work at nights.
So even though it wasn’t always very easy, it was still manageable. However,
this experience made me appreciate having constant electricity supply a lot
more; it has made me realize how important electrical power is and how much
convenience it offers. So after this experience, I have come to appreciate
things like lights (both in-house and outside) at night, fans and
air-conditioning during the day, my refrigerator, plugs that work 24/7 to
charge my phone and laptop, and my water heater in the morning a lot more.

Medical Staff Availability

In our last week, one of our
project members suffered from terrible stomach cramps and vomiting. It was quite
worrying because the pain was so bad that she was hardly responsive. As none of
us really knew what to do, I asked Dan to call the doctor at some point because
we simply didn’t know what was going on with our fellow WHEEtard. However, Dan
then informed us that the doctor was not available that very night which meant
we somehow had to take care of her on our own until the Bario Clinic would open
the next day at eight in the morning. It was about two o’clock in the morning
when we were informed about the doctor’s unavailability and that was a really,
really helpless and worrisome/scary moment. So one of us called her sister who
is a doctor to get her advice. So she told us to locate the pain in our fellow
WHEEtard’s stomach because if the pain happens to be from the right side, it
might very well be the appendix. And when this girl who was talking to her
sister on the phone mentioned the word “appendix”, there was a moment of
silence in that very room. We all knew that if that very stomach pain is caused
by her appendix then she needs immediate surgery. However, we also knew that
the next plane would only leave in about eight hours. So the looks we exchanged
in that very moment… Well you can imagine how worried we must have looked.
However, we did have some
medicine which we could give to her and we were advised to simply let her
sleep. So what we did was to take shifts – some people would always be up to
check whether she is doing fine. Then, in the following morning, she was
brought to the clinic whereby she was given some medication; she luckily
recovered within a day. This incident just made me realize how much we really
depend on 24/7 medical staff availability. We obviously do not need a doctor to
be around us at all times; however, when we actually do need one, we don’t wish
to wait for one for several hours. So this simply made appreciate constant
access to medical facilities in our urbanized place of stay a lot more. Knowing
that an ambulance is only a call away may be the standard for many, but because
of this experience, I see this as a luxury as there are a lot of people who do
not enjoy such a service.


Another thing I have come to
appreciate a lot more is food. After having seen and experienced how much hard
work is behind food production, I would never ever waste food again. Especially
after having worked on a paddy field, I have always eaten every rice corn on my
plate ever since I have returned from Bario. Farmers do a great job and we
wouldn’t be able to survive without them – they and their hard work needs to be
appreciated a lot more.

In conclusion, I am very,
very grateful for all these many experiences in Bario because they have made me
look at things differently – I value many things a lot more now.

Wise Wishes.

takes me two trains and one bus to transport me to university, every day. On
some days, I find myself being very reluctant to drag myself out of bed two
hours earlier only to reach my class on time. On some other days, I reach home
with just adequate energy to walk myself to shower and crawl myself into bed.
While I was in Bario, Sarawak, I
count myself fortunate to have witnessed not only the lives of the elderly
folks, but also the lives of the school going children. Over the couple of days
I have experienced at the schools, I have all my admiration towards how
respectful they have been. To us, complete strangers at first and friends, at
the end of the trip; I hope.
There was an interesting mix of
enthusiasm and a care free nature I saw in these children that had me thinking
of how much I spent most of my schooling years feeling rather pressured to
perform academically better and only that. I remember not liking to stay back
extra hours in the afternoon at school for classes and here I was, teaching
English to a class of Form 1 students during after school hours, with an
initial assumption that they were probably going to be napping in class and
completely ignore my existence.
However, to my pleasant surprise, I
had a great two hours teaching this bunch of excited and enthusiastic kids! I
felt like I was doing something right when the students were so appreciative
when I corrected their mistakes on their written essays. Getting them to
interact in the beginning was a tad bit difficult, but the class got so much
pleasurable when the awkwardness broke. Class ended abruptly one day, when the
teacher made an announcement requesting all students to make their way to the
hydro dam to have their bath as there was water rationing around Bario Asal.
Yet again I was amazed at how these
kids did not rant a single bit or heaved a sigh at the thought of hiking up to
the dam after a long day at school. They quickly got their towels and soaps,
grouped up and headed to the dam while some boys sang songs and some girls had
giggly chatters. At that moment in time, watching that sight; I had a hit of
realization towards an aspect of myself. I came to terms that I should really
reduce on focusing about my end of day exhaustion and simply try to look beyond
and continue the walk.
Sometimes, I give in too much,
simply too much towards my tiredness that the rest of my day goes to waste.
These children too, have reminded me to be a little carefree. To always add the
element of fun whenever possible. When I think about it, a little ease to the
mind doesn’t really kill anyway. I have learnt to look beyond the situation
and twist it into a little fun adventure. I would like to believe that these
children had great fun bathing at the dam, might I also add how fast these
children are at hiking!
More often than not, we all wanted
to be adults as soon as possible while we were still in school. Through these
children, I saw what schooling years and being young meant through a different
lens. Carefree, enthusiastic, they have fun and they are focused whenever

days into coming back home and returning back to my everyday routine, I have
these children at the back of my mind as a reminder that giving up really isn’t
an option. Sometimes, all I really need is to embrace the journey and celebrate
whatever it is the day presents to you; whether it is welcoming a complete
stranger to teach you an academic lesson or taking a hike to have a bath after
a long day at school.

Either way, life gives you a million
parachutes, board it or end up watching it go by.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find
the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!

 Mary Poppins, A Spoonful of Sugar
From KL to Cardiff to Bario

From KL to Cardiff to Bario

For 17 years, I have lived under the luxury care of my parents. Being the only child, I literally had all the attention from them, both wanted and unwanted attention. On one hand, I was under the waterfall of love, drenched with love from my parents; on the other hand, I was scrutinised from top to bottom, inside and outside, almost every secret I had they somehow knew it (who can really escape parents?). That was a double-edged sword for me, I love them, but I never felt that I ever had any privacy alone, nor any secrets that I am proud to keep to myself. I always wondered what it was like to live away from them, so when the scholarship offer to go to a college in Cardiff, Wales, UK arise, I took it, and what I always wondered became a reality.

Bario Airstrip

That tiny plane to Bario!

Living alone for a year was one of my highlights, proved that I can operate without parents constantly looking over my shoulder 24/7/365, however there was a drawback I never expected. After classes and dinner at 8pm, I entered my room and was greeted by my dead silent white-walled cubicle (I live alone). The small room, however comfortable, could never warm my heart. Ever since then, no matter how cheerful and happy I look with my friends in UK, deep inside I was lonely, being greeted by the same atmosphere in my room every day somehow got more and more depressing.

Miri Shoreline

Living alone for a while, Aunty Tagung’s reputation for having her own style of “motherly” was well-known by the time Batch 3 reached Bario. I was excited by the challenge, but was clueless as to how to build a relationship with her. On our first day, she literally gave me a full summary of her family and her life, while I sat there almost bewildered by the information overload. Ever since then, we usually talked about our family and ourselves. Other than that, we do not talk much, and we have those silent moments.

At times, I wondered what it was like to have a more affectionate lady, more talking, more jokes, and smiley faces all the time. This was different for Aunty, we talk, but at the same time, we have our peaceful moment focusing either on the job or the food, which honestly I enjoy, considering that I am an introvert. I guess we somehow mutually agreed as to when to talk and when to shut up, and we clicked well since then. She cared about me in many ways that maybe only a few people will understand, and I could not have asked any better than that. I may have only taught her only a few English words, but what she constantly reminded me subconsciously embed itself into my mind: no matter what success or failure, or how far you are, there is always home. Listening to her talking about her children becoming doctors and lawyers made me realise how much a mother care so much about her children, even after not seeing them for some time. With all the hardship she has went through, she still has her kids constantly in her mind, with her wall filled with their pictures. It made me regret when I don’t make the effort to contact my parents while studying abroad, now that I have the full picture of a mother missing her children.

Will cherish these guys! Batch 3 (Credits to YC)

Leaving Bario and Aunty was not easy at all, so many memories, so many relationship built with all the Tepuqs, Sinas and of course, my teammates there, it all started in those 2 weeks there. However, one thing taught by her would be always with me: how far we go, or how high we climb, we have to look back, and remember the people who took care of us when we were growing. It may be the most fundamental thing, but also the most ignored fact. I will be taking another 13 hours flight, travelling some 12,000km to Cardiff again soon for my second college year, but what she taught me will follow to Cardiff and beyond; I never knew before Project WHEE! that I would bring something from Bario to Cardiff.

Start Blank, Then Stop, Look and Listen

Ever imagined stepping into a foreign environment and meeting new people? We have been there before, meeting great people and not-so-great people. Once in a while before experiencing another culture, we are briefed on that culture, its dos and don’ts. However, we get so immersed in the happenings and events that we forget about the rules and norms. Sometimes, our beliefs about something is inaccurate or worse, offensive towards others. Maybe it is time to just stop for a while……
Let’s start with the biggest group of outsiders in Bario at that time: us. Most of the team have been through ToT (Training of Trainers) workshops, learning about what we are going into, and knowing where is safe to tread around. Those countless hours of culture sensitivity and stuff were not all a waste, in fact it did prepare some to a certain extent. Nevertheless, there were always some incidents that occurred because people momentarily forgot about which buttons to not push, incidents that can be avoided if we just stop and look. I admit, all of us had some hard time trying to tread around the norms and common rules of others there. We are human, who commits mistakes, but don’t you think some common mistakes can be easily avoided? There were numerous cases where misunderstanding could be avoided if people took more time to understand the situation better.

Batch 3 Group Selfie (Credits to Alicia)
We had our misunderstandings within the team and as a team with others, sometimes due to miscommunication, others rash actions. In the end, we have this big argument and discord among others which takes days to be settled. In most cases, all the intentions were good, it just was conveyed in a not-so-perfect manner. My Aunty Tagung, the lady I was assigned to, told me once that she was uncomfortable with people because they just talk too much, and not giving her enough privacy at times. I assume that those people have good intentions and just wanted a friendly chat, but maybe there is a limit to everything. There were times where people did not understand the situation clearly and jump into rash conclusions, making the situation worse than ever. If only all of us did take our time and analyse it more, many incidents can be avoided.
During my time with Project WHEE! in Bario, we came across foreign tourists staying at the area. 
Most were actually very heart-warming people, people who wished you could have known them better. There were also people who already had their stereotyped mind-set on others, enforcing their own ideology to make conclusions of some things. When we step into a totally new environment, we have to enter it with a clean, blank mind, without any assumptions or preconceptions of the place. It makes a lot of difference not to assume things, and acting safe with others. The assumption of wrong ideas may cause some discomfort towards others, because the mind-set we have on them would subconsciously be translated into our actions, tone and words. We may not notice those changes, but many on the receiving end do detect them. Those heart-warming tourists were very courteous in nature and were very thoughtful in their actions and speech, I am glad to have met those rare sincere kindness of people. If only more people were like that, if only we could learn to be as such, the world would have been a much quiet, and kind place.

No doubt all of us will be experiencing a new culture or living in a new place soon, at the same time meeting new people too. Just bear in mind, before anything, if we just stop, look around and analyse the situation we are in, and listen to what the other person has to say before making any action, less conflicts will happen. Many misunderstandings can be easily avoided, if we all start on a blank page of mind, and just stop, look and listen.
Lesson Learnt

Lesson Learnt

Aunty Jenette and I 
Throughout my time in Bario,
I was assigned to Aunty Jenette. She is the mother to Aunty Nicole, the Bario
Asal coordinator. I first met Aunty Jenette on the day we landed in Bario as we were journeying to Tepuq Sinah Rang’s homestay.
Aunty Jenette has numerous jobs. From owning a bead shop, planting paddy in the fields and to running a homestay, I was immediately impressed because doing these three different things require many different skills and also hard work. 
When we first spoke, I noticed that Aunty Jenette speaks very fluent English. During the meet and greet session with all the other Tepuq, I remember talking to Aunty Jenette and getting to know her. From the start, she was very lively and open to talk though she barely knew me. She shared with me the jobs that she does, about her family especially her children and even explained to me The Bario Revival in 1973 when I asked of the significance of the cross on Prayer Mountain. She spoke most of the time while I listened. 

I was really glad that I got paired with Aunty Jenette. Throughout the next two weeks, I also realised that Aunty Jenette is also a very good cook and without a doubt she is a very knowledgeable woman who knows Bario like the back of her hand. Whenever I asked her about bits and pieces of this place she grew up in, she happily tells me its history such as the various places in Bario that were once an airstrip and how the longhouses in Bario got their names. 

Through her telling me these stories, I realised that I myself do not quite know the history of the city that I live in. If someone were to ask me about it, I would most likely stammer and be tongue-tied while struggling to recall some details of it. To be frank, I have been ignorant about it and did not think it is important because I thought that no one would ask me of it so there is no need to know such information. Now, as I think about it, I realise that it is not about just knowing such information but it is about appreciating how the place where I lived came about and the challenges overcame to become what it is today. 

This, is one of the lessons learnt while spending time with Aunty Jenette.

The Story of Us.

The Story of Us.


Do you believe in fate? How amazing it is for you to meet someone for the first time and yet feel a sense of familiarity with the individual? There is just a comfortable feeling, the feeling as if you have met the person before but you just do not know where.

Well, that was how I felt the first time I met Nenek Ros. When we were first introduced to our ladies which we were going to be partnering with for the next 16 days, Nenek and me just started talking and it was nice because Nenek reminded me of my own grandmother. Nenek calls me Kijan, after her daughter.

The path leading up to Nenek Ros’ sweet home.

This is where Nenek Ros lives. Every morning I will head over to her house, which is 10 minutes from the longhouse I lived in to teach and learn with Nenek.

“Nenek, oh Nek, Kijan datang!” 
“Oh ya, nak” 

Nenek will then come to the window and smile gently, watching me walking up the stairs to the house. Nenek and me do household chores together, and while we do it, we will be singing too. Nenek has a very sweet voice, and we will sing the songs that we learnt in church. I have to admit, the only time I sing is in the showers, but I was singing my lungs out with Nenek. It was like our very own private karaoke session.

Nenek and my favourite song from church.

Nenek and I learn to exchange greetings in English and Bahasa Kelabit. Nenek would laugh shyly as we repeat terms like “Good Morning” and “Good Afternoon” after each other.

“Good morning Nenek!!”
“Good morning, Kijan!”

I had trouble saying and remembering “Betapi Leketang” (Good Morning) but Nenek would teach me patiently and she would say,

“Asalkan Kijan cuba, sudah baik”

Sometimes, we would both burst into laughter without any reason. But I just find it so cute and when Nenek smiles, it just makes me smile too.

After doing housework, Nenek and me would both have tea. We would sit down and stare out quietly, just enjoying the company of each other.

Nenek would tell me the stories of her youth, while I share with her about the stories of my childhood.

I am very blessed to have bonding moments like this with Nenek. I have learnt so much from Nenek, and there is still much more for me to learn each day from my dear Nenek.

“You can’t be the best at everything. You might not even be the best at anything. But, one can always be your best self. And that is enough.”

This is one of the most important things that I have learnt from Nenek Ros.
 Terima Kasih Nenek. 
Signing off, 


A Letter to My Fellow Project WHEE! Comrades

A Letter to My Fellow Project WHEE! Comrades

It’s been two months since I returned home. I feel a sense of pride, yet a pang of sadness for the adventure that I embarked on with my fellow batch mates and Kelabit family. So, life goes on and sinking back into my typical schedule is inevitable. But, what about what I experienced there? The people I met, the things I learnt, the emotions I felt? Does this mean I have to leave them behind? When I first came home, I thought “yes” was the answer. However, time has taught me that, there is more to my experience in Bario than community work that stopped after two weeks.

The idea that we cannot turn back time and relive an experience that meant the world to us, just bothers me. But, I revel in the fact that that memory was so impeccable that I would do anything to go back there. Go back to a moment when life was simpler than burning the midnight out for a last minute assignment, or being mad at the world because my wifi wouldn’t connect to my phone. At moments like this, I think to myself there really must be more to life than this.

Something unpredictable happened while I was in Bario. An unforeseen spirit was revived in me, and it continues to reside in me even now as I resume to my life in Kuala Lumpur. I was plagued with a spirit that craves adventures, soughts out  meaningful relationships, longs for a simple yet productive life, and appreciates it’s birthplace. But, I don’t want this only for myself but the people around me, as well.

You change in deep measures, when the people you return to remain the same, untouched.
So what do you do? You could 
A- smother yourself with dissatisfaction of the unchanged world you have returned to, or 
B- do whatever it takes to extend the pool of change that you had set foot into. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m picking B. Being back from Bario has taught me that I don’t have to live in a place like Bario to adopt the lifestyle and implement the lessons that I learnt there. I can do it right here. Even though it doesn’t seem quite as satisfying to be back in this mundane environment compared to somewhere as great as Bario, for this moment in time, this is our designated residence. And the sooner we accept this reality, the quickly we can begin to revamp it.

As unreal as it sounds, you and I are just a step away from beginning what we started in Bario, here in our own cities. Yes, we spent 16 incredible days in Bario. But, no, it did not just stop there. It’s time to implement the very aspects that made our exchange with the Kelabit people a life changing one, back here in the “real world”. This could be as simple as passing a simple “Betapi leketang” to a stranger on your way to your class or being as hospitable as the Kelabits are with their home guests. As time prolongs, I foresee this pool of change that we are part of increase by the dozen. But, only if you allow it. As Gandhi put it, change yourself and you change your world. You have changed in deep measures, now it is your turn to change the people around you for the better.  

Jedida Ravi