|Batch 3 Group Selfie (Credits to Alicia)|
year ago, I would have asked you what Bario
is, and to be completely honest, I will have to admit that the word ‘Kelabit’
only ever registered to me as an ‘ethnic group’ in East Malaysia. Today, I
not only know where Bario is, but I
also have 16 days’ worth of priceless memories and experiences that come along
|Bario landscape- as green as meets the eye.|
place. An image of all those paddy fields, longhouses and pineapple plantations
tucked into the valleys of lush rolling hills make a pretty laptop wallpaper.
But Bario is so much more than a photo opportunity. This place is rich with
culture, has a great community and people who would take great measures to make
sure that their home feels a little bit like your home too.
of us Project WHEE participants arrived at Tepu’ Sinah Rang’s homestay (for
those who do not know, Tepu’ Sinah Rang is our homestay host). Upon seeing us,
her face lit up and she gave all of us huge hugs, calling us her ‘susuks’
(grandchildren in Kelabit). I felt extremely touched by this woman who didn’t
even know us but was so joyed by our presence; this woman who was so warm to us
strangers on our first day in a foreign environment. The hospitality amazed me
to no end and I felt honoured to be welcomed into her home.
|Women dancing to a Kelabit song during church service.|
Having lived in the city the whole 20 years
of my life, I don’t think I have ever felt such a great sense of community and
care before. During church services and social events, you could see the camaraderie
shared and formed between members of the community through warm smiles and
engaging conversations. Watching the longhouse neighbours sit by the fireplace
one night, just talking and sharing with each other, it made me reflect on my
own life back in Kuala Lumpur. Most of us ‘budak bandar’ get so caught up in
our daily lives; school, Internet, shopping, watching the latest episode of
Game of Thrones, that we don’t take the time of day to get to know the people
who live literally beside us. Speaking of which, I didn’t even know the name of
my neighbours. Do you?
|Here’s to everyone, and all the memories that follow.|
moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience”- Oliver Wendall
Holmes. The 16 days spent in Bario consisted of many worthy moments that I will
carry with me for a long long time. I was blessed to have shared this amazing
experience with equally amazing people. The people that I have worked with and
met complemented our project goals and aims perfectly like salt and pepper. Living
together with 10 other people -people you have never met in your life- under
the same roof for 16 days could have driven anybody up the wall. But to have batch
mates (people whom I now proudly call my close friends) who share similar sentiments,
mind-set and project goals … now that’s what made the Project WHEE experience
and those insightful moments complete. And for that, I am thankful.
There are two things I need to point out. One, I seldom do chores at home, besides looking after my own things. Most of the cooking and cleaning is done by my Superwoman mum. Secondly, my need for independence has always been a strong quality with me. However, until I came to Bario, I realized that independence is not only achieved with being allowed to do something on own but also to make decisions by ourselves.
Independence can be shaped by just the simple act of looking after our own self. This is a beautiful lesson that Bario taught me. This was highly amplified by the sense of independence that this woman had, even with her old age. In that very moment I watched her, I only wished that if I were to live to be her age, I would live life as cheerfully and independently as she did.
|The blue sky view you get from that very spot we were that morning,|
|The view from the longhouse, simple and beautiful.|
At first glance, cleaning the dam seemed like a simple task that would be conveniently finished in a matter of hours. That my friends, was the naivety in all of us, speaking. We started off, digging up small chunks of dirt with shovels or even with our bare hands. A couple of hours passed and we started to congratulate each other on the progress we were making. “Woah! Guys, we did quite a lot ah?” I remember myself say. Little did we know that what we had done in those mere hours, was but a speck of what we would be doing later that day. We barely grazed the surface of that dirt clogged dam, that morning.
|The group shovelling the dirt from upward because of the strong current.|
Fast forward a good 4 hours later, we took a moment to take in the work that we had just accomplished. It was alarming just recognizing the amount of shoveling, digging and rock maneuvering we had done in just a matter of hours. Helen Keller once said “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”. This was a quote that was certainly magnified that day. It got me appreciating the relevance and strength of teamwork. I guess you can only trust my word of mouth on this, but that hydro dam had to be one of the biggest cleaning projects I have ever experienced!
|The group falling into a rhythm of things.|
At a later glance, I related our initial naivety of the situation to the iceberg concept where only 10% (surface of the dam) of the iceberg is visible and the other 90% (that took forever to dig up) remains underwater. It was a good lesson to all of us to not judge a situation by how it looked outwardly. Nevertheless, even though the 90% was apparent, we successfully dug it all up with just one solution- teamwork!
considerable amount of shame for feeling so foreign in a local Malaysian setting.
This made me realise the true degree of diversity that exists in Malaysia and
how much of it yet to be discovered.
but there are also a number of Penan people living there. Life in Bario was
fairly different for me – and it was a change that I thoroughly enjoyed and now,
miss. However, I have come to understand that this change is not always viewed
that the people there live difficult and unhappy lives. Difficult life might be
true to some extent, probably because the work in Bario is mostly laborious. Unhappy? This I will have to disagree.
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.
differently – and that is okay. It
teaching experience at SMK Bario. I went to SMK Bario twice to teach English
(teach = playing English games) to Form 1 and 2 students. I started by asking
the students what they wanted to become in the future. Teacher and doctor were
frequent answers. But of course, there were some others such as astronaut,
policeman, fireman, and fisherman.
severely flawed with the way we (not everyone, but a lot of people) think of ambitions and aspirations. We often
encourage students to become doctors, engineers, scientists, among others – and
tell them that they are “on the right track”. We discourage those who want to
become policemen, farmers, fishermen, among others – and tell them to dream
higher to achieve “more”.
in whatever they want to become and whatever profession they choose to work. The
idea of being successful too, needs to be changed. Being successful should not
be about being able to make a lot of money – but being good at what you do, and
enjoying what you do.
can survive if we all decided to become doctors, right?
learning I was going to gain through my 16-day Project WHEE! experience.
bandar (“city kid”) who would dread and be deterred by all of the above.
difference between the two, and also, I
have realised how unhealthy and damaging
it is to mistake certain wants as needs.
shall explain why I decided to be part of Project WHEE.
that opportunity with very appealing and unique circumstances. I was particularly
attracted to the idea of being placed in a different community in an unfamiliar
culture. This has been a part of Malaysia I have always wanted to discover.
Kelabit community before applying for this. But after this project, as cheesy as
this will sound, the Bario folk will always have a special place in my heart.
lady, but I learnt so much more than I could have taught. In my next few blog
posts, I hope to share as much as possible about my experience and all that I
vicarious experience is nothing like first-hand experience, which has led me to
this: You are what you experience.
wonderful Bario folk and of course, my fellow WHEE! comrades.