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

Rumah jahat tak apa, asalkan hati baik

Rumah jahat tak apa, asalkan hati baik

I am going to be completely honest with you.
When I first signed up for Project WHEE, I never imagined that this experience could teach me so much and affect me in ways that I cannot explain.  The task was simple: go to Bario, teach a woman assigned to you English 5 days a week, and ‘make a difference’, no? No.

Catherine Erip Tungang, fondly known as ‘e e’, outside her house
First, let me introduce somebody to you. A mother to 5 children, a grandmother to one, a certified Penan medicine practitioner, a professional basket/bracelet/mat/bag weaver, and a truly inspiring figure: Catherine Erip Tungang. 
I will never forget the day I met her. It was a sunny day, and Daniel (our project coordinator) walked me to meet Aunty Catherine, the lady I was assigned to teach at her house near the Arur Dalan village. Oh, I was one nervous wreck; questions of all sorts bounced like ping pong balls in my head. The moment she stepped out of her kitchen, all worries went out the window. There she was, with a smile so bright it could light up a dark room.

The both of us, we jumped into the teaching routine pretty early on. ‘E e’ (mother in Penan) was so enthusiastic and eager to learn English, and she was so open to new ideas and new suggestions. Normally, she was the one who would initiate a conversation with me in English. Fast forward to the last few days of our time together, and she was able to say sentences like “climb slowly because steep” (she conducts tours up Prayer Mountain in Bario). The feeling of hearing those words was indescribable; that I have somewhat to a certain extent achieved what I went there to do, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like what ‘e e’ has taught me holds much more value than anything I could ever offer her.

If we talk about materialistic possessions, she really does not have much, but what she does have in abundance, is a heart of pure gold and generosity that transcends scarcity. She did not only teach me how to weave and cook Penan food, but she also further reinforced my beliefs that money does not equate to happiness, and happiness is not defined by the number of cars you have or the size of your house. She is the true example of being content and making the most out of what you have.

1) Various types of Penan food (From top right clockwise: a dessert made from tapioca, timun, sigo, midin)
2) Some of the traditional Penan medicine
3) Craft work weaved and designed by e e
4) A type of weaving style known as ‘lipan’- centipede in English

The craft work made by her is one of the few sources of income of her family. Besides weaving, going to Bible class at night and caring for her family, she has many other responsibilities in the community that needs to be carried out. Her knowledge of traditional Penan medicine is fascinating. I remember taking a walk with her in the forest one day, and she was just nonchalantly (and continuously) pointing out plants that could be used to cure various illnesses. Often times, I wonder how she manages to juggle so many responsibilities, and yet manages to find the initiative to learn English.

She used to tell me: “rumah jahat tak apa, asalkan hati baik” (it doesn’t matter if the house is bad, as long as the heart is good). Although her house does not have electricity, perhaps it is her contagious personality, strength and courage that have the power to light up the dark nights in Bario.

E e and her family. From left to right: Julie Chan, Yohannes, E e, Amam, Jenny, me and Isabel

When I have children, I will teach them what she taught me; that it doesn’t matter if they don’t have a big house to live in as long as they have a good heart, and that they themselves define their own happiness, on their own terms.

Rachel Khoo

Without Wax

Without Wax

There’s just something about Bario that
captures your heart from the moment you set foot in that tiny little airport.
People have all sorts of reasons for falling in love with this place and I was
no different. I fell in love with Bario for a reason you cannot see with
your eyes. But it was here and it followed me wherever I went.
Sincerity. I experienced it daily through the
willingness of the people here to share whatever they have with everyone around
them. I sensed it in the hospitality that was such a huge part of life in
Bario. We woke up to it everyday as we
feasted amazing spreads put together by our home-stay host, Tepuq Sina Rang. Despite
the obscene amount of food we ate, she would always insist we eat more- and eat
more we did.
Nuba layak with ikan pahit, tapioca leaves and tekulung, a type of snail.
I felt it in the way Tepuq Sina Doh Ayu, the
Kelabit woman I was assigned to, lent me her traditional clothes and beads to
meet Dato’ Seri Idris Jala bacause my clothes were covered in mud. I tasted it
in the food she cooked for her family each day even after the hours of hard
labour. I
experienced it through the care and patience our coordinator, Aunty Nicole,
showed us throughout our stay in Bario. Thank you for being a second mother to
us. I observed it in the quiet way Aunty Dayang, also our coordinator, served
her village relentlessly, expecting nothing in return.
All dressed up. 
I was touched by the sincerity of Aunty
Catherine, who never failed to feed us sigo, lalit and so many other Penan
delicacies whenever we stopped by her home. I am reminded of it every time I
look down at the bangles and necklaces she makes wrapped around my wrist, each
one different from the rest. I still feel sincerity in the weight of the Kabuq I wear around my neck,  handmade gifts from Tepuq Sinah Doh Ayu and Tepuq Sinah Rang.
Penan bangles and kabuq, fondly known to us as Kela-blings.
I heard sincerity in the voices and instruments that worshiped God during church on Sunday mornings. I felt it in the way the elders
of the church prayed for each one of us individually, despite the fact the we
were strangers to their beautiful town. I experienced it in the cheers, claps
and hugs we received from the school students we taught. I admired it in the willingness of my
teammates to adapt to new surroundings and always made the very best of their
circumstance. I see it in the way we took care of each other and  looked out for one another.
Batch 2 with Aunty Nicole, our coordinator.
It is
impossible to miss the fact that while the people of Bario don’t necessarily
have monetary wealth, they are rich in all the ways that matter the most. They
find joy in sharing what they have and one cannot help but be touched by how
freely they give whenever they can. It would be impossible to describe the people
of Bario in a word but if I were forced to choose, my answer would be
The word sincere originated from the Spanish words ‘sine
and ‘cera
during the Rennaisance.  Sculptors were
known to use wax, cera, to hide the mistakes made when sculpting expensive
marble statues. A statue that had no flaws was described as sine
: without wax. Today, however, the word sincere has evolved to
describe something that is honest and true; free of pretense. Thank you, Bario, for showing me what it
means to be ‘without wax’.



Project WHEE! has definitely been one of the best experiences I have had.

I would have never thought that I would have the opportunity to have done the things that I did in Bario and of course meet the people that I have met.

A thing that really strikes me about Bario is the warmth of the people there. Even though we were just strangers or very new in town at best, the people of Bario accepted us with open arms and by the second week we were there, they were already calling us their cucus (grandchildren). Even when I was walking around Bario, people I have never met would smile and wave at me as I walked by – something a city boy like me was not used to. I would awkwardly wave back and smile.

When I was there, I was assigned to help a cheerful lady with her English as she manages a homestay. Her name is Tepuq Bulan. Although I felt that she was a bit distant from me initially, as the days passed she became more comfortable and started to tell me all about her family. She made it a point to be sure that I was always well fed, which I really enjoyed but at the same time was slightly reluctant! *pinches belly* Tepuq Bulan had a laugh and smile that could relieve any problem, and she was very generous with it. There was not one day that I can remember that she wasn’t happy and laughing. There was one time where I was helping her clear the paddy field when suddenly a frog landed on my lap! It was none other than Tepuq Bulan who threw it at me. How mischievous! I still remember her saying “you scary of the frog?” and burst out into laughter.

Saying goodbye at the airport was quite difficult for all of us. Although it had only been 16 days, the people of Bario had already accepted us as family and even threw a big farewell party for us the night before. At the departure lounge, some cried, some sang and some danced but we were all sure that we will be meet again.

To Bario, I will return.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings. 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

– W.B Yeats


A Dedication Of Love

A Dedication Of Love

I remember the day I
returned to KL from Bario. We reached KL at 6pm and my mum and sister surprised
me at the arrival hall. My mum had offered to send a few of my batchmates back
and the car was filled with our voices, talking and laughing. By the time we
sent everyone  home and my family started
driving to a restaurant for dinner it was already 8pm. I remember the conversation
in the car ceasing as I stared out of the window while the roads passed. I was
extremely tired as we had been travelling from 8 in the morning and all I
wanted to do was sleep. However, flashbacks of Bario kept replaying in my
head. The night before,how we had all danced together ( they call it
poco-poco)  to Beatles songs, our last
debriefing session, the goodbye’s, the conversations, the jokes we had,
wondering what my tepuq was doing. And I realised I felt scared that I would
forget this wonderful experience once I
returned to college and started my normal daily routine again.

Today, eventhough it has been 22 days since I returned,
Bario is still in my heart. When I hear my dog crying at the gate when I get
home , I remember the dogs in Bario crying when Agan returned( Our longhouse
neighbour). When I bathe cold water, which I have been doing since I returned, I remember Bario and
the super-cold morning water that could probably induce hypothermia if anyone
dared to have a bath. When I walk home from the train station everyday after
college, I remember walking together to the only ABC shop in Bario  when we were all tired, under the hot sun and
the satisfaction when we reached. Whenever the lights automatically come on at night, I remember the many
nights without electricity which we survived successfully and the feeling of
awe when we would suddenly have electricity. When I am alone at home and my
sister is at university studying extra hours and my mum is at work, I remember
the longhouse, always full of people, noise and laughter.

Staying there for 16 days has taught me many things. The
people there, the atmosphere, my tepuq , my friends,the experiences all have
taught me something special. Some of these lessons can’t even be put into words. Sometimes
in life you meet a group of people who start of as friends or strangers from a
new place who may seem so different. As time pass, they touch your life and
you never realise how much you learnt from them until much later. We went there
as teachers but returned as both a student and a teacher. I guess everywhere we
go and in every interaction we have, we give and receive. This was just that. Just through one’s
actions, choice of words and expressions, another can learn a lot. Sitting in the
plane 22 days ago, I had enough time to think and contemplate on the huge
impact of Project WHEE! in my life.

Throughout my experience there, I spent most of my time with my tepuq and my batch mates. I never realised how much they taught me until I returned home.

And so I would like to thank all who were involved, all who
touched me in different ways .

She taught me to be brave and strong.To be determined and
committed and to chase my dreams and to not follow the norm. She led us with
Thanks Rhon.

He taught me to be comfortable being myself, to never think twice and live spontaneously. He taught me to be kind to others, to accept different people and that every person makes a difference.
Thanks Daniel.

She taught me to be comfortable and confident with my own
life decisions. She taught me compassion with her true concern, connectedness
and gentle genuine love for everything around her.

Thank you Rachel.

He taught me to see the deeper meaning of things/situations.
He taught me that every moment of life is meant to be lived. He showed me the
beauty of solitude and independence.

Thank you Wai Min.

She taught me not to take things personally and to love everyone.
To be free of all inhibitions.

Thanks Jed.

He taught me that there’s no such thing as enough laughter or
happiness in ones life. Nothing could ever dampen his spirit and his

Thank you Satesh.

He was always practical and taught me social responsibility.
He was always on-the-go, helping others.

Thank you Adrian.

He taught me to not take anything in life personally and to
be optimistic no matter what life throws at you.

Thanks Theebs.

He taught me to be open to others and to have patience. He
was very concerned and loving. He taught me simplicity and to be real.

Thanks Andrew GorGor.

She taught me not to limit myself and to be spontaneous and

Thanks Anna.

And lastly, I taught myself that I don’t and can’t control
everything in my life. I taught myself that anything is possible, and that life is
just a canvas.To not let the norm restrict me because life is meant to be lived

The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.

C. Joybell 
True Honesty

True Honesty

At that moment, I felt connected to every person in the
hall. I could feel the energy vibrating within me. The emotions in the hall were high and it etched a huge smile upon my face. Everyone was moving and dancing to
the beat, singing loudly with their eyes closed, not caring if they were out of
tune. Love was in the air.

That was how I felt on Tuesday, during the first Kelabit
church mass I attended.

At that moment, I didn’t care about anyone or anything else
in the hall. I just closed my eyes and sang together with everyone else. I
felt connected to all of them. It was amazing. Over and over again I was amazed at
how much the Kelabits gave compared to how much they had.

Ever since we set foot in Bario, they have been pouring their love towards us. When we reached Bario, we were greeted with genuine warm
hugs, which was so different from the ones we give others normally, meaningless. We were fed and served many dishes each day which my tepuq was sure to
ask me to “tambah lagi (add on)“. We were approached by many friendly Kelabits who
asked us where we were from and other questions about Project WHEE!. Some who do not have enough to support themselves, even welcomed us into their
Trying my hand at picking some “tengayan”
We got to share their homes, live their lives, hear their
stories, receive their unconditional love, overeat their tasty food. We got
it all.

But at that moment, I was really touched. I could see many
of them giving everything they had in their prayer. Just being there and
listening to them pray, I could see them singing their hearts out, all dressed
up beautifully, every emotion carried in their voices. It was humbling. The way
they sang was so honest. They surrendered everything they had to God. They
surrendered the growth of their crops and even the simplest things like meeting each other to God. They
surrendered their lives, whatever that happens, good or bad to God, and they will accept it as His will. And when they left church, they left without a second
thought, without fear. That is true honesty, true bravery and true living.

It isn’t easy to surrender and let go especially when we are
constantly planning, executing, preparing until we deceive ourselves that we are
in control. When something doesn’t happen as planned, we break down and are unable to accept it. 

When we experience that feeling of loss and pain, we start to
give less so if we ever lose again, we lose less. It’s human nature, I
guess. But in that, we teach ourselves to be less genuine, less from the heart.
And so, we are less liberated due to this illusion of control we create for
ourselves. If only we could learn from our dear tepuqs and fellow
Kelabits, learn how to surrender so honestly and so truly that nothing ever can
hurt us. Then we will become free! Bario-style…


Capturing the explosions in my heart

Capturing the explosions in my heart

Today is the fourth day of my stay in
Bario, Sarawak. It’s the first time I’ve
been away from home alone. Come to think of it 16 days is pretty long for a first timer. Somehow, time
passes slower here and I feel like I’ve been here for a week already.

Its really mind-blowing the number of things you can
pick up if you’re observant. Just living in Bario can teach you many lessons.
Peace, gratitude, love, beauty, a sense
of community, connectedness, teamwork.

Last night, when the electricity in the longhouse was cut and we were talking around the dinner table lit by candles, Rhonwyn asked us if we would like to come along to Aunty
Nicole’s house to learn to make “Senapih” and to help prepare pineapples for
some media who were coming the next day.

Tepu Uloh busy making senapih.

We walked to Aunty Nicole’s house. That was the first time I saw the beauty of the
night sky at Bario. It was also my first time seeing so many stars lighting up the
sky. The view was amazing. Throughout my short life of 17 years I have never
seen anything like it, and the beauty of it really took my breath away. We stopped and stared at the sky with many ‘oohhs’ and ‘ahhhs’ while I just
stared, in awe of its beauty. And there were little explosions in my heart.

From young, I had always been moved by nature. When
adults asked me about my ambition when I was young I would always answer
scientist, but in my heart I always pictured myself in the middle of a jungle. Although
I didn’t really have an idea what I was doing there, but I loved that picture. My
love for nature has always driven me to join the mission to save Mother
Earth. But you can’t do anything passionately if you’re not inspired. And I think
Bario was just the inspiration!
Here, the people live side-by-side with nature.
Animals such as ducks, chickens, dogs and cats wander around peacefully. The
hills and mountains surround the village in every direction you face. The
huge hills and mountains, the stretch of paddy fields, they fill me with the peace and love that I treasure.

Nature is so precious and sometimes we don’t realise
the extent of our actions that hurt mother earth. We continue to just take what
we want from the earth without pausing to think of giving back to mother nature.
We cut down trees for development, we dig the ground for minerals and
we exploit earth of all its resources and enjoy its monetary blessings. But we
don’t pause to think, when all the trees are cut down, all the animals
are dead, the water poisoned, and the air unsafe to breathe,
will money keep us alive?

Sometimes, I think it takes one to lose something
before he or she can wake up to appreciate what he/she has. It may
not be a bad thing that nature in Kuala Lumpur has been compromised with its rapid development. We can use it as a lesson. To move on; to start anew; to heal our country, the world and the
environment. It is important that we realise the fate of the world and the
environment lies in our hand. 

We are the change. What we do now determines
how the rest of humanity live in the future. For a nation to
develop, industrialization and construction might be necessary but there’s
always a better way. A third way: to live and evolve. So let us keep nature and
the environment in our thoughts always as we progress!


Thank you WHEE!

Thank you WHEE!

From the first day being in Bario, I had a lot of thoughts going through my mind. 
Can I adapt in Bario?
Will I be able to bond well with others there?
Etc. Etc.

After being with my friends for the entire stretch of 16 days, I find myself closer to my course mates. Being with them through these 16 days, for debriefing sessions, community service, living together, I am truly thankful that all of us are more understanding of each other. More selfless to help each other and more caring and considerate of one another. Also, I feel that I am able to express myself to others better compared to the last time and because of that, I am able to be more open minded of the things around me. 

Last but not least, I am also truly sorry for those who I’ve hurt or offended. Not only that, may bygones, be gone, I will cherish all the happy time that I have spent with all of you and also may all those times be my lessons in life.
May there be a way to all success in your lives. 
Gracias & Adious.
Ji Bee
How someone affected me in Bario

How someone affected me in Bario

our life, we can admire a lot of people. But, how other people
impact our lives is more important. He/ She could affect us either positively or

Dayang is the lady who I admire the most when I was in Bario. She is an
independent woman as she can do a lot of things on her own. She knows how to
sew, plant paddy and pineapples, and she knows how to dance the Kelabit
traditional dances. Compared to her, I know nothing. But I have learned a lot
from her.
Her will to sacrifice her own time to do anything
that can protect or promote her own place – Bario affected me a lot.
are a few reasons for me to say so:
  • Aunty Dayang is a volunteer at the Bario Airport. The payment that she receives is not very high, but she
    is still willing to work. This shows that she genuinely loves her home.
  • She is also the tour guide who
    will bring tourists to the Prayer Mountain which is very far away from her
    house. She is very proud of her home and is confident to
    promote to others.
  • She sews other children’s torn
    shirts for free, as she knows that others also live difficult lives. So,
    she will never or rarely accepts money from them.
  • She still wants to stay at
    Bario although she lives alone while her children and husband are studying and working in a city. She says that she likes the Bario life and will
    do something for Bario. How about you? How often do you go back to your
    hometown in a month?
is how Aunty Dayang affected me.
I came back from Bario, I have decided to organise a motivational camp for my juniors in my previous primary school. This is because it is the
only activity that I can think of to contribute to my hometown – Pedas, Negeri
Sembilan. There is so much work to do, so much responsible to take on and also the lack of
financial support. But, I don’t mind! I will find ways to solve it, and have
the camp anyway.
If my juniors appreciate the camp I organise, I will be very happy
and accomplish it. It will also be considered as a gift for me.