Monday 17 April 2017

Bario and Me

“Should I go? Maybe I should stay home.”

One night before our Bario trip, I was battling with a very difficult decision - to go or not to go. I had gotten a bad throat infection (tonsillitis) three days before the trip and my condition was getting worse. I called Rhon (our mama boss) to get her advice - she encouraged me to go and gave assurance that there is a clinic available in Bario if I needed more medical attention and most importantly, the 10-day experience would be unforgettable.

So I went, and yes, Bario, was amazing.

In 10 days, I met so many new people, forged great friendships with my batchmates and the Tepuqs (respected elders), learnt about the Kelabit culture, understood the problems associated with traditional paddy farming and ultimately, experienced the village life in Bario which has changed my perspective towards life.

There are too many things to say and write about Bario. For this post, I’ll cover my five favorite memories and takeaways:

1. Mountains, Clouds, Land, Breeze - Nature’s Wonder
Bario evening scenary_.jpg
The evening sky on our first day in Bario

It was our first day in Bario and I was already blown away by the beauty of this place. Because I was not in my best condition, I had to opt out on many farming activities that my batchmates were doing and rest at the homestay. In other words, for a few days, I was spending my mornings and afternoons staring at the sky. Yup, just staring and staring and staring... Until someone shouts, “Jien Yue, we’re back!”.

BUT HEY, the view was absolutely breathtaking. I loved the alone time spent looking at God’s wonder - it gave me so much peace, helped me think about life from different perspectives. How nice it would be if I could wake up every morning to such a beautiful sight!

2. A Heart of Gratitude  
Living in the city, many times we take things for granted. Many of us do not even know where our food is produced or how difficult it is to grow them; we just eat. Sometimes we even complain that the food we have doesn't taste good and stop eating them.

What surprised me in Bario was how everyone in the village was grateful for the food placed on the table. I remember when we arrived, Tepuq Sinah Rang (our homestay host) had all of us hold hands to say grace, giving thanks to God for the food. A few days in, she taught us to sing the song - “Aku Mengucapkan Syukur” (in English it means “I Give Thanks”) it was really catchy and all of us sang it happily before most of our meals.

Blowing fire (1 of 1).jpg
Tepuq Sinah Rang roasting wild boar for dinner

The simple act of giving thanks before our food reminded me to always be appreciative and grateful of what we have - our food, our health, our family, our friends, our homes and our lives.

3. Fully Engaging in the Present  
There was no internet connection where we stayed; hence, my batchmates and I had to live without Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp for 10 days (difficult for a millennial). The beauty of disconnecting from technology was the bond formed while connecting with one another, face-to-face.

During our free time, all of us would sit down for hours talking, jamming, singing songs, exchanging experiences and lessons learnt on the field. It was amazing how much we have grown to be closer and comfortable with each other through the time spent together. We have also bonded immensely with the Tepuqs by working alongside them in their respective paddy fields and listening to their interesting life stories during meal times.

Having breakfast with Tepuqs on our second last day in Bario (Photo credits: Project WHEE)

There was so much happiness when we were fully engaged in conversations and jokes without distractions from technology. It dawned upon me that the key to happiness isn’t in wealth or material things; it is in having great relationships with people you care about through spending quality time together.

4. Always Better to Give than to Receive
In the business world, nothing comes free. When we give, we are taught to expect something in return. I came from a finance background and the concept of having good “return on investment” is a key requirement for any decisions - often times, helping someone comes with an ulterior motive. In Bario, people are so genuine with one another and there isn’t anything like this.

I was amazed by how the villagers helped one another in so many ways. For example, when someone in the long house catches a wild boar, the owner would share the meat so everyone gets a piece of the catch. When farming, they would help one another with planting or harvesting so the pace of getting things done is faster.

Receiving souvenirs from Tepuq Bulan Radu on cultural night (Photo credits: Project WHEE)

On our final night, we had a time of appreciation where us volunteers presented small tokens from KL to our respective Tepuqs. Instead, it was the Tepuqs who were blessing us generously with the fruits of their hard labour. We went home with bags of rice, salt, pineapples, pineapple jams, and a beautiful piece of Kelabit necklace known as “Kaboq”. They gave without reservations and Tepuq Bulan Radu told me she found great joy in doing so.

5. Love and be Loved
I remember during the introductory meet-and-greet session on our first night, Tepuq Sinah Rang gave a welcome speech saying how grateful she was to have nine of us from KL visiting and helping them with farming activities. She said, we aren’t just volunteers; we are like grandchildren sent from Heaven. Instantly, the Bario Asal (the long house we stayed in) community took us in like family and showered us with so much love and care.

With Tepuq Sinah Rang in her traditional Kelabit head gear

When Daniel, our Project Coordinator, told the Tepuqs I wasn’t in my best shape, instantly, Tepuq Bulan Radu took me to the clinic for a checkup - she made sure I had proper medical attention and was always hydrated. Tepuq Sinah Rang cooked porridge for me so my throat could heal faster and Tepuq Ratu made lemon water for me to make me feel better. They cared for me like their very own child and I was truly touched by their love.

A picture with the Tepuqs on cultural night (Photo credits: Project WHEE)

When we were leaving Bario, many tears were shed and I believe it is because of the bond formed through love over 10 days. There was a feeling of sadness leaving the place but a greater joy of getting to know these amazing, genuine and loving Tepuqs. When I hugged them goodbye, I know one day I’ll be back to visit again.  

Words could only express so much, the rest are left to be experienced personally. If you are thinking whether you should sign up for the upcoming project, do it! Trust me, you will gain so much more than you expect. Bario has left a mark on me and will always have a place in my heart.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

Fundraising your way to a WHEE project

When embarking on a trip, whether for holiday, a volunteering program, or for studies, one thing that must be considered is the cost. The terms 'expensive' and 'cheap' are relative and vary according to one's financial status. However, from what I have observed as a WHEE coordinator, I notice that parents are more inclined to have their kids fund the programmes they sign up for themselves to encourage them to be more responsible monetarily. This is apparent even if the parents can afford to just fork out the money.

Fundraising, the voluntary method of gathering financial contributions, has been a common method for many WHEE participants to fund their costs in the WHEE projects. WHEE highly encourages this methodology as it is an opportunity for the participants to inform their peers about the cause and community they wish to serve in.

Furthermore, things have been made easier for participants of the Bario: Growing Food, Sustaining Culture project, as our partnering organization, 1Malaysia for Youth (1M4U) has partially waived the cost for the 10-day project, bringing it down to RM 800. Fundraising may sound daunting at first, but it is achievable so long as you have a strong desire and are willing to put in the effort needed to achieve your goal. 

The Bario: Growing Food, Sustaining Culture project is partially waived by 1M4U 

If you can afford to pay for a WHEE project through your personal funds, that's great! However, if you are more likely to attempt fundraising, here is a compilation of some fundraising tips from the previous WHEE participants who successfully fundraised for their WHEE projects.

1. Organise a sale
You cannot go wrong with a classic sale. If you have a decent amount of friends living nearby and neighbours who you can call on, there is a high chance they will buy something affordable from you to contribute to your cause. If you can bake or cook, whip up something in the kitchen. If you are artistic and good at handicrafts, make something. There have been WHEE participants who made dream catchers, bookmarks, pineapple tarts, and other baked goods for sale. Besides selling them to gather the funds, your funders will also view these items as a token of  your sincerity in the cause you are involved in. Hence, they are more likely to contribute to you as compared to if you were to just ask for donations. 

A good example is Shannon Tan, a WHEEan from Batch 7 (August 2015). While studying in the UK, she hosted a house dinner party for her friends to fundraise. Upon returning home to Kuching , Sarawak during her summer break, she continued her fundraising efforts by organising a bake sale, selling a variety of baked goods such as pineapple tarts, prune cake, apple pie, banana muffin, and chilled cheesecake. 

Have a read about her fundraising initiative here.

Shannon Tan made productive efforts with her bake sale to fund her journey to Bario

2. Turn a skill into a service
If you have a skill or hobby that you are good at, find a way to turn it into a service. One WHEE alumnus, Parthiban Perisamy, picked up his massaging skills from his late grandmother. Upon acceptance into Batch 5 (January 2015), he decided to put his skills to work by doing freelance ayurvedic massages to fund his costs for the project.  He still continues this service until today and does freelance massages in between his studies.

Parthiban got a much deserved massage from the Bario ladies after (literally) massaging his way there

3. Work together with your batch members
If you sign up early enough, you can collaborate with the rest of your batch members to fundraise together. Examples include the Batch 1 (May 2014) participants who busked around their college for a week, Batch 5 (January 2015) participants who organised car washes in the neighbourhood of Taman Tun for three days, and also Batch 6 (May 2015) participants who sold snacks and drinks at a food fair together. Working together does mean that you have to share the pie of funds raised. Nevertheless, it remains a great way to kickstart things and build up your momentum to fundraise. It is also an effective way to get to know your batch members who you will be working with closely in Bario.

Batch 5 participants taking part in the car wash fundraiser

4. Use online crowd funding platforms
For those who have friends and relatives who live around the world, an online crowd funding platform is a good way to engage them to donate to your cause. There are various online platforms available which allow you to set up an individual fundraising account. You can also share your stories and videos explaining the cause that you are involved in on your individual profiles on these platforms.

Please be aware that all online crowd funding platforms will take a percentage of your funds raised for their operational costs, so do your research on the terms and conditions of each platform before deciding which platform to use.

5. Seek funds from relevant organizations
Participants who are associated with certain companies, NGOs, societies or scholarships can seek funding from these organisations. This effort is especially successful when WHEE's vision and project goals are in line with the organisations' social missions or objectives. This incentivises the organisation to fund the individual for the cause he is involved with.

One example is Choo Khai Kern, a General Electrics (GE) scholar who was funded by GE to participate in the January batch of the Bario: Growing Food, Sustaining Culture project. As volunteerism is a vibrant part of GE's culture, it was a win-win situation for all parties involved as Khai Kern was able to participate in the project while representing GE and the mission of both organisations were  achieved. 

Choo Khai Kern represented General Electrics as a volunteer for the Bario: Growing Food, Sustaining Culture project

There are other fundraising methods used by other WHEEans to fund their way to Bario. Feel free to contact the team if you have any questions or wish to explore other fundraising ideas. WHEE also provides an official covering letter to accepted WHEE participants to certify their fundraising initiatives.

With the right amount of hard work fueled by enthusiasm, your fundraising initiative can be a success and your target is not an impossible feat. Do not let fundraising stop you from applying for this eye-opening experience.