Wanting to get away from the city, making a lasting and sustainable change globally knowledge of other cultures personal development the dream of travelling alone and experiencing something new.
Why did you choose Raleigh International?
It was student friendly and it was linked with my college. Being able to take part in three different types of volunteering was great too.
What were your favorite parts about Borneo?
The food, the people, the weather, and the scenery.
What made your experience abroad unique?
The fact that I was only 16 and was made allowed to volunteer abroad with myself and myself only.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
They’d translate, drop us off at different places, provide us with tools, and help us with the heavy labour. They treated us at the end of the trip by buying us good and proper food. They even helps us if ever we had medical needs and guided us through the rainforest.
What is one thing you wish you could change about your experience?
Go in with a different mindset.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
We’d start waking up at 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m., if it was the community or environmental phase, and 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., if it was a trek. Then we’d check which activity we were supposed to be doing that week with our partner. If it was cooking, you would have to put the hot water on to boil so everyone can make porridge and set out all the toppings. Tea, coffee, or hot chocolate would also be available. Then we’d have breakfast and get dressed in the clothes we’d been wearing for the past week, which would sometimes smell ridiculously bad. We would always fill up two water bottles, and grab sunscreen and bug deterrent, before setting off for our workplace.
At Danum we were moving sand and gravel from one site to the other, so we would get to our worksite and decide how the day was going to run. We would fill the bags with gravel or sand, and then make a chain going down the hill toward the worksite, passing the bags to one another. We spent at least two weeks doing this.
At 4 p.m. we would begin to make our way back to the worksite, leaving us enough time to all use the cold shower and then get into our longs (long trousers, tops, and socks to prevent mosquito bites). Then we would have dinner, and dessert if we had the ingredients, and play a game (or 5). We would have an end of say session, where we might go around in a circle saying what we enjoyed the most and what we didn't like that day, and also thanking people, before we went off to bed.
What was your accommodation like?
We were outside most of the time with a shelter, so we fell asleep to the sound of nature, and rain sometimes. It was very cozy, but we didn’t have much personal space. It was very simple, so we were often in DIY situations.
How did you spend your free time?
Reading, drawing, sleeping (which was impossible sometimes because it was so hot, but naps were necessary), playing card games, listening to music, washing clothes, and trying to get a tan.
What surprised you most about Borneo?
I was very surprised at learning about the palm oil industry. To and from our phases, you would see miles and miles of land just covered in palm trees. It’s such a shame to see such a beautiful country being destroyed by corporate greed.
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
It wasn’t difficult at all, we had the help of our home country venturers which helped massively. But also the locals were able to speak English and we even learned some Malay as well. In the community phase, it was fairly difficult. When we attempted to teach lessons, it was quite difficult and embarrassing, because the children quite often were reluctant to participate.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
It will get difficult at times and it's important that you remain positive and speak to people about your feelings, because everyone is in the same boat as you are.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Malaysia?
I wish I had known what more to bring and how important certain pieces of equipment would be.
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Borneo?
Paracord is extremely important, so bring enough of it. Also, duct tape as well as a bowl AND a plate, not just one or the other. A cheap iPod which you can get off ebay. A portable charger, if possible a solar powered one, and make sure you learn how to use it properly before hand. A cheap hand pocket knife, because it will definitely come in handy; whether it being DIY clothes or carving something out of wood, it will be really handy. You can buy cheap tops when you’re over there, so don’t bother bringing a whole bunch of tops with you. I do suggest volunteers bring dresses and flowy shorts for when they’re at base camp.
What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?
I think the hardest part of volunteering was being away from home for so long, away from my loved ones and getting over difficult situations which I had left at home. It was hard to be positive sometimes because the work got so hard, but I always had friends in my group to support me and who were going through the same thing.
Now that you're home, how has your program impacted your life?
I'm inspired to do more expeditions, and I now know people from all over the world, which I can't want to meet up with when I go travelling.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
Meeting new people from around the world.
Would you recommend your program to others? Why?
Yes I would. Not many charities are like Raleigh. Not only are volunteers focusing on making a lasting impact, but they also get a chance to make a lasting impact on themselves. This program is “character building” as they call it.
Originally from London, Amber is currently studying at City and Islington sixth form college, where she is taking up photography, English literature, and drama. Her trip with Raleigh International was her first international volunteering experience, and she intends to do many more. Amber spends her time at home working in coffee shops and restaurants, as well as volunteering locally with less-abled adults and young children.