Stewart Thomson - 2013 Program Participant

Native dancers in Borneo with international volunteers

An evening of culture in Borneo

Why did you choose to volunteer abroad?

My choosing to volunteer myself to work overseas was twofold. Firstly, it gave me an opportunity to see the real situation in Borneo, rather than the sanitized tourist view. Secondly, it provided me with the chance to see Borneo’s nature up close and personal.

Why did you choose Borneo?

Borneo has always intrigued me, as I believed it still to possess a large area of unspoiled tropical forest. On further investigation, I realized there was significant degradation due to commercial interests. This prompted my conservation conscience to choose to help those who were prepared to help themselves.

Why did you choose Kaya Responsible Travel over other volunteer organizations?

Kaya Volunteer offered a safe, yet interesting and challenging adventure that set out aims sympathetic with my ideas of encouraging people to control their own destinies in the modern world. 

Traditional dinner in Borneo

Family dining with hosts

What was your living situation like in Borneo?

The housing arrangements were totally met with my approval. I did not select this program expecting a sanitized version of village life. I ate and slept very well. All of the homes I stayed in were very clean and I was made to feel most welcome, in fact, “one of the family”.

What was a normal day like as a volunteer in Borneo?

A normal day started rather early, as it was approaching the end of Ramadan with the call to prayers for the faithful, followed later by the call of the families rosters. No matter, as one had slept very soundly and was ready to go! A breakfast and rather unique toileting experience, and I was off with my packed lunch to get to my assigned task for the day. The pace of life was less regimented than my own at home, as work depended on who was available, where the elephant herd was, and other rather exotic influences.

What was the highlight of your trip?

There were so many highlights. One was being taken some kilometers to one of the family’s patriarch’s birthday and being treated as an honored guest, being given the special food, being introduced and seated beside the honored host. So many curious faces and very memorable!

What was the biggest challenge you face while abroad?

On my weekend diving in Semporna, I was very fortunate to have the company of two young Dutch volunteers who took me under their wings and made what could have been a rather stressful time into an amazing excursion. Otherwise, as a virgin solo traveler of almost 64-years of age, I coped and thrived on the daily challenges.

What advice would you give others interested in volunteering in Borneo?

Do your homework on the local customs and, if like myself, you enjoy people and the thought of being able to be part of the restoration of the endangered ecosystem, for example orangutans and elephants, then this may be your trip of a lifetime!

Riding a longboat in Borneo

Off for a days work in the longboat

What are the top reasons you would want to go back to Borneo?

To fulfil the requests that I should return, this time with my wife, which was a sincere invitation!  Also to see and further the progress towards self sufficiency in this community. 

How did your volunteer experience in Borneo impact your life?

It has confirmed my belief that we humans are very alike despite our different lifestyles, our aspirations for our children and communities are basically the same, as are the challenges that face us all. It has made a better person of me. 

Would you recommend Kaya Responsible Travel to others?

I would recommend Kaya as a vehicle to a unique experience. For example, on finding I had loss of cell phone communication with family in New Zealand, the Kaya staff at the village were able to allay my family’s fears via email. They had also given me accurate information in preparation for my trip and were very accessible through the internet prior to my leaving home.

You are volunteering again with Kaya Responsible Travel in the summer of 2016, what made you choose to volunteer abroad again?

I still have an a strong interest in exotic flora and fauna. The Amazon reputably has a tremendous diversity so seeing and helping preserve this is a statement of principle to me.