Learning Ecotourism and Volunteering in Sabah – the Best Outdoor Classroom

A group of seventeen Tourism and Hospitality students from Edith Cowan University (ECU) Australia, led by Professor Ross Dowling, the Foundation Professor of Tourism in the School of Business, Faculty of Business and Law of ECU, embarked on a ten-day journey through the land of Sabah, Malaysia to acquire knowledge and experienceson ecotourism from 17thto 27th April 2014.

ECU Group Photo

ECU Group Photo

Managing Director of Borneo Eco Tours (BET) and Sukau Rainforest Lodge (SRL), Mr. Albert Teo who is also a Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer of ECU personally designed and packaged the ten-days study tour together with Professor Ross. The aim of this tour was for the students to experience ecotourism incorporating community project. Mr. Albert Teo accompanied the ECU group and shared his knowledge and experience in operating his ecotourism businesses.

The trip began with an overnight stay in Kota Kinabalu City, where the group had the opportunity to explore the city on an afternoon tour. Excitement was further enhanced on the second day as the group set on the journey to Northern Sabah, Kudat for cultural exchange activities and community contribution to a student hostel in Sikuati, Kudat – Asrama Bantaran Joy Centre (ABJC). The group handed over English books to ABJC Students as an encouragement to learn English. In addition the group donated 20 bunk beds worth RM 6,000 to improve the living conditions of students at ABJC. The bunk beds’ supplier, Mr. Chung of Temalang Enterprise also contributed six mattresses to ABJC.

The ECU group visited the Kimihang Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) Processing Centre which is part of a community project through social entrepreneurship by BEST Society.  Here, the students got to learn about the extraction process involved in producing virgin coconut oil through demonstration by Mr. Ronnie Onginjan, the Kimihang VCO Entrepreneur.

Mr Ronnie demonstrating the technique to press out the coconut oil

Mr Ronnie demonstrating the technique to press out the coconut oil

The group enjoyed the evening with a barbeque dinner, a Rungus cultural performance, and the overnight stay at a traditional longhouse on Tindakon Dazang Beach. This is a tourism project developed by a local entrepreneur Samuil at Terongkongan Village, Kudat with technical advice from BEST Society. In Kudat, the ECU group learnt about the local community, cultural differences and challenges involved in the process of changing mindset in order to alleviate poverty.

Finally, they reach the tip of Borneo, Tanjung Mengayau

Finally, they reach the tip of Borneo, Tanjung Mengayau

Learning the tradisional dance

Learning the traditional dance

The students of ABJC hostel with their new bed bunks donated by the ECU students

The students of ABJC hostel with their new bed bunks donated by the ECU students

One of the cultural exchange activities with the student of ABJC

One of the cultural exchange activities with the student of ABJC

Sunset at Tindakon Dazang beach

Sunset at Tindakon Dazang beach

The next stop on the ECU group’s journey was Kundasang. A stopover at Nabalu Market was followed by an emotional visit to Kundasang War Memorial Park as the group learnt about the history of Australians’ POW Death Marches and Quailey’s Hill Memorial. That night, the group stayed in the Sabah Tea Garden.

The ECU group experienced a change of landscapes from white sandy beaches in Kudat to the majestic Mount Kinabalu in Ranau all the way overland to Eastern Sabah, Sandakan. Finally, they reached the banks of the Kinabatangan River which they crossed to finally arrive at the award winning ecolodge, Sukau Rainforest Lodge (SRL).

During the four-night stay in SRL, the group participated in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Corridor Rehabilitation Program KWICORP, Tree Planting Project which is an ongoing project by BEST Society, BET and SRL to regenerate riverine forest corridor along the lower Kinabatangan River. Aside from the “Tree Planting Project”, the group donated English books to Sukau Primary School students and painted the community hall together with the villagers in Sukau Village, spending a total sum of RM 2,708 on paints and tools.

In addition to giving talks, Mr. Albert Teo conducted a tour around SRL to provide the students with practical insights on building, managing and operating an Ecotourism Company and Ecolodge with community involvement. The ECU group had a great wildlife viewing experience on several river cruises; they sighted endangered species including the Orang-Utan, Proboscis Monkeys, Macaques, crocodiles, various species of birds and even Borneo Pygmy Elephants.

Children of Sukau village trying the video recording equipment for the first time

Children of Sukau village trying the video recording equipment for the first time

Having fun painting the Sukau community hall with local boy

Having fun painting the Sukau community hall with local boy

must try -wearing batik in the evening

must try -wearing batik in the evening

Group discussion with Mr Teo

Group discussion with Mr Teo

The ECU study tour ended with a three-nights stay in Sandakan. The group joined Datuk James Wong, President of the Sandakan Municipal Council as well as local and international dignitaries for a dinner preceding ANZAC Day hosted by the Sabah Tourism Board.

During the following days, the ECU Group attended the ANZAC Day’s Dawn Service at Sandakan War Memorial Park and visited the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) and Rainforest Discovery Centre. Mr. Wong Siew Te, the CEO and Founder of BSBCC, gave a talk about Bornean Sun Bears and the aim of BSBCC during their visit. The ECU group then presented a cheque for a one-year adoption of a Bornean Sun Bear at RM 1,200 to Mr. Wong.

ANZAC Days Dawn Service at Sandakan War Memorial Park

ANZAC Days Dawn Service at Sandakan War Memorial Park

Entrance of Sepilok Orang Utan rehabilitation Centre

Entrance of Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre

The ECU group presenting a cheque for Borneon Sun Bear adoption

The ECU group presenting a cheque for adopting a Borneon Sun Bear

Professor Ross regarded the study tour as a good learning exposure on the ground for the students as they got a taste on local cultures and participated in community projects with BEST Society and the local communities especially in Sukau Village. The ten-days study tour was further enhanced by the personal involvement of Mr. Albert Teo.

The seventeen ECU students summarized the study tour as an eye-opener and anonce-in-a-lifetime experience. They were impressed by Sabah’s nature and inspired by examples of success such as Ronnie from the Kimihang VCO Processing Centre. Upon returning, one of the students decided to donate RM 1,200.00 for BEST community project. Many of them vowed to definitely visit Sabah again and decided to attend the 8th Asia Pacific Eco-Tourism Conference 2014, (www.apeco2014.com) organised by Mr. Albert Teo on behalf of MATTA.

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