During the summer of 2016, a group of young people from around the world volunteered with Raleigh International in Kampong Sungai Magandai to deliver a rural electrical workshop (REW) in partnership with Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association (SWEPA), Barefoot College, Government of India, Tan Sui Lin Foundation, Sabah Energy Corporation, Sabah Government, Mouawad,Asian Forestry Company Sabah (AFCS), PACOS Trust, , Louis Pang, and The Palace Hotel.
Sungai Magandai is a rural village (kampong) in Malaysian Borneo which lacks a reliable supply of sustainable energy. Like most other rural villages in the Kota Marudu area, Sungai Magandai is held back by lack of on grid electricity supply and consequently experiences high rates of urban migration. The village community have no electricity power except for the primary school and the hostel that is powered by solar panels. SWEPA through the Barefoot Solar Project 2.0 with their partners had collaborated together to provide electricity to the entire village through the use of solar panels. It was found that the existing solar panels at the primary school and hostel frequently break, they need community members who can maintain them and fit new ones so that the energy supply to the village can increase to cover the entire village.
Earlier this year, under SWEPA’s Barefoot Solar Project 2, two women, Gining Jaineh and Rusni Sikamung, were selected to undergo training with Barefoot College in India to learn how to construct, fit and maintain solar panels. As grandmothers, they occupy an ideal place within the social structure of rural villages to serve as engineers; they often have less responsibility for childcare, hold a respected position within their community and tend to be a lot younger than Western grandmothers.
While the grandmothers were training abroad, Raleigh volunteers worked with skilled members of the local community to build a workshop, which could provide a dedicated working space for them. As a Project Manager for the Raleigh group of volunteers, I helped the team to deliver the project, ensuring the community were happy with our work throughout and that the workshop was completed by the end of the nine-week build period.
From the very start, the community of Sungai Magandai welcomed the Raleigh team with open arms. The generosity of the villagers was apparent from the outset, offering their Community Hall for us to sleep in for the duration of the project and doing everything they could to help us to settle in.
Our walk to and from the project site every day was filled with friendly greetings as we passed by the villagers, and the children – always keen to play with us – quickly became a source of great joy.
The three groups of volunteers over the nine weeks each established their own ways of participating in the local community, whether through playing a game of football with the locals or providing evening school workshops in Sungai Magandai’s primary school. We also attended the community’s religious service each week, where we were always received with enthusiasm and generosity – it was a truly humbling experience.
As we started work on the build, we communicated with the local building team as best we could, often dependent on the very patient Host Country Venturers (young volunteers from Malaysia) to help us. The working partnership was extremely valuable, enabling us to learn from each other throughout the course of the project.
It was not all plain sailing though, and I, like many of the other Raleigh team members, often became frustrated by broken tools, missing parts for the build, unpredictable rainfall and miscommunication with the local building team. And so it was during these times that this wonderful community and the knowledge of what this workshop would mean for them kept me focused and positive about the change we were creating.
The dedication shown by the team of builders, most of whom were balancing several different jobs for income, added to the support we felt from the community and assured us that this community project was viable in the long-term.
Although I was never able to meet the grandmothers, I had the honour of meeting with their husbands at the Opening Ceremony in August, which was a very touching moment for me. I handed to each of them letters which expressed our admiration for Gining and Rusni, who had ultimately made this project possible through their courage and commitment, and also for their families, who had supported them and agreed to be separated from them for such a long time. Now that the grandmothers have returned home, we hope that they will enjoy their new place of work and feel the full support of their community in the same way as the Raleigh volunteers did.
The PACOS Trust will also help the grandmothers pass on their newly-developed skills to other community members, helping to tackle gender inequality by providing women with sustainable livelihoods and also ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project.
The new workshop also unlocks funding from Sabah Energy Corporation and Tan Sui Lin Foundation to provide solar panels to neighbouring villages. In time, we hope this increased supply of clean energy will enable the community to drive further positive changes, including increasing levels of education, strengthening communication, and providing potential for new livelihoods (to name but a few).
It was an absolute privilege to have been a part of the project and I wish Gining and Rusni all the very best in their new careers. Thank you Sungai Magandai for a very special summer!
By Marina Burton, Project Manager at Raleigh International