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Jungle blog - A land rights mission

Living and working in the jungle environment of Sabah, Borneo, is a truly amazing and unique experience. I am lucky enough to be here with a team of seven other girls from Macquarie University selected by PACE International, and a sensational team leader from AVI, learning about village life and the struggles these remote communities face in relation to land rights. We live in a wonderful home stay in Kipouvo village, and although there are many comforts from home that we are missing, we have quickly come to love our space and to make the most of the resources we have available. After a week of adapting, laughing and learning, we have learnt how to wash our hair very in a challenging shower situation, how to deal with giant bugs and scorpions, and how to perfectly chop a pineapple.

Our first week was spent with the staff of PACOS Trust, a non-government organisation who has supported and empowered communities in Sabah through a ‘grass roots’ approach. With the help and hospitality of this amazing organisation, we were able to gain an understanding of the land rights problems in Sabah, and begin to prepare for our field trips the next week.

On Monday 14th July we split off in to two teams and went off to visit Mangkadait and Malinsau. These villages are about 5 hours in land from Kota Kinabalu, and are situated in amongst some of the most majestic and beautiful mountain terrain we had ever seen. It was not until we arrived and began to adapt to village life that we began to understand the very real and troubling nature of the challenges these wonderful communities face.

Claire Mitchell, Simone Bova, Stephanie Triefus, Elizabeth King, and the youth of Mangkadait village, Borneo.

After five days of personal interviews with women, men, leaders and youth, as well as participation in various activities such as clearing burnt forest areas, planting rice paddy and integrated farming, it has become evident to us that there is no life for these people without their land. Their land is a sacred part of their community history and of their personal lives in a very intimate way, as well as being a necessary source of food, water, medicine and other materials. Being able to cultivate land together facilities a strong sense of community, which ensures positive relationships, health, and excellent use of resources.

What we have seen and experienced has inspired and motivated us to do what we can to help these communities strengthen their Native Customary Rights, and gain official ownership of their land. We are now working very hard as a team to consolidate all of our knowledge on the social, economic, political and spiritual aspects of these communities, and to prepare a document which can be used by the villagers to help claim proper, legal title to their land.

We are all very grateful to have had this opportunity to come to Sabah and become emerged in a wonderfully different and challenging culture, and we encourage everyone to take that leap of faith and make the most of all the opportunities out there, especially the ones offered by the Global Leadership Program.

Claire Mitchell, Elizabeth King, Simone Bova and Stephanie Triefus in Mangkadait village.

PACE International has helped me achieve my life-long goal of working overseas, and provided me with an amazing team, support and endless advice and encouragement so that I can appreciate every minute here, and come home with a greater understanding of different cultures and how we can make a sustainable difference in the world.

Many of us have conquered some significant fears while we have been here; including heights, eating fish and chicken feet, facing down insects the size of your hand, living without a proper fridge, trekking in 40 degree heat and roughing it in very remote communities. Every day has been filled with laughs, challenges and opportunities for growth, learning and fun, and we can’t wait to see what the next two weeks of our journey will bring.

If you are at home wondering what to do with your holidays, start to look for some opportunities, and make the most of your time as a student. You will never regret it, and never forget it!

Stephanie Triefus, Elizabeth King, Claire Mitchell, Arielle Zinn, Simone Bova, Emily Swanton, Jennika Woerde and Erin Turner-Manners.

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