Teachers’ trip to Tembak

For many years, my school (Victoria Shanghai Academy, Hong Kong) has supported the work of the Masarang Foundation, founded and led by Dr. Willie Smits. The aim of the foundation is to conserve nature and tackle environmental issues through collaboration with local people. One of their many projects is The Sintang Orangutan Center (SOC), where rescued orangutans are homed and rehabilitated before being reintroduced to the wild. We are proud that one rescued orangutan, Victoria, is named after us as thanks for our ongoing support.

I strongly encourage you to click the above links and, if you can, support this organisation. If your school is looking for a strong, mutually-beneficial connection, the Masarang Foundation could be an excellent choice.

“I believe that there is no such thing as a conflict between the needs of people and preserving nature. On the contrary!”

Dr. WIllie Smits

For the past three years, teachers from VSA have been invited to Tembak (West Kalimantan, Borneo). During the Easter break, I was lucky enough to be part of this year’s trip, alongside Melisa Baldick (returning teacher), Yan Makela, Natasha Chandler, Hanna He and Kirsty Gibson. What an experience!  Being involved was an absolute privilege. The purpose of the annual trip is to volunteer for the foundation and support the local Dayak community, whilst gathering information and resources for students’ learning at VSA.

The SOC four-wheel drive was bought by VSA and is crucial for SOC’s work around Borneo

The key to this trip’s ongoing success is the ways in which it benefits all parties. I would like to take this opportunity to share some of the main examples of this.

How we helped the people of Tembak

Clothes donations: Earlier this year, Year 5 students held a clothes drive. Our own items were restricted to hand luggage so that our huge travel backpacks could be chock-a-block with donated clothing. We shared these clothes with students at two schools and they were joyfully received. There were some children who we repeatedly saw throughout the trip who never seemed to take their new clothes off! The children of Tembak were extremely grateful. If you have unused clothes at home, don’t waste them. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.

Professional Development for local teachers: All based around The Last Nut (written, illustrated and donated by Gavin Coates), we each led a PD station about reading strategies (thanks to Brett Healey who inspired my station with his guest post and helped me to plan it). The local teachers rotated around each activity and left us with a greater understanding of modern teaching methods and a handful of great resources (including the book).

Thanks again to Gavin Coates for his extremely generous donations. Click here to browse his website.

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Kirsty’s PD station with one of the groups, helping students to make connections

School visits: During our trip, we were able to visit two primary schools. It was important to us that we had the opportunity to actually interact with students, as opposed to just touring a school. We taught various activities including ball games, team-building games, origami, and reading. Throughout them all, we helped the students with basic English.

How the Tembak people helped us

Unit enhancement: Throughout our visit, we were considering how the trip could enhance our units of inquiry back at VSA. There are authentic links to at least one unit in each year band. We took photos, recorded videos and even interviewed the local people so that these resources can be used by teachers throughout school. For example, when we arrived in the village, we were greeted with a traditional Dayak welcoming ceremony. This included a traditional dance (video below) and a good luck blessing. We can’t wait to share these videos with Year 3 teachers, who teach a unit about traditions. In another example, we interviewed a local family about how the village is governed and what systems are in place. This will be an interesting addition to the Year 4 unit about governance. And, of course, we have lots to share under the transdisciplinary theme Sharing The Planet (see below).

Understanding of nature and environmental issues: What stood out for us is the utmost respect that the Dayak people have for the forest. Agung, one of our guides, described it as a “natural supermarket”, providing everything that the locals need. However, it was also very clear to see that their environment is threatened, especially by the endless palm oil plantations that literally go on for miles in all directions. At the SOC Forest School, we learnt how orangutans are losing their habitat and are even kept as pets!

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

As a result of seeing the issues for ourselves and learning about them from experts, we will be more passionate, invested and informed when we teach our Sharing The Planet units. We will share our experiences with colleagues in an upcoming staff meeting. Our collected resources will be made available and organised by year band for easy access.

The long road between Sintang and Tembak was lined with palm oil plantations

We have a lovely success story to share with our students and colleagues. As well as Victoria, we have also received regular updates about another orangutan named Jojo. After a few years of SOC care and rehabilitation, Jojo is ready to be released.

What next?

We are already looking ahead to next year’s trip and considering how we can make the best use of it. We also want to involve our students more so that they can be similarly invested. In our debrief with Masarang’s Adrienne, here are a few next steps that were suggested:

  • Donate more school resources as well as clothes
  • Model a lesson in school as part of the teacher PD
  • Hold a special event at VSA to raise money for classroom solar panels in Tembak
  • Invite students to design the orangutan enclosure for the new Jerora Forest School
  • Possibly collaborate with another Borneo-based charity

The Dayak people of Tembak, as well as the fantastic people at SOC, are genuinely some of the nicest people we have ever met. We appreciate their hospitality and the way that they helped us throughout the trip and with our school needs. We are confident that VSA’s special relationship with Masarang and Tembak will continue to go from strength to strength.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about this experience, please leave a comment below or email me. I’d be more than happy to discuss it further.


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