Back to Tembak

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Tembak (remote Borneo) on a staff volunteering trip. I wrote about it in a previous post (click here to read it). This week, it was my absolute pleasure to return and, if possible, it was even more enjoyable and rewarding. Once again, the trip was in collaboration with Masarang HK, which our school supports (you can see our VSA logo on the Sintang Orangutan Center vehicle below). It was, again, wonderful to see their amazing work and how important funds are being utilised. I’d like to use this blog post to share some of the highlights of this 2019 trip.

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With my friends/colleagues Larissa Chan, Karin Samuel and Gloria Li

Sintang Orangutan Center

First, some important background information. Orangutans are only found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra and are critically endangered. This is particularly heartbreaking when you realise how incredibly intelligent and human-like they are. I saw it with my own eyes (but I can’t share photographs). Habitat loss and the illegal pet trade continue to devastate the orangutan population. The long road between Sintang and Tembak is almost entirely lined with oil palms, the most common reason for deforestation. Oil palms destroy the environment but palm oil is, unfortunately, used in a wide range of food and cosmetic products. Furthermore, it is annoyingly difficult to spot because it hides behind many different names. Sadly, orangutans are frequently killed, orphaned, lost or sold and the future looks bleak for Asia’s great ape. To find out more, I have ordered Willie Smits’ book (he is the founder of Masarang and is leading the way to address these issues). Thankfully, there are organisations that are helping the situation, such as Sintang Orangutan Center.

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Palm oil plantations line the entire road

Sintang Orangutan Center (a project of Masarang HK) rescues lost, orphaned and traumatised orangutans and rehabilitates them. After the right amount of care and progress, the orangutans can be relocated to a SOC forest school where they can explore the forest and practise key skills in a safe and secure environment. Eventually, they can be re-introduced to the wild. We had the opportunity to visit two forest schools (including the new Jerora Forest School), donate some much-needed equipment and see the important work for ourselves. The fantastic people at SOC work hard to get the orangutans back to full physical and mental health and even continue to monitor them after release. They are highly qualified, knowledgeable and caring. SOC undoubtedly deserves our ongoing support so I encourage other schools to consider it as well.

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School visits

IMG_2031We visited two schools during our trip, one just outside Tembak and one in Sintang. These visits included time to chat with the local principals and teachers. We also planned activities and games for the children. In one of my groups, the students constructed towers using Strawbees. I borrowed two sets from my school with every intention to return them, but the kids loved them so much that I didn’t want to take them back! I left them for the students to enjoy (I will replace them at my school). We were also able to donate wish list items for the local schools, mainly PE and sports equipment. They were very grateful.

PD for local teachers

Following the success of the 2017 training session for local teachers, everybody was keen for us to offer more. Since last time, the teachers have implemented the activities, enjoyed the donated books and one school even won an award for innovation! Gavin Coates was kind enough to donate more books to this cause and we also took advantage of our talented colleague, Chris Gadbury, and took copies of one of his stories too (Chris’ writing, illustrations and infographics are all available for free on his website). The books were gratefully received by the attending teachers. We each shared a reading activity that could be applied to any age group or language. We also introduced the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which they had never heard of but were particularly excited to integrate. They could certainly relate to some of the issues (Life On Land, especially).

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The people

IMG_1904I said it last time and I mean it sincerely: the people in Sintang and Tembak are the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. It was great to meet new people and extra special to reconnect with familiar faces. I recognised the children in the village but they were all two years older and significantly taller. Well, apart from little Gamma (right). He wasn’t around last time! Because it was my second visit, it felt much more personal. I was so thrilled to see everyone again and this feeling was mutual. I want to give a special shoutout to Dedi, Muclis and Jati for looking after us, educating us and entertaining us throughout the trip. I would gladly take the three flights again just to see these guys! I’m not sure if I will get a third opportunity to represent my school on this trip, so I am planning my own visit. Whatever happens, this will not be my last trip to Tembak because I definitely want to see the people and orangutans again.

Please consider supporting Masarang HK, either independently or with your school. If you’re interested, they warmly welcome visitors so please reach out if you want more information (this blog post has barely scratched the surface). Thank you to Masarang, Sintang Orangutan Center and the wonderful people of Tembak for making this trip so special again. Until next time!


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