Environmental work, community support and a 17 day trek through a rainforest has given a University of Cumbria zoology student Sophie Babbs memories that are sure to last a lifetime.
The 21 year old originally from North Walsham, in Norfolk, but now living in Carlisle in Cumbria, received support from the Eleanor Peel Trust towards the 10 week volunteering trip to Malaysian Borneo with Raleigh International.
A welcome break from her studies in Cumbria, the eye-opening trip offered Sophie the chance to actively help with projects that will have a long lasting effect on the country.
“The first part of the trip was to the Danum Valley Conservation Area, 438 square kilometres of primary and secondary rainforest, which is a highly protected world-renowned conservation and research area, famous for its rich biodiversity and abundant wildlife,” Sophie said. “I helped Raleigh International and the Danum Valley staff in building a suspension bridge which will provide better access to the primary rainforest for researchers, subsequently, aiding in more efficient conservation work being carried out. Camera trapping too, to aid the cataloguing of species and the number of animals in the area should help the area achieve UNESCO world heritage status.”
Ten weeks away from home flew by, Sophie says, with the variety of challenges faced helping her develop a wider awareness of the world around her.
“The 17 day trek is designed to develop as individuals and as a team, to see what we can achieve physically in arduous and challenging terrain,” Sophie recalls. “We had to be self-sufficient, carrying all that we would need, supplies and equipment, between the group. We were wild camping along the trails and had to have a minimal to no effect on our surroundings, so the rainforest or environment would not be harmed.”
A final part of the trip was based in the village of Kampung Mempakad where Sophie’s team worked to build a dam at a natural spring install water pipes and a tap for each of the 38 homes, as well as three toilets and hand washing stations for the village to share.
Now back in Cumbria and looking forward to continuing her second year studies, she describes the experience as ‘phenomenal’ and hopes it will inspire others to add more experience to their studies at Cumbria.
“Danum Valley was magical for the wildlife I got to see, seeing monkeys most days, having wild orangutans over our camp and work site, having bearded pigs and civets in camp, and even just the noises of the insects at all times of day. I will never forget the joy on the people faces when they got safe running water to their village for the first time in 50 years, it was an extraordinary feeling to know we have helped them.
“One of the other most rewarding parts of this entire expedition is how genuine friendship have been built between volunteers from all over the world and communities I was in, and I will treasure these friendships for the rest of my life.”