It was during a speech by Idris Jala – former resident of Bario and rising star in the Malaysian government – that Taylor’s Education Group president and CEO Dato Loy Teik Ngan heard a call to help with the problems of education in remote villages. Although the government had built schools and hostels in the remote interior, many of these were now facing the end of their useful life. Dato Loy harnessed the considerable resources of his educational interests in Malaysia to raise the funds necessary for a new hostel in Bario that would allow the school to continue to serve the needs of the children in the remote villages in this part of the world. An architect was engaged, a project manager hired, a cost analysis conducted, and a fund-raising campaign was conducted – all pro bono – to meet the need for a new hostel.

DSCN5732By the time I stepped into the role as Project Coordinator for Bario much of this preparation was already either done or well underway. However, now recognizing that Bario was but one piece in a larger picture, I was taken on as coordinator for all community projects, numbering more than three dozen with more developing all the time. These added responsibilities for the larger picture of CSR are the reason why it was not until last week that I finally got to Bario myself, in the company of Evan Horsnell, the project manager for the build. Evan is an Aussie who came to Kuala Lumpur to help sort out a project, met a Malaysian who he married, and has now settled down in the country. He is your typical Aussie, friendly and garrulous with a distinctly colourful past, and we regaled each other for hours on things that we did in our youth that we probably should never have gotten away with.

In order to get to Bario you have to first fly to Miri, a town funded largely by the oil that is drilled off the Borneo coast in Malaysian waters, and then on Bario in a Canadian-made de Havilland Twin Otter over terrain that rose rapidly to 3200 feet over virgin forest that held few villages and fewer roads. The single dirt track that runs to Bario takes two days and 14 hours when it is dry, and is impassable when it rains. We were met at the airport by Dora Tigan, the headmistress of the primary school where the hostel is being built and John Tarawe, the local counselor most responsible for moving the project forward. With limited time for social niceties, we drove straight to the site of the hostel where Evan and Shep Bala the local contractor, walked over the build and made an assessment of its progress. Evan wasted no time in checking over the build with his experienced eye.

DSCN5737I spent my time collecting the stories of the participants in the project, chief among them Dora Tigan, a resident of Bario who like many others had to leave the village to get an education, but has then returned to contribute to the ongoing development of the village as a local cultural heritage center for the Kelabit people. There are two schools in the village: a primary school and a middle school, both of which have hostels to house the children from the surrounding villages. There is a medical clinic and a coming electrical project which will see the village get a solar array to reduce their dependency on expensive diesel fuel which has to be trucked in from Miri, and the small hydro-electric plant which is often hampered by insufficient rainfall.

Like most things in life, the hostel situation in Bario is hard to categorize in a single weblog post. It is easy to see how a larger and better equipped hostel would help the community to meet the educational needs of the surrounding villages. It is also easy to see how the project could get bogged down without regular technical oversight. I sympathize with my Aussie friend’s frustration at the rate of progress and difficulties with materials. I also recognize the desire of most in the village – many of whom are sincere and devout Christians – to use the vehicle of education to serve the needs of their community. It is that need that drives my own interest to see this project through to its conclusion.