I came onboard to my present position as Project Coordinator for corporate social responsibility after hearing about Taylor’s CEO Dato’ Loy’s desire to see a hostel built in the remote Kelabit Highlands. I had no idea where Bario was, or who the Kelabit people were, but the Spirit spoke to my heart and urged me to get involved. I responded to that ‘still small voice’ and found myself in charge! God will do that, if you are not careful. For two years, I have labored to bring the work in Bario to the attention of the Taylor’s community. I have built an entire website grouped around this one project – which in the process expanded into 90 projects. I have arranged for others to visit and conduct projects there, and visited Sarawak three times in the process. But this is going to be the last trip.
It is the last because the project is nearing completion. My friend Evan Horsnell, the project manager for this and many other construction projects for Taylor’s, travelled with me to Bario to have one final inspection of the work there. I went to arrange for the construction of the bunks and lockers, and to begin the process of planning for the ribbon cutting ceremony to take place. I met with the principal, Dora Tigan, and with one of the elders, Laju Balang, who will supervise the construction of the furnishings for the hostel. They gave me a tour of their respective longhouses, which was an education in itself. They graciously hosted me with tea and fresh fruit gathered from the forest. Then they told me the stories of the salvation of the village by English and Australian missionaries, and their part in the liberation of Borneo from the occupying Japanese forces.
During WWII, when Japan occupied Borneo, it became the site of a guerrilla offensive, launched by Australian special forces, who trained and armed the locals to attack the back lines of the occupying Japanese army. The offensive provided to be more than an annoyance for the Japanese, as several thousand Japanese soldiers died in the jungle on unfamiliar trails at the hands of the Kelabit, Penan and Kayan, who were not opposed to removing the heads of their victims for personal use. Forced to redeploy their troops from the coast to handle the insurgency, the Japanese were ill prepared to meet the Australian troops landing not far from Miri when that offensive began later in the year.
Those bloodier days of their history are well in the past now, as Bario promotes its culture and natural beauty, becoming a local centre for education and eco-tourism. The new meeting hall and dormitory will help to ensure that continued growth and draw children from the surrounding villages who will be able to stay in Bario during the term and benefit from the growth in their education and understanding of the modern world.
I spoke to the elders in a meeting arranged and translated for me by Dora, and urged them to consider planning for an event which will celebrate an historic moment for Bario when both the hostel and the accompanying meeting hall will be completed. I have heard in recent contacts with the village that the best date for this is July 3 of this year. It is a bittersweet pill. On the one hand the elders have found a time that suits both the village and the CEO of Taylor’s. On the other hand, I will not be able to attend, as I will be back in Canada at that time.
This then will be my last visit with people I have come to care for and seek to serve. The blessing is that as brothers and sisters in Christ, there will be a future time for all of us to meet again and share how the Lord has blessed in the completion of a project which will impact the children of that region for years to come. It was my good fortune to be a small part of His greater design for the Kelabit people that He loves.