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Volunteers' Stories




Volunteering at the Orang-Utan Conservation Project in Sepilok Rehabilitation Center in Borneo,

It all seemed to happen so quickly – I booked the placement and then suddenly found myself approaching two worried looking strangers at the airport. I was really glad that I had elected for Travellers to book my flights and that I was able to travel with other volunteers. It wasn’t long before we were sharing “fun” packing stories and concerns over the possible side-effects of malaria tablets. We chatted constantly during the 20 hours + that we were travelling – we all came from different backgrounds and I guess with different motivations, but we all had the same trepidation and aspirations.

We were greeted at KK Airport by a very friendly, smiling Albert who seemed to know all about each of us and who was happy to answer our barrage of questions. KK seemed to be like any other city, except for the heat and humidity.

On stepping out of the Airport building, it felt like taking in a breath of warm water. I hoped that I would get used to it soon, and I did! Our first few days were great – we needed time to get over jet lag, get to know each other and start developing our sun-tans. However, we were all eager to start work. It didn’t take long before we felt at home in Malaysia. Everyone that we met was so friendly and helpful.

At the Jungle Resort, Mrs. Lim was eager for us to settle in and sample as much food as possible. She was especially kind to me – a “strange” vegan, she made sure in those first few days that she took my order personally. As long as we gave her notice, she was happy to provide us with any food we desired. With a little encouragement, all of the staff there were happy to make some new friends and to entertain us.

For some of us, our first week at work was tougher than expected - we were carrying out a small mammal survey in the jungle. However, it was a great opportunity to get to know some of the staff who accompanied us.

They were all eager to share their knowledge and stories, to develop their English and to laugh at us when we attracted lots of lovely leeches. However, it wasn’t long before we learnt the secret of jungle trekking – Wellies and Gabili’s famous ‘leech repellent’. I spent most of the rest of my time working in the Indoor Nursery, which for me comprised cleaning, interspersed with many “magical” moments. The Orang-Utans immediately recognised us and new exactly what we signalled – our skin colour meant lots of fun and plenty of cuddles!

Everyone did their best to convince us that we would soon know exactly where to go, what to do and be able to identify most of the orang-utans individually - I wasn’t quite convinced. However, soon we knew them by name – they all have different features and distinctive personalities.

It’s also hard to ignore their remarkable intelligence and their loving nature. Most of them were more than happy to have as much TLC as you were prepared to give. It’s hard to resist those piercing eyes and outstretched arms!

Working for several weeks in one part of the center also gave us the opportunity to get to know and to learn from the rangers. They seemed genuinely pleased to have us around and were happy to help and encourage us wherever possible. They were patient and kind, offering support when required and letting us work more independently when we felt confident to do so.

Generally, the staff were very relaxed and easy going – we were often told that we worked too hard and that we should take a break.  However, although our first week in the jungle was physically demanding and cleaning cages can be tiring, it was just great to be there every day and very different from the stress of working life at home.

For me, the relationships we developed with the orang-utans made each day a special one – whether it was giving Anne a bath; watching Rosalinda sleeping in her hammock; giving Joey a cuddle; trying to stop Amoi from running underneath the buildings; taking the babies out on the ropes; watching those orang-utans who have already been rehabilitated swinging in the trees; or hundreds of other experiences we had each day that made us realise how lucky we were to be there.

Certainly there were difficult times – it can be hard living and working in each others pockets 24 hours a day; some volunteers found it hard to see the orang-utans in cages; others felt homesick at times, but we all learnt a great deal while we were in Sabah and shared some experiences that were truly amazing.

The hardest thing we had to do was to leave! I feel privileged to have been part of this project and would like to thank all of those people who helped to make a dream of mine come true. At times I took some of the babies outside to show them where their home would be eventually - the jungle. I hope that I may return one day to see some of “my babies” free and swinging happily in the rainforest canopy.  

More Information about your Trip with Travellers

List of ALL PROJECTS in Malaysia
SEPILOK ORANG-UTAN Project in Malaysia