When we signed up for three months volunteering we never expected to be working anywhere quite like Mantanani island off the coast of Borneo. Mantanani could be described as a true paradise; white sandy beaches, clear blue sea, coral reefs, great weather etc etc. Heaven on earth.
So why have we traveled half way around the world for Camps International to send us volunteering in a community that is living in a place where most of us aspire to live? Surely the people of Mantanani should be the ones coming to England and helping us make our lives more like theirs.
Well, the islanders do have to suffer a few hardships.
- Electricity: A diesel generator provides electricity between about 18.30 and 05:00 only but is subject to frequent blackouts or not coming in at all.
- Schooling: It’s hard to attract good teachers to the island’s primary school which has led to a high failure rate in the kid’s final exams. Although at a subsidised 25RM (about £5) a year it’s still incredibly good value. As for secondary school, there isn’t one on the island so any children showing academic promise will need to go to a boarding school on the mainland – not something all islanders can afford.
- Tourists: There are now a number of holiday resorts opening up on the island which are bringing a larger and larger amount of (mainly) Chinese tourists each day. Whilst this helps the local economy (and gave us a place to buy cold beer), it is having impacts on the island community; coral reefs are being destroyed, the islanders are losing control of parts of their island and the Chinese are pooing in the village streets.
- Infrastructure: Minimal to no sanitation (sewage or garbage) infrastructure. The week we arrived the island had just got their first mobile network tower, but there is no fibre optic broadband. There is no hospital/doctors surgery.
- Supplies: For anything but fish, it’s a long boat ride to the mainland.
So, it was with these issues in mind that we set about our volunteering to make this a true paradise.
There were a number of projects we got involved in:
- Library Building Maintenance: Camps International had previously built a Library building for the school and village. This required some maintenance as some of the wood was in the process of being destroyed by termites and the bamboo panels needed a new splash of varnish. This would help ensure the longer term life of the library and support the local kids education.
- Community Toilet: Camps International had built a number of community toilet and shower outhouses to provide locals access to more sanitary facilities and also combat the Chinese street turders. One of the toilet/shower buildings was half complete so we had to plaster the internal walls (Louise and I had the smoothest wall), install a septic tank and build a platform to hold a rainwater water butt.
- Teaching: we taught/played at the school with the kids helping with basic maths and English.
- Flower bed making: We made flower beds out of driftwood for the school to help teach kids about growing their own produce.
- Wooden Play House: A wooden play House needed repairs as it was getting dangerous for the kids to use. So with some crafty work we replaced the rotten floorboards and made some benches.
As opposed to the hard labour camp at Tinagol, the work at Manatani was more relaxed with the volunteering only taking place in the mornings. This left plenty of time for R&R activities:
Chilling: It’s easy to chill on Mantanani. Hammocks are abundant and my favourite spot was the black hammock by the beach. Here you could look to your left and see the imposing Mt Kinabalu on the mainland covered in various shades of blue haze, or look to the right and look out to sea with the golden glow of offshore oil refineries scattering the horizon (both beautiful and horrific).
Swimming/Kayaking/Snorkeling: After a sweaty morning volunteering it was incredibly refreshing to run into the sea which was just 5 meters outside our camp. The water was clear and calm which made snorkeling a lot of fun. There was also a camp kayak which Louise and I used for a trip exploring coral reefs a little further out and the caves on the opposite side of the island. Bjorn and I also used the kayak for a beer run during a storm which makes a regreshing change from walking to the local Sainsbury’s back at home.
Beach Fires: At nights we made camp fires on the beach, roasted marshmallows, sat on driftwood logs and chatted shit.
Beach Volleyball: Volleyball become an obsession. Games were hard fought with tropical storms not even stopping play. Beers were placed on the outcome of the tournaments and I’m pleased to say Bjorn, Matt and I were victorious against Sammy, Ewan and Theo. Sammy and I also had a convincing victory over the Camps International staff (Abner and his mate).
Sunsets: Sunset chasing almost became our religion. Whilst the final moments of the sunsets were often covered by cloud on the horizon, the rest of the sky looked like a renaissance painting on the walls of the Vatican; absolutely stunning.
All in all our two weeks at Mantanani were more like an 18-30s full board holiday rather than the volunteering that we expected. We had an unforgettable and amazing time. As for the volunteering in paradise conundrum…well all I can say is that we live in a mad, messed up world but I’m glad for the opportunity to experience the magic of Mantanani.