I am currently working on a pilot project with PACOS Trust in partnership with Community Learning Centres across Sabah called Vertical University. The project takes interns into villages in Sabah to get an understanding of how these Indigenous communities live. Interns get the opportunity to engage with community life and activities while gaining valuable experience in cultural awareness and intelligence. Interns are responsible for documenting the trips in order to create a promotional tool for PACOS to use to create awareness for these communities and boost tourism in these areas. So far I have had the amazing opportunity to visit three villages here in Sabah.

The first village was Kampung Kibunut and the program was all about traditional foods. We started the program by visiting a homestay and meeting some wonderful community members. We then went to Alice’s house to visit her garden and harvest vegetables for dinner. We spent the evening cooking and eating together.

The next day we crossed the river to harvest more traditional fruits and vegetables, specifically tuhau. Upon returning to the community learning centre we cleaned and cooked the vegetables we harvested to be taken to market the next day. The visit to Kibunut was so wonderful – I got the incredible opportunity to spend the day with a family who sustains themselves by planting and harvesting fruits and veggies to sell at the market. We couldn’t communicate verbally but we still spent a day working together which was such a beautiful way of sharing life for a brief moment.

The next village I visited was Kampong Saugon in the Tongod territory of Sabah – Tongod is known as the heart of Sabah. This trip consisted of learning how to harvest and weave ratan in the traditional style, plant a rice paddy, visit the last standing traditional house in the village and swim in the river. 

The most recent community I visited was Kodong, one of the most northern communities in Sabah. Upon arrival, we visited a nearby community of Liu Pitas to sit with the women who weave traditional dress for the village. We then travelled a bit further to Kampung Kapok – a fishing village nestled on the coast – to watch the most beautiful sunset on the beach. After dinner, I had the opportunity to speak with the village leader, Vincen, about the history of Kodong and how the community came to be. Vincen, shared the captivating history of Kodong, from its humble beginnings in 1745 to the resilient community it is today. The story of relocation, struggle, and determination painted a vivid picture of the village’s evolution.

The following day we planted rice in the paddy near the community learning centre before hiking through the jungle to see the water catchment that women from Kodong and nearby communities maintain to keep water flowing to the villages.

I am so looking forward to completing the project with PACOS Trust and visiting the last two villages. As I reflect on the invaluable experiences gained so far these journeys have been more than just trips; they have been windows into the lives, traditions, and histories of Sabah’s Indigenous communities. The opportunity to work with PACOS Trust’s Vertical University is a privilege, and I feel fortunate to contribute to the promotion of these remarkable communities. Sabah’s villages are not just places; they are living stories of resilience, heritage, and the vibrant tapestry of Indigenous life.