The volunteer

Making it out of the pub and into the rainforest. Words: Kirstin Smith

travelling. you know . . .‘ is mtrttered trnconvincingly in the pub

on a weekly basis by people yet to set foot in the travel agent. a bit scared of jabs/snakes/flying btit still intending a Beuelz-style escapade any time soon. As the weeks turn into months. it becomes clear that most of us will get no further than a fortnight in Kavos.

‘This isn‘t going to happen to me.‘ I decided as l slapped down my deposit for Trekforce: two months in Sarawak. Iiast Malaysia. building a research centre in a National Park. Iiight weeks of sleeping in a hammock in the rainforest and working in an ()rangutan Preservation Centre. ‘l'm going to the jungle.‘ l cried. grinning madly at each person entering the pub (whom I knew) (at first). The smile started to wane as the questions began. ‘Where exactly is Sarawak'." they demanded. ‘What do you wear/eat/do'." I needed some serious information.

When Jess Rigby mentions Trekforce her eyes widen and she starts htrgging herself with glee. It was the best two months of her life. she tells me. I begin retreating into a fuzzy dream world of swinging hammocks and baby orangutans before Jess worries me with: ‘Do you like porridge'.’ And Spam? Make sure you bring loads of foot powder ms you never really get dry. Try to get pretty lit first: it‘s tough work and the trekking is knackering. Have you had your first vaccination‘.”

Make no mistake: volunteering is no holiday. ()nly limited supplies of food can be taken so the diet doesn't vary much from rice. noodles and tinned foods. You have to be stringent about inoculations. purifying water and taking malaria medication. And if the thought of coming

' ’m taking a year otrt. Yeah. working just now hoping to go

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across a leech is unbearable. you need not apply.

But the experience of seeing the wildlife and meeting the people of East Malaysia. judging by Jess. isn't easily forgotten. The group of around twenty begin with a week of training on jungle survival from how to string up a hammock to which plants should be given a wide berth. Then the project begins. Trekforce plans the tasks in conjunction with the National Park. Forestry Commission and local government. and typically it involves building a research or visitor centre. bridge or paths. After six weeks the group celebrate the project‘s completion and head out to trek through the rainforest for the final week. visiting places to which it would otherwise be almost impossible to gain access.

The downside is that Trekforce is expensive: the eight week expedition costs £2350. The idea of three months waitressing. going to the gym and having injections might sound grim. but I‘m keeping my eyes on that fuzzy hammock.

Find out more at

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'1 (@5ngin 2002 run LIST 19