When I first found out I was going to Borneo, I was excited and nervous. But if I’m being honest with myself, I was probably more nervous than excited. I was nervous about travelling so far on my own. I was nervous about the humidity; I am used to the dry Southern California heat. I was nervous about meeting new people. After arriving in Sepilok, I went on a walk to the Rainforest Discovery Center and my worst fears were coming true. It was so hot and humid that I was sluggish. I was having a hard time finding the energy to do much of anything at all. I was seriously doubting my ability to last the entire trip. But then I remembered why I was in Borneo – to learn about local conservation and to continue my own journey making a difference. It was in this moment that I decided not to dwell on the negatives, but make the most of each experience we encountered. This became my ultimate goal of this trip.
My first experience in Borneo was at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. Our first day was jam packed with orangutans, macaques, and sun bears (oh my!). I couldn’t believe that on our first day we were able to see and experience so much. While watching the mother and baby orangutan, I couldn’t imagine how the trip could get any better than this. Little did I know that there was so much left to experience.
At the Danau Girang Field Center, I experienced the forest and the wildlife as a scientist. I collected data every morning and afternoon on the bird boat. I searched for reticulated pythons on the snake boat and when that failed, I was comforted by the beautiful night sky and views of Mars over the forest. I learned about the research taking place at the field center. I identified numerous bird species; the hornbills will forever be my favorite. I learned how to tell the different primate species apart thanks to all my knowledgeable classmates. I pretended to know what I was doing while searching for the Slow Loris. I can’t believe how much I learned in the 5 days I spent at Danau Girang.
In Sukau, I experienced life as a community member. When I think of Sukau, it’s not the wildlife that immediately pops into my head, it’s the people I met in my time there. I worked, learned and lived alongside community members who have dedicated their lives to preserving the magic of the Kinabatangan River. I worked alongside amazing women as I planted trees and helped reestablish the rainforest. I learned about the work involved surveying trees and hunting for orangutan nests. I learned about the countless efforts taken by the wildlife wardens to protect the plants, animals, and the Kinabatangan. I participated in what seemed like endless dance parties, attempting to learn all the correct dance moves from my cousins. I learned how to cook curry with my loving host mother. I became a part of a family – watching soccer, playing with the 3-year-old, celebrating a birthday, sharing meals and bird watching with the neighbor. It is in Sukau that I learned how a community can come together to protect what they love.
According to David Orr (1994) the way that we learn is just as important as what we learn. I am fortunate to have been able to learn about conservation in Borneo through the experiences encountered during this course. I can sit at a computer and research the plants and animals of Borneo, but this type of learning doesn’t translate into understanding or lasting knowledge. Working alongside the scientists of the Danau Girang Field Center, Hutan, and the community members of Sukau taught me so much more than I can learn on the internet or in a book. Seeing with my own eyes the impact of palm oil on the environment, the animals and the community provided me with a more complete understanding of the palm oil dilemma. This type of learning is difficult to replicate in a classroom.
I am not sure how these experiences fit into my journey through life, but I know that I was meant to experience this place for a reason. I am thankful for all the amazing experiences and people that Borneo introduced me to.
“Every step I take is part of my journey, whether it’s in the direction I think it should be going or not, it’s part of it for a reason.” – Ellie Barrett
Stephanie Quihuiz of Yorba Linda, Calif., is a teacher for Orange Unified School District. Quihuiz, pictured fourth from the right, traveled to Borneo as a Miami University master’s degree student in Project Dragonfly‘s Global Field Program. In addition to taking online courses, GFP students take Earth Expeditions classes to earn their degrees.
Learn more about our Earth Expeditions course: Borneo: Primate Conservation