School camps a highlight in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU, Malaysia, 29 September 2020: During an old normal year, we would have dubbed June as the beginning of the peak season which spans until September.

This would also be the season we see a particular type of iconic traveller, identified by their knapsacks, cotton sarong pants (well in this climate why not!), make their way through town.

With a good mixture of adventure and education, their itinerary usually involves a few nights in the city and then off they go to the outskirts exploring the rural area for their sustainable community projects. In between, they would have visited other interesting places in the state such as the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre Sandakan, Longhouse in Kudat, Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park and Padas Farmstay, Tenom. Welcome to Sabah, Student groups.

This year, like many other places in the world, the tourist scene has shown significant differences than before. School camps are restricted to remain in the country of their origin. The first summer with this new era of the pandemic has affected a lot of people, including travel agents that specialise in the educational tourism field. However, besides having international students travel across the globe to appreciate Sabah for what it has to offer, our local schools could also consider this extracurricular option.

Visit to Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sandakan. Photo courtesy of Camp Borneo

Camp Borneo of Camps International chain, an award-winning expedition specialist had zero clients due to the closure of international borders.

They would normally have 450 to 600 students and teachers around this period for their programs. Nevertheless, the camps have not laid off any local staff in all their camp locations. “During this time, we continue working on our projects at our static camps, such as environmental awareness programme at school in Mantanani, completing community centres at both Tinangol and Timbang Batu in Kudat and initiating Syntropic Agro community farming project at Kampung Bongkud in Ranau,” said Melanie Chu, Country Manager for Camp Borneo.

Among other projects, Camp Borneo has achieved previously with the help of participating volunteers include setting up Community Learning Centres, building old folks home, community volleyball court, market place as well as building hanging bridges, all for the benefits of the communities at their campsites.

Photo courtesy of Camp Borneo

Melanie also added that Camp Borneo is getting acquainted with the new SOPs in project locations as well as giving their staff training so that they would be ready to serve without compromising any aspects of health and safety to all who come on their future trips.

Opportunity to refine products and services

Howard Stanton of Tampat Do Aman, Kudat in the Northern district of Sabah, shared that they would have 21 international groups booked-in to come and embark on their community projects and survival courses if it weren’t for the pandemic.

A lot of community projects will not be undertaken and their staff are underemployed. However, they prefer to turn a negative into a positive outlook. With the extra time to spare, the team has been refining their experience by looking at a new trek, training staff and refurbishing their jungle survival camp. They are hoping to see more groups coming to stay and experience Tampat Do Aman Jungle Camp when the travelling momentum picks up again.

An international student group at Tampat Do Aman. Photo courtesy of Tampat Do Aman.

“Interestingly for us this year was to see how much of an impact the projects have had to the community. 2 years ago we embarked on a project to help villagers at the Tip of Borneo to start a small agricultural business. It has been satisfying to see how the projects that the groups have undertaken have helped to improve the food security of the area and provided much-needed income despite the economic downturn due to the virus outbreak,” said Howard.

Virtual field trip

Meanwhile, Joanne Swann of Downbelow Marine and Adventures, has been quick to adapt to the ‘new norm’ using the digital world to connect with their regular school camps.

“Our school camps visit every year as part of their educational curriculum and although most countries have been on lockdown and not attending school physically, their education has continued online. We have been providing our school camps ‘virtual field trip’ using video footage, demonstrations and live classes.”

Coral education by Richard Swann. Photo courtesy of Downbelow Marine and Adventures.

Joanne remains positive with the industry outlook and believes that the unique take on an educational expedition allows the participants to expand their comfort zones, to think ‘outside of the box’ and acquire new life skills.

Campfire at Padas Farmstay as part of the highlight. Photo courtesy of TYK Adventures Tours.

Encouraging local school group

Over the years, local schools and institutions have also evolved their learning syllabus to include outdoor field education. Learning not only becomes more exciting but also creates an opportunity for the agents’ such TYK Adventures.

Being among the pioneers in the industry and specialised in educational groups, Mr Tham Yau Kong who operates TYK Adventures has hosted many local and international groups at their Padas Farmstay and Miki Survival Camp. They are also the local expert in the historical Sandakan Death March track expedition.  During this tough time, they persevere and have been keeping in touch with their partnering agents that frequently send groups to their centre.

Photo courtesy of Traverse Tours.

Valentine Willard, Sales and Marketing Manager of Traverse Tours @Riverbug encourages more local school groups to experience outdoor learning.

Not only that it is a great way to develop students’ outdoor skills, but this will shape them to have better attitudes towards the environment. Traverse Tours offers a wide range of packages at their premises, for example, Water Safety Introduction and Jungle Survival in Kiulu, and Educational tour at Mari Mari Sepanggar Island. “We have a bespoke education package for students also great as team building for a new intake programme. Though we do have existing collaborations with few local universities in the state, due to the current pandemic, there are no activities allowed until further notice”.

Ability Expeditions, who runs The Adventure Centre in Kiulu offer a 1-day jungle survival programme to 5 days outdoor educational programme with mix elements suitable for students.

The Adventure Centre also has the facilities to do exciting High Challenge activities at Zip Borneo. “Schools from around the world travel to Sabah for educational expeditions due to the diversity of environments and cultural experience they can safely experience. Ability Expeditions has more than 20 years of experience of conducting experiential learning with the highest international safety and educational standards which can also be a great benefit to the local students. Now is a fantastic opportunity for them to share similar educational experiences.”  encouraged Hailin Gambud, Business  Development Director of Ability Expeditions.

Photo courtesy of Ability Expeditions.

These experiences are not only limited to school groups but also adaptable for incentive or conference packages including team building activities. Local groups are encouraged to explore this opportunity especially now when international travel is still restricted. Sabah is a wonderful place to explore, an ideal learning ground for everyone interested in nature and adventure.

For more info about Sabah, Malaysia Borneo please visit our website www.sabahtourism.com.

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