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RED Expedition 2017: Phase 1

This year, a group of eighteen volunteers travelled to Sabah, Malaysian Borneo for five weeks to construct an education centre for a native Dusun community in Kampung Palipikan. A tranquil village in the Kota Marudu district, Kampung Palipikan is in the northern region of the Sabah state and has a population of 500 people. ​In phase 1, there were nine of us.

Upon arrival in Kota Kinabalu, we had a classic seafood dinner to break the ice.

From the left: Wen Wei, Gagan, Neoh, Sebastian, Ottilie, Jayden, Cheng Moi, Arthur

The next day, we left Kota Kinabalu for Kampung Palipikan. Trust me when I say it, it was a very, very rough 4 hour journey with a thunderstorm upon our arrival.

Despite the rain, we still trekked up the muddy roads and moved our belongings to our place for the next two weeks.

Look at THAT muddy slope!

Here's a mini virtual tour of our place:

Our little house, equipped with a kitchen, a hall, a room and a dining space.

Our dining area

Our spacious toilet cubicles. There were two.

Our hall with some beds set up.

Our little room.

Our kitchen, featuring our lovely lady cook from the village!

We then began the hard work the very next day!

In the first two weeks of the expedition, monsoon season in Borneo posed significant challenge to our project as torrential rain disrupted our work in ground levelling. Recognising the evening rain pattern, our volunteers woke up before dawn to have an early start to our daily tasks. With more productive working hours, uninterrupted by the intermittent evening rain, we ploughed and moved soil to make the ground ready for concreting.​

Once ground levelling was completed, boundaries of the site were marked with wooden planks. Remarkable help from the villagers enabled the wooden planks to be sourced locally from the forest that borders our construction site. This eliminated the need to purchase wooden formwork and promoted a sustainable use of readily available material. The wooden planks were also used to stabilise steel columns before they were concreted into the ground.​

With the columns propped and set into place, we proceeded with the slab pour to raise the ground level of the education centre. Again, with the innovative use of available construction material, we made spacers, where steel reinforcements rest on, from a mixture of cement, sand and water. The addition of gravel into the mixture burdened our work to obtain spacers with desired geometries. Fortunately, the final products were satisfactory and sufficient spacers were produced for the concrete slab.​

Progressing into the second week, we decided to push for roof construction to reduce the time working under scorching heat, with slab pour carried out simultaneously. The main supporting elements for the roof are steel tie beams that run along the longer sides of the structure. ​

Roof trusses were assembled on a flat ground before being lifted onto the tie beams. The roof construction was met with a major hindrance, which impeded our progress. For the tie beams to be attached to the vertical columns, welding was required. However, as the welding process demanded large electric current, the welding set strained the electrical outlets in the village beyond their capacity, which in the end fused several of them.​ Recognising the need for an alternative solution, electrical drills with bolts and nuts were purchased to screw the tie beams to the columns. With the tie beams in position, they formed vertical supports for the roof trusses to rest upon.​​

Gagan and our amazing roof trusses.

Installing our roof trusses.

We then installed steel battens parallel to the tie beams to hold the metal trusses together, forming a rigid roof system. The trusses were later covered with corrugated sheets equipped with wool insulation and heat reflectors. Slab pour was carried out at the same time.

Steel Battens

Roof Panels

With all that we've achieved, we have also managed to squeeze in some quality time with the kids, have a tour around the village and hold English classes for the kids. I'll let the pictures do the talking:

Sebastian and some kids

One of our first English classes

Touring around the village

Anelson, one of the kids, and two kittens

A typical shelter in the village

A terrified Ottilie and a terrified beetle, haha

Gagan and two little ones

During the weekends, we also spent some time travelling around Sabah. Here are some pictures from our trip to Kinabalu Park (a world heritage site), Kampung Gaur (our 2016 Project Site) and Sapi Island.

Before they realised eating behind a moving pickup is not a good idea...

Our pioneer project still looking great!

Group Photo with some of the volunteers from Phase 2!


Deciding between internship & RED expedition was a hard choice. To do something that could boast my career advancement or to do something that could contribute back to the society. I am still glad I chose RED. Being a non-civ eng-er to the expedition with neither hands-on nor theory knowledge of construction, I thought that I will be of no help to my fellow comrades. Little did I know that they're all very helpful & explained well on how we should work on the project together, as a team. We worked under the sun, we worked under the rain & we worked together towards the same goal each day. Only then I realised that skill is a bonus, not a must. Other than working on site, I missed the interaction with the children in the village the most. They would greet you with their shy & bright smile, show you around the village & invite you to their "games session". Simple games yet full of laughter. Despite being dead tired with slightly less conducive environment, it is an experience that I'll never forget.

Cheng Moi, Phase 1 Volunteer


In phase 1, we progressed amazingly and was able to get a good head start for our phase 2 volunteers. Our hard work most definitely paid off.

Stay tuned for new blog entries!

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