Volvo Trucks, one of the world’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturers, visited the highlands of Bario in Sarawak recently as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility initiative to drive progress for a safer and more sustainable future. The company made contributions via the Volvo Group Seasonal Gift programme to the Kelabit community of Bario.
Bario is a vast highland plateau sitting over 1,000 metres above sea level in the northeastern corner of Sarawak and is home to a number of small local indigenous villages. Surrounded by mountains, cultural sites, agriculture landscape and tropical rainforest, Bario is one of the most beautiful rural locations in Malaysia which deserves conservation and protection.
The indigenous community that has been living in Bario for more than 4,000 years are known as Kelabit, where today they now face challenges such as modernisation and deforestation. Over the years, about 65% of the younger population have migrated out due to the lack of facilities and jobs in Bario. Today, it is estimated that just slightly more than 1,000 Kelabit people are still living in Bario.
The Seasonal Gift programme is part of Volvo Group’s corporate social responsibility efforts which is carried out globally to help support local country social causes. The objective is to help create prosperity for the communities where Volvo Trucks operates. Malaysia was one of the countries that was selected, with Bario chosen as the recipient of the Volvo Trucks-funded RM500,000 Seasonal Gift contribution for improving the lives of the Kelabit community.
Volvo Trucks’ Seasonal Gift contribution to Bario focuses on two key efforts, one of which is the construction of a fire-fighting system with a water tank and eight hose reels for the Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse settlement, the oldest longhouse in the area dating back to 1958. The fire-fighting system is intended to safeguard lives and the longhouse, which is the pride of the community as well as a tourism draw and a living historical monument.
The second effort is the construction of five eco-shelters along the 25-kilometer distance Bario ancestral trail. All the materials for these shelters were carried on the backs of porters, and shelters built by hand. The estimated distance between each shelter in the ancestral trail is about five kilometers. The eco-shelters are also equipped with working toilets using a sustainable water harvesting system, as well as a safe resting area. It will take about five to six days of trekking to reach the last eco-shelter. The eco-shelters will help to make the trekking journey through thick jungle terrain more manageable for locals and hikers alike, as well as encourage more tourists into the area, thus helping to generate more sources of income for the locals.
The Bario project commenced in mid-2017 and was completed in December 2017. An official handover event to mark the completion of both the fire-fighting system and five eco-shelters was held recently at the Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse settlement. The event was attended and launched by Dag Juhlin-Dannfelt, Ambassador of Sweden to Malaysia; Mats Nilsson, Managing Director, Volvo Malaysia Sdn Bhd; Penghulu Robertson Bala; and Laju Balang @ Aren Lemulun, Headman of Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse.
Said Mats Nilsson, “The primary objective of our Seasonal Gift contribution and other corporate social responsibility initiatives is to give back to various stakeholders in the society. Volvo’s commitment to social, environmental and economic responsibility has been carried out yearly since the day the business started. Our dedication to this commitment means that we support a range of health and safety projects that are in line with our core values of quality, safety and environmental care.”
“This initiative for Bario is one of 14 projects being carried out in different countries globally under our Seasonal Gift programme which was first announced in December 2016. In addition, Malaysia is one out of only two countries in Asia that was chosen and it is indeed a privilege for us to put our funds to good use,” Nilsson added.
Laju Balang @ Aren Lemulun, Headman of Bario Asal Lembaa said, “We are incredibly grateful for all of the work Volvo Trucks has put in for these two projects – the fire-fighting system and the eco-shelters. To have a partner who shares our vision for heritage and the environment has been a dream come true. For us, this has been more than corporate social responsibility – it has been an opportunity to learn from experts in leadership, quality and the environment. These projects will have a profound impact on the community here for generations to come.”
“Our community has humble beginnings. This longhouse, Bario Asal Lembaa, is the oldest in Bario as our forefathers are the first settlers to this area that we have come to share, build and grow with other longhouses to make Bario what it is today. It is a living piece of history that must be protected and preserved. We enjoy modern amenities now but we remain very traditional in our communal way of life. We are close-knit, caring and cooperative as a community. The traditional way of life here is not that easy, but it is a special place and we have a responsibility to ensure our longhouse and our traditions get passed on. This responsibility includes sustaining the environment that surrounds us and provides for our well-being.”
He added, “There are six to seven longhouses fires every year in Sarawak. The trauma of losing such a place of history and heritage is devastating. It has been a real fear for us that it would happen here. Therefore, the decision of Volvo Trucks Malaysia to partner with us, in building this fire-fighting system has given us the tools to overcome the worst, should it happen. It eases our worries and empowers our people. Today, we stand here with not just a fire-fighting system for our longhouse but the FIRST fire hose reel system of any longhouses in Sarawak’s fourth division, as told by the contractor. What we have achieved together, will inspire the longhouses surrounding us.”
“But of course, Volvo Trucks’ generosity did not stop there. The building of five eco-shelters along our ancestral trail will help the Kelabit and Penan communities living in Bario. It is our responsibility to maintain and look after the eco-shelters well and protect the environment. We want to be able to share the rugged beauty of this area and educate on the importance of conservation and sustainability to our younger generations, preserving the environment and heritage of Bario for the world,” he continued.
Under the Government’s Economic Transformation Programme, it aims to establish Bario as a world-class hub destination for AgroBiodiversity and to obtain UNESCO World Heritage Status.
In support of this, Nilsson shared, “We have undertaken this project with hopes to not only enhance safety, but to also help create more tourism-related jobs for the community by providing the eco-shelters, thus providing an income source which could potentially reduce the out-migration of Kelabit youths. In the long-run, Volvo Trucks hopes to help sustain the community and its culture.”
Through the three key pillars of Volvo Group’s corporate social responsibility approach, the company aims to create value for customers, employees, shareholders and society and to be able to contribute to long-term sustainable development. The majority of Volvo Trucks’ social commitments take place at local level – where the company and its employees can make a big difference.
This initiative for Bario also received the full support and partnership from Sarawak Tourism and Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) with special thanks going to CM Global Sdn Bhd, Dai Lieng Machinery Sdn Bhd, AirAsia Berhad, MAS Wings Sdn Bhd, Perk Events, CJ Bug Production and LNT Advertising Associates.