A journey to meet the Bario community with Volvo Trucks

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Bario is a community of 13-16 Kelabit villages east of Miri as well as close to the Sarawak-Kalimantan border. Bario (pronounced as “bariew”) means ‘wind’ in Kelabit language, and perhaps fittingly so – it is located 3,500 feet above sea level. You can only head to Bario from Miri via two ways – one is via a limited 45min flight, and the other a 10-14hr offroad journey on a rugged logging road through the highlands.

According to its oral history, they have been living in Bario for more than 4,000 years. Due to its location and history, Bario has a unique and uncommon charm – it is affectionately known as the ‘Land of A Hundred Handshakes’. Hospitality is perhaps the biggest export of Bario – it is the door to its cultural festivities, natural landscape and attractions and rich, natural cuisine.

Despite the diverse economical sources, Bario suffers from sustainability concerns. Due to the lack of facilities and jobs, about 65% of youths have migrated from Bario to other bigger towns and cities in Sarawak and Borneo. As of today, it is estimated that just slightly more than 1,000 Kelabit people are living in Bario.

This one of the main reasons why Volvo Trucks, one of the world’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturers, selected Bario as the 2017 recipient of its Volvo Group Seasonal Gift programme. The Seasonal Gift programme is part of Volvo Group’s CSR to support local social causes, to help create prosperity for the communities where Volvo Trucks operates. The contribution amounted to RM500,000 and it focuses on two key efforts – the construction of a fire-fighting system and the construction of five eco-shelters.

(L-R) Laju Balang @ Aren Lemulun, Headman of Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse, Dag Juhlin-Dannfelt, Ambassador of Sweden to Malaysia and Mats Nilsson, Managing Director, Volvo Malaysia Sdn Bhd demonstrating the new fire-fighting system at the launch

The fire-fighting system consists of a water tank and eight hose reels for the Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse settlement. Bario Asal is the main Bario town, and the Lembaa longhouse is the oldest longhouse in the area, dating back to 1958. Laju Balang, the headman of Bario Asal lembaa longhouse shares: “There are six to seven longhouse fires every year in Sarawak. The trauma of losing such a place of history and heritage is devastating. It’s a real fear for us. This longhouse is the oldest in Bario. It is a living piece of history from our forefathers that must be protected and preserved. We have a responsibility to ensure our longhouse and traditions get passed on.”

Volvo Trucks funds and builds fire-fighting system for Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse settlement and eco-shelters along the 25-km distance Bario ancestral jungle trail

(L-R) Laju Balang @ Aren Lemulun, Headman of Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse, Mats Nilsson, Managing Director, Volvo Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Dag Juhlin-Dannfelt, Ambassador of Sweden to Malaysia and Penghulu Robertson Bala during the momento handover ceremony

The five eco-shelters, on the other hand, focuses on the 25 kilometre Bario ancestral trail. This trail entails a 4-5 day trekking expedition, and the eco-shelters provide a useful and much-needed assistance to trekkers and locals. The shelters are about 5 kilometres apart, and they are equipped with working toilets via a sustainable water harvesting system & a safe resting area. This helps enhance and sustain the economy generated from the heritage trail.

The project started in mid-2017 and was completed in Dec 2017. It was one of the 14 projects under the Volvo Group Seasonal Gift programme for 2017. It has gone some way to help the sustainability concerns of Bario, and Laju Balang was very grateful: “The fire-fighting project eases our worries and empowers our people. The fire-fighting system for the Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse is the first fire hose reel system of any longhouses in Sarawak’s fourth division. The five eco-shelters helps the Kelabit and Penan communities living here by creating jobs and roles for them to not just maintain the shelters, but also to preserve the environment and beauty of of Bario for the world.”

Volvo Malaysia’s Managing Director, Mats Nilsson echoes Laju Balang’s hopes. “We undertook this project hoping not to only enhance safety, but also to create more tourism-related jobs for the community. It could potentially reduce the migration of Kelabit youths from Bario. In the long run, we hope to help sustain the community and its culture.”

(L-R) Datuk Ngieng Ping Wei, Managing Director, CM Global Sdn Bhd, Mats Nilsson, Managing Director, Volvo Malaysia Sdn Bhd, Laju Balang @ Aren Lemulun, Headman, Bario Asal Lembaa longhouse, and Dag Juhlin-Dannfelt, Ambassador of Sweden to Malaysia at the official launch of the fire-fighting system in Bario, Sarawak

While Volvo Group were instrumental, they were also helped by the full support and partnership from the Sarawak Tourism and Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC), as part of their efforts to preserve Bario and establish it as a world-class hub for agrobiodiversity, and also their efforts to obtain a UNESCO World Heritage status.


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