Guests at the Future of Wellness will be greeted with a sweet welcome in the form of a homemade energy ball made from natural almonds, cocoa, and dates, and infused with wildcrafted kelulut, or trigona honey harvested from stingless bees in the pristine rainforests of Sabah in northern Borneo.
These protein balls, as well as bottles of pure trigona honey will be exclusively sold at the Future of Wellness as part of the hub’s Corporate Social Responsibility project.
Profits derived from the sales are channelled back towards four villages that have been trained in beekeeping to produce this precious natural nectar that is packed with nutrients and a high level of antioxidants. Unlike the honey produced by honey bees, the trigona honey has a more liquid form and does not taste as sweet but laden with a host of health benefits.
The CSR project is part of the Sabah Women’s Entrepreneurs and Professionals’ Association (SWEPA)’s Enriche Project to empower indigenous rural women living in extremely remote villages deep in the interiors of this northernmost part of Borneo island.
Lighting the way forward
Jari Jari Spa founder Datin Jeanette Tambakau was serving as SWEPA president in 2015 when she spearheaded a project to bring three illiterate grandmothers from the four villages to be trained in solar power engineering for six months at the Barefoot College in India.
The first of these brave women to volunteer was Tarihing Masanim from Kampung Sonsogon Magandai, a village of some 100 families scattered over a hill. The village began as a logging camp in the 1960s and people were living in poverty and darkness. Many were subsistence farmers and rubber tappers and there were no schools. Children were undernourished.
SWEPA has made numerous trips into these remote villages that require a six-hour journey by 4WD vehicles. The dirt roads and logging trails across the rainforests are treacherous, especially when it rains. Datin Jeanette has had several accidents, one of which was nearly fatal, as her vehicle started sliding back into a deep ravine, miraculously halting on the very edge.
“When you visit these villages, you can see right away, that they truly need help,” says Datin Jeanette, who is currently SWEPA’s Head of Community Development.
“I strongly believe that starting a project here is something that Swepa is called to do, because we are an organisation of women that helps, supports, and empowers other women.”
After six months of learning solar power engineering in India, Tarihing returned home and electrified 100 homes in her village.
For the first time since the 1960s, there was light.
“With light, the people were able to do more things. We held discussions and asked them what they wanted us to help them with. They wanted training in sustainable income generating activities. The women wanted to do sewing and the men wanted agriculture like planting soursop and kelulut bee harvesting. So we held a fundraising drive and received a matching grant from the UNDP’s Small Grants Programme,” says Datin Jeanette.
Our hope for them is that by teaching them to fish and helping to provide them with resources, they will become independent and flourish.
Anik Jinuis, a respected and highly experienced kelulut specialist from the Nikmah Trigona Farm was brought in to help conduct workshops. Within just one year, the pristine natural environment has produced a high yield of pure trigona honey harvested by the villagers and sold to SWEPA as well as to Anik.
“Kelulut cultivation is a form of entrepreneurship, where today, Sabah and the whole of Malaysia has recognised it as a supplement that helps to boost our health levels and safeguard against illnesses. The choice of kelulut cultivation is a way of helping these villagers to alleviate their poverty, as it is also a crop that can sell easily in the city,” he says.
Kelulut honey currently sells at an average of RM200 per kilo in the market. The income derived from the honey has tangible results among the impoverished villagers.
“Nearly every household has an average of 20 bee hives or boxes and earns an average of RM400 to RM500 a month just from the honey,” says Datin Jeanette.
“They are highly motivated. Their children can now go to school. Back in 2015, they were barely earning RM50 from odd jobs or rubber tapping. They were using firewood for cooking. The houses are now repaired with better roofing and they are involved in all sorts of ways to earn an income including sewing, weaving baskets, farming and beekeeping.”
Recently in March, SWEPA has brought in trainers from the Sabah Black Pepper Association to conduct workshops on black pepper planting, which is a much in demand crop that can also keep well, which is essential as the villages are so remote.
“Our vision in SWEPA is all about empowerment,” says Datin Jeanette.
“So through this empowerment, we hope that the livelihood of these villages will increase tremendously so they can support themselves and enable their children to have an education.
“Our hope for them is that by teaching them to fish and helping to provide them with resources, they will become independent and flourish.”