KOTA KINABALU: Located deep within the heart of Sabah, some 300km from here, Imbak Canyon Conservation Area (Icca) is home to one of the state’s last remaining virgin rainforests.
At the very edge between civilisation and wild, untamed forest, acting as a gateway between the two is Kampung Imbak, where some 700 people of the Dusun Sungai and Murut communities have lived off the land for generations.
A new initiative by Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) has provided the villagers with an alternative way of making a living by opening their homes to visitors.
“Kg Imbak is a strategic location for homestay programme. Not only is it on the way to Imbak Canyon, it is close to the trekking trail to Gunung Tinkar Forest Reserve,” said Sunsing Palatai, a member of the Tongod tourism community.
“Gunung Tinkar itself is a huge attraction as its peak is right at the centre of Sabah. Quite a number of tourists hike there to feel the excitement of being right at the heart of the state.”
Sunsing, who also operates a homestay at neighbouring Kampung Entilibon, has been teaching Kg Imbak’s villagers about managing a rural homestay.
These efforts come as part
of Petronas’ community development programme named Planting Tomorrow, a project with the Yayasan Sabah group that started in 2010 to assist the locals in setting up their own homestay operations.
Aside from providing funds and building materials for the homestays, the oil and gas giant also installed a gravity-fed water supply system to deliver clean water to all homes in Imbak.
There are now 22 registered operators for the homestays, which are known as “Homestay Po’pomponan” or “a place of gathering”.
Haina Sapah, 33, one of the operators in Kg Imbak, said setting up the homestay was challenging for her initially.
“I had to come up with funds, besides the provisions by Petronas, to equip my house with the required facilities.
“But I enjoy doing homestay. It helps supplement our main income from the oil palm plots.
“As long as Imbak Canyon is here, I think our homestay will thrive,” said Haina, who has three children.
According to Homestay Po’pomponan chairman Apal Sagit Uloi, 32, the homestay programme was still a work in progress.
“A lot of work still needs to be done to improve the homestay’s offerings and the overall upkeep of the village to enhance the visitors’ experience.
“We hope to see our village develop and more visitors at our homestay. We hope to showcase our cultural heritage one day, like the red durian which is one of our delicacies here,” said Apal.
The Icca was gazetted as a Class 1 (Protection) Forest Reserve in 2009 with much of its growth attributed to the partnership between Petronas and Yayasan Sabah.
Petronas has to date contributed RM83 million towards the
Icca’s growth and conservation.
It is fast emerging as a major destination for not only tourists, but also scientists who carry out research activities following the completion of the Imbak Canyon Studies Centre (ICSC) last year.
Source: New Straits Times