Magic at the unexplored garden

Lyna Mohammad

Justin Jeffrey, an avid nature explorer and a teacher at Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Science College (MSPSBS), recently ventured into the great outdoors in Temburong with two of his students.

Referencing Kurt Hahn’s solutions to his ‘Six Declines of Modern Youth’, Justin said, “Adventurous experiences in the outdoors facilitate self-discovery and do much to combat the lack of fitness and decline of initiative due to ‘spectatoritis’ – Hahn’s name for the modern affliction of too often being a passive spectator rather than an active participant in many of our pastimes.

“He probably had the television in mind, but we have even more to worry about today.”

Speaking to the Bulletin, Justin noted that the Co-Curriculum Education Department (JPKK) recently announced a new award scheme to be used next year for extra and co-curricular activities undertaken in government schools where in part, it seeks to emulate the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE), which recognises young adults for completing self-improvement activities modelled on Hahn’s theory. The DofE – a youth awards programme founded in the United Kingdom in 1956 by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, which now operates in 144 nations.

Justin pointed out that one of the four categories to be recognised locally is Pengembaraan (expeditions), which basically equates to one of Hahn’s four solutions – expeditions.

“Obesity rates continue to soar and we are all increasingly glued to our devices as passive spectators, hence no parent, teacher or government official would argue that these are not pressing issues for modern youth.

A marble toad in a stream

“The creators of our devices and the applications that absorb us have even sounded the alarm themselves in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. This should be compulsory viewing,” Justin added.

Christopher Hugh Gallop PIKB, who spent decades in the Sultanate as a school principal, may be remembered by some for his writing. In the early 1990s, he wrote extensively in the Bulletin about his local travels under the pen-name ‘Pengembara’.

An avid adventurer himself, Justin was inspired by these musings and the writing of other Bornean naturalists and adventurers including Hose, Russell Wallace and more recently Guy Arnold, sparking his interest in explorations of his own. Justin shared that when he bought a kayak years ago, his own wandering began in earnest.

Justin is also currently assisting Professor Ulmar Grafe of Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) as a field research assistant on a camera-trapping survey at forest areas around Brunei.

He said that when he does reach for a device, it is just like pengembara, to document and share the experience on Instagram to open his students’ hearts and minds to the wonders of nature in our backyards.

“I soon picked up a small following. Some expressed disbelief that the places I was visiting were in Brunei. One even expressed interest in joining me.”

In November last year, he took two students, Mohammad Noor Aiman bin Haji Noor Aimee and Fatin Qistina @ Raihani Kaswani binti Abdul Rahim on the first MSPSBS trip to Temburong, aimed simply at putting down devices, tuning in to nature and embarking on a small voyage of self-discovery.

One such place to do this is AZ Back2Nature Tours, a jungle camp in the Temburong National Park run by a wonderful family team with excellent support from the local Iban community.

Together, they have developed a three-day, two-night programme that encourages team work and creativity.

The programme includes the challenge of a demanding jungle hike, combined with the joy of cooling off in distant waterfalls and enjoying the peaceful jungle ambience. Combined, it opened the students’ eyes to the simple pleasure of being immersed in nature.

“They don’t miss their devices. It also dispels misconceptions about the jungle being a hostile place and students get to see and appreciate some unusual wildlife,” Justin said.

They enjoyed a very productive night walk and got to see rare species such as the rarely spotted Fairy Pitta (Pitta Nympha), which migrates from Taiwan to Borneo in winter, as well as a white-eared tree frog and marbled tree toad.

“New friends, new aspirations and lasting memories were forged,” Justin said.

Justin is a firm believer in the restorative power of nature and furthermore, it is important that for young Bruneians to become true guardians and stewards of their unparalleled natural heritage, they must experience it for themselves.

Justin shared that their time spent in Temburong was transformative and noted that the JPKK initiative is a welcoming one, as he believes that nature will work its magic if only we make the introduction.

Mohammad Noor Aiman said, “There is definitely a lot to take in from these trips. I think that the jungle is an unexplored garden we are lucky to have so close to home. It hides so much wonderful life that I never knew existed.”

“It is not just getting back to nature. There are also exciting challenges,” he said, before expressing gratitude to the MSPSBS team who made it possible and acknowledging the work done by the AZ Back To Nature team in discovering many of the waterfall attractions.

Meanwhile, Fatin Qistina said the trip changed her views on nature and the great outdoors. “Everywhere I turned there was always something magical to see.”

“I would definitely recommend it. I believe our generation is currently at a crossroads, with technology threatening to rob us of some basic human needs. It is more important than ever to get back to our roots and let go of our gadgets,” she said.