PADAWAN: Like many other kampung girls, Abbie Hosanna enjoyed picking durians in the jungle and swimming in the river near her home in Kampung Git at Jalan Puncak Borneo here.
Sometimes, she took a nap on a tree branch accompanied by fresh and cooling breeze drifting through before she returns home for dinner.
“I love the forest, the scent of damp earth and the soothing sound of the waterfalls. I also move around and visit other villages nearby and realise that there are many hidden gems, located in our own backyard,” she said.
Although many villages were blessed with the lush green forest rich with floral and fauna, unique traditions and cultural heritage, many youths have nevertheless migrated to urban areas for better opportunities and higher wages.
"It's sad to see only those without skills and knowledge stay back in the villages and work as a farmer, general or construction workers – as they had no choice," said the Universiti Malaya Information Technology graduate.
Realising the potential that one had in one’s own backyard, the 27-year-old co-founded Backyard Tour. It is a social enterprise – to equip the villagers with basic knowledge to become a local guide, to draw-up and promote tour packages.
“We train them to become a local guide and to create opportunities in their own backyards. So that, they have a choice (to earn a living) and at the same time, we hope more young people will stay near the forest and venture into eco-tourism and preserve their respective traditions and cultural heritage,” she told New Straits Times.
The Backyard Tour received its first RM25,000 funding from Malaysia's National Innovation Agency (AIM) after being named as the 12 finalists in the Berbudi Berganda Social Impact Innovation Challenge in 2014, which allowed the idea to turn into a reality.
Each villager is required to attend a three-day-training, covering five chapters; developing tour packages, planning and logistics, health and safety, communication as well as online marketing to become a tour guide.
Currently, Backyard Tour has 11 active local guides, aged between 19 and 60, from Kampung Sadir, Kampung Parang, Kampung Kiding and Kampung Begu.
To create more attractive and inclusive packages, Backyard Tour is also collaborating with four villages that offer homestay programmes, namely Kampung Giam, Kampung Semedang, Kampung Git and Kampung Annah Rais.
The programmes are priced as low as RM70 per pax for student or group packages. It also includes a daily tour of heritage gateway, local food tour, village farm tour, waterfall and jungle trekking to a three-day-two-night package that cost about a few hundreds.
Abbie said the most popular tour would be the waterfall and jungle trekking which include tribal cooking, providing an authentic taste of the local tradition dishes.
“Our local guide could earn about RM500 per tour during peak season from June to October. But, there are months where we have zero income and they will return to their farm to plant fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Although there are more economic opportunities and activities in several villages, Abbie hoped to create a sufficient and stable income for the rural folks to improve their living standard.
“Besides, we are facing challenges in penetrating into our target market as competition on getting travellers as customers, in general, can be very stiff. Our presence are still pretty weak, but slowly building up.
"We also hoped to introduce the concept in other villages, either nationally or globally– so that the young generation would not be forced to leave their hometown due to lack of economic and career opportunities, low wages and uncertain future,” she added.