KOPEL's Development Years
1996 to 2021 is no short time, and the community co-op KOPEL did not happen overnight. For many people, the journey has been too long, and sadly many members have moved on. For others still labouring the path, they live for the day, contribute what they can, and dream for a better tomorrow. From its inception KOPEL embodied the community. Starting with the village youth reaching out for support to develop ecotourism in 1996 and staying the path to set- up the MESCOT initiative in March 1997.
For three long years the MESCOT group met, workshopped, planned, researched, consulted their elders and leaders, and travelled widely to learn about ecotourism, marketing and the various regulations and procedures required to set up and manage a sustainable social enterprise. The countless community level exchanges, meetings, and dialogues were designed by the community, to keep local people in the driver’s seat of all the planning.
Designed to involve and benefit as wide a cross-section of the community as possible, the doors were always open to newcomers, and no one was ever turned away. Repeat events in these early years promoted wider participation. With participation came learning to converse, learning to share ideas and the outcomes and responsibility of decisions. With participation came work, commitment, and abiding by co-created rules for the shared organisation and welfare of the group, alongside adherence to customary law (adat) and the cultural norms of the day.
These early years of work, culminated in the establishment of four business plans and designs for four separate social enterprises. This was decided by the wider community in late 1999. Ongoing work to actuate the plans and set-up the village associations began early in the year 2000. The Miso Walai Homestay program was at the core and heart of this, alongside the Maya do Talud (Village) Boat Service. The MESCOT Initiative was not disbanded because the group had also initiated a parallel path of forest restoration, after the forest fires of 1998.
The MESCOT initiative, was later key to gaining external funding and support to build the Tungog Rainforest Eco Camp, and subsequently the establishment of the village co-operative KOPEL Bhd. The MESCOT facilities also became the home for the four village tourism associations, looking after shared assets and to share space for the associations’ meetings and workshop sessions.
Even though the total visitors to Batu Puteh in the early 2000s was exceptionally low, numbering in the low hundreds only, the community-based ecotourism activities had already established a clear link between the forest restoration work and the visitors coming to stay. Many of these visitors were students, volunteers and travellers wanting to support the forest conservation initiatives, and many were keen to get their hands dirty in the field to make the restoration work happen.