Community exchanges have come to be a valuable way to share knowledge, discuss opinions, and explore options relating to a community's way of life. During a stay in Batu Puteh in 2009, Ulu Papar community researchers discovered a host of things about the indigenous Orang Sungai people, including their involvement in MESCOT, an ecotourism initiative run wholly by the community. This visit was similar to an exchange that occurred in December 2010 in terms of the opportunity it provided to learn about the work of their peers when a team of Ulu Papar and Bundu Tuhan community researchers visited the HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Programme based in Sukau. There they were exposed to the community’s innovative approach to sustainable fisheries, gained firsthand experience on field research techniques and visited a community reforestation site.
Other exchanges have afforded community researchers the chance to share their own experiences, as was the case in 2008 during a visit to Ulu Senagang-Mongool where they conducted an introductory training workshop on participatory resource monitoring methods, related to the identification of Ulu Senagang as a potential community use zone for the Crocker Range Park, a status shared by Ulu Papar. In a different approach, communities of Bundu Tuhan and Kiau Nuluh visited Ulu Papar, where time was spent exploring issues of community forest management and cultural continuity.
A distinctive focus of community exchanges is the sharing of participatory field methods. Over the course of 2009 and 2010, exchanges between the three villages of Buayan, Bundu Tuhan and Kiau Nuluh were held to develop the capacity of community researchers through a peer to peer learning platform. Community researchers learned how to make short videos highlighting conservation issues affecting their communities. The benefit of learning these skills was reinforced during a visit by Artiso Mandawa (from ALDAW, a community organization in Palawan, Philippines), who showed a community-made film that carried the voice of his people telling the story of their fight for community rights over ancestral lands in Palawan . Apart from filmmaking, community researchers also trained in participatory photography, that culminated in an exhibition in July 2010 featuring their photos, captioned with stories about their home villages, traditional ways of life and biocultural values of natural landscapes of Ulu Papar, Bundu Tuhan and Kiau Nuluh.
A different type of community exchange took place in 2009. A collaborative initiative to assess the status of community conserved areas in Sabah brought together community members from 16 areas across Sabah to discuss the concept of Indigneous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs), identify existing and potential ICCAs in Sabah and come up with recommendations for how these areas can be supported.
Whether about field methods, visual techniques or cultural heritage, community exchanges are an amazingly powerful platform for action. It is within this environment of peer to peer sharing that alliances are forged, support rendered and received, and as the process matures, problem-solving starts to become a collective movement and a call to joint action.