Meet the Women of TONIBUNG

Written by Koto Kishida, Green Empowerment Malaysia Program Manager

Green Empowerment works with partner organizations around the world to ensure our projects are shaped by local expertise. We started working with PACOS Trust in 2001 to build a micro-hydro system in Sarawak. That project inspired PACOS to create a rural electrification program, which eventually became TObpinai NIngkokoton koBUruon KampuNG (TONIBUNG). We have experienced both challenges and successes working in Malaysian Borneo, but we always make an impact thanks to TONIBUNG’s resilient approach. This week, I sat down with the women of TONIBUNG to learn more about them and what inspires their work.

Meet Vera

Vera is a local and recent graduate who started working for TONIBUNG earlier this year. She grew up in Kampung Babagon – a community that was displaced when the Babagon Dam was constructed to bring clean drinking water to the region. She returned to Sabah after graduating from the University Technical Malaysia Melaka where she studied mechanical engineering.What drew you to TONIBUNG?

While building a kindergarten as a student missionary in Sabah’s interior region, Pensiangan, I heard Executive Director, Banie, speak about TONIBUNG’s efforts to bring electricity to rural communities through micro-hydro and solar projects. As a mechanical engineering student who interned at Ranhill (a power plant), I was very interested in the technology. I choose to write about micro-hydro in my thesis and asked to join TONIBUNG after graduation.

What do you love about your work?

While I enjoy theory and design, my passion is working with communities and doing tangible things like operating machinery and building things in the workshop. Although new to TONIBUNG, I am excited by the opportunities I will have at CREATE – TONIBUNG’s Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology.

What is most challenging about your work?

As an intern, my biggest challenge is working on a limited income. For now, I am just grateful for the experience and opportunity to learn on the job.

What else you would like to share?

When I was a student, I was also a member of the Catholic Student Society and went on missions throughout Malaysian Borneo. I love to adventure.

Meet Maroline

Maroline is a recent graduate descending from the Kadazan indigenous group who works for TONIBUNG as operations manager. She is an electrical engineer who previously led a student project with TONIBUNG during her varsity days at The National University of Malaysia, Bangi, Selangor.What drew you to TONIBUNG?

My engagement with TONIBUNG began in 2016 when I led a community project on rural electrification through my university. Through research, I came across TONIBUNG and asked the organization to become the project’s technical advisor. After graduating, I co-founded the Little Feet Initiative (LIFE), a youth-led group that engages young people in creative projects related to the environment and communities. I was then approached by TONIBUNG’s Executive Director, Banie. Because I am so driven by efforts to empower communities and because of my technical background, I knew that TONIBUNG was my calling to service.

What do you love about your work?

I am inspired by the platform that I have now. I love knowing that I can empower individuals and communities through technical and non-technical contributions. I love working with youth, getting to build their capacity and instill the value of service above self. This job also allows me to be directly involved in building the nation by reaching the last mile. Waking up with that in mind inspires me to get through the day.

What is most challenging about your work?

Working at an NGO often means you take up work that is outside of your scope. Sometimes, I find myself stumbling when completing tasks that require skills I do not have. I know that independent learning is important, but I would like to have a mentor who can help me set attainable goals.

What else you would like to share?

During high school, I was certain that I would become a doctor or some kind of professional in the health sciences field. Engineering wasn’t part of my school’s curriculum so I discovered it through extracurricular activities. I started to learn on the go and was given leadership opportunities by professors and international programs. These opportunities allowed me to travel to Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and United States. In 2017, I became a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Academic Fellow for Civic Engagement at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta. In my free time, I enjoy playing squash, socializing with friends and meeting new people. I recharge when I’m alone and when I’m part of a crowd. I find peace and indulge in reflections when I read and write.

Meet Miriam

Miriam is an electrical engineer from Spain and the UK. She found TONIBUNG through Engineers Without Borders UK. She has experience installing systems in the field and loves to problem solve. At TONIBUNG, she provides general support for projects that require electrical engineering. She has also supported TONIBUNG’s electric load controllers (ELC) project funded by WISIONS.What drew you to TONIBUNG?

When I was searching for the right international opportunity through Engineers Without Borders, I wanted to volunteer where I would be most useful. TONIBUNG’s work bringing electricity to rural areas through micro-hydro and solar aligned very well with my experience and is something I feel passionately about.

What do you love about your work?

I believe that access to electricity can transform the way we live, for the better. TONIBUNG has the right approach by implementing projects that do not negatively impact the planet and by engaging and empowering communities in the process. As an engineer, this work gives me the kind of holistic, hands-on experience that is often difficult to get in a traditional job. The positive social and environmental impacts make it even more exciting.

What is most challenging about your work?

The first thing that comes to mind is communication, because I don’t speak Malay. It can be difficult to have detailed discussion about projects, especially technical aspects. Also, the electricity industry is heavily regulated in the UK, guided by very specific procedures. In Malaysia, the industry is much more informal and flexible. This sometimes allows things to move forward quickly, but a balance would be desirable.

What else you would like to share?

Before TONIBUNG, I worked for a research center in my hometown in Spain developing new battery cell technologies. After four years, I wanted to work in a less academic setting abroad, so I moved to England and joined a small company called Highview Power. Highview develops a large-scale energy storage technologies and I spent most of my time working in the electrical and control design and commissioning of a new 5MW solar power plant. After being so involved in this project, I wanted another change. Volunteering with Engineers Without Borders and TONIBUNG seemed like the perfect opportunity. So far, I could not be happier with my decision!

Meet Alicia


Alicia is a financial analyst who works for TONIBUNG as a contractor. She has experience working for both for-profit companies and NGOs, including Raleigh International. At TONIBUNG she is helping the team improve its financial systems and general operations, making recommendations to help the organization thrive.What drew you to TONIBUNG?

I wanted to work for TONIBUNG because it focuses on developing and promoting green energies and conserving the natural environment.

What do you love about your work?

I love the fact that what we do makes a difference to people and the planet. I love creating sustainable resources, a greener earth and a greener home!

What is most challenging about your work?

As the organization grows and experiences turnover, it can be difficult to ensure accounting processes are consistent from person-to-person. My biggest challenge is building new and secure financial infrastructure to ensure leadership has the tools needed to make accurate decisions.

What else you would like to share?

Beyond finance, I am passionate about reading, exploring, playing sports, art, music, theatre, writing, creating and more.


  1. […] Malaysia’s grass roots. With Anne at the helm, PACOS and Green Empowerment first implemented a micro-hydro system that provides clean, reliable, twenty-four-seven electricity to the community of Long Lawen, […]

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