Interview with Borneo orangutan tour owner Hannah Sabrun

In 2003, Hannah Sabrun fell in love with an Indonesian man while travelling in Borneo. Today they run a Borneo orangutan tour business from their home in Wales. Hannah tells us her story.

When and how did you meet your husband?

Back in 2003, I was on a six week long volunteer program ran by the Orangutan Foundation UK, where a small group and I built an anti-logging patrol post on the river in Tanjung Puting National Park.

My husband was a research assistant at Camp Leakey, so we spent a lot of time working around each other. Evenings spent relaxing on a jetty over a river, under the stars, getting to know each other was the start of something special!


Why did you decide to live in Wales, and how did he adapt to life here?

After marrying in Indonesian Borneo, we were expecting our first child, and decided to return here to have the support of my family around us.

It was hard for him at first, adapting to a whole new culture, but over time he settled in and found his feet. We were only planning on spending a couple of years here, before returning to Indonesia – but now we’ve been here 10 years with no plans to move!

How often do you get to visit family in Borneo?

Not as often as we’d like to, but we go whenever we can afford to spend a few months away. This tends to be every four years or so. As the flights are so long and expensive now we’re a family of four, we try to spend a few months away each time, incorporating some travelling in the area too.

When and why did you set up Wild Orangutan Tours?

In April 2011, and accidentally! While out in Borneo visiting family, and introducing them to our one year old son, my brother-in-law asked for my help.

At the time he worked as a freelance guide in the National Park, taking people to see orangutans and other flora and fauna. He complained of not having enough work, and with wages being low he found it hard supporting his extended family.

He asked if I could perhaps advertise him as a guide here, and put people in contact with him, so I set up a website for Wild Orangutan Tours and it developed from there.


How do you run your business from the UK?

We have a website and manage it all online. We do all the advertising and planning with clients, booking and charging of tours, and liaise with my brother-in-law in Borneo who manages the tours there.

You’re also training to become a Bowen Therapist. What’s that?

Bowen Therapy is a very gentle and noninvasive form of bodywork, which helps the body to balance and re-align itself. It can help in a range of problems from frozen shoulders to breastfeeding issues, to infant colic!

Why did you decide to become a Bowen Therapist?

Since starting Wild Orangutan Tours I’ve been concerned that as our business is in the tourism industry, it has a fragile future. So last year, I decided I needed something extra to fall back on, for if our tour business suddenly ceased to work.

I decided on Bowen Therapy training as it’s something I feel passionate about (as I do about Borneo flora and fauna!), after seeing the affects on my daughter and myself. It helped me greatly during pregnancy, and really helped in my daughter’s asthma symptoms. I also needed to find an additional career which allows me to work for myself, around the needs of my family.

How do you balance your many responsibilities with home schooling your daughter, Shafira, and flexi-schooling your son, Dyfan?

It is hard work! I am lucky that my husband shares the workload of the tour business, and also much of the housework while I’m tied up with other things.

I do find myself constantly busy these days, and wish there were more hours in every day, but as long as I am focused I manage everything OK. I prioritise my jobs for the day each morning, so do what’s most important first, and leave things that can wait, until the evening when the children are in bed.

What does your average working day look like?

First thing, I do an early morning check on the tours business emails, highlighting those which are most important, before waking my son for his morning in school.

After the school run, I return home for some breakfast with my daughter. We discuss what she’s going to learn that day, and we settle down to work together. She works on whatever we’ve planned for the day, with me helping when she needs any, and I work through the tour work.

Then I’m back to school to collect my son at lunch time. The afternoon is spent doing some kind of activity with the kids for a while, or some reading/writing practice for my son, then some Bowen studies or practice, and preparing dinner.

Once the children are in bed, I’m back to work on the tours, sitting on the sofa, while perhaps half-watching a film!

Who inspires you?

Different people have inspired me at different times in my life. Day to day, my children inspire me to be a better person, to follow my dreams, to be a positive role model in following and achieving what’s important to me.

My best friend Leaf has three young boys, and is an inspiring, strong woman. She works hard to be a great mother and still finds time to be creative and ambitious.

A couple of other people stand out when I think about this question though. Around 15 years ago I listened to a lecture by Ashley Leiman, the founder and director of the Orangutan Foundation UK. She inspired me to fight for the future of the orangutans, and still inspires me seeing how passionate she is, and how hard she works for the charity.

And last year in Bali, I met the designer and creator of the Bloo Lagoon village and Bali T House eco village in Bali, Tony Gwilliam. I was blown away by his ambition, and his determination to go for what he wanted. He made me realise that you need to fight and work hard for your dreams, as dreams don’t just happen.

What would you like life to look like in five years’ time for your family?

I would like to be a successful Bowen Therapist, working park time from a little therapy room at the bottom of our garden, in a home we’re buying.

I’d like my husband to be running the tours business with only a small input from myself, and I’d like my children to be enjoying school or homeschool and thriving.

I’d like to be making enough money to afford a family holiday to somewhere warm each year – a stay at Cae Wennol Yurts each summer, and for my husband to be able to visit his family every year too.

What advice do you have for other mums considering starting a home-based business?

Go for it! The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it, but pace yourself. Ask for help from friends and family who can help out with skills you may not have, as the people who love you will want to see you succeed and be happy to help.

Be strict with your work times – switch off your laptop or close the door to your office at set times, and resist the temptation of checking up on things in between your set work times.

And finally, decide on at least a day a week off work, stick to it, and properly take a day off.

You can learn more about Wild Orangutan Tours on their website.