WHILE many young people are enjoying their summer holidays in their own countries, 33 university students from the United Kingdom, the United States and China chose to volunteer for a good cause in a foreign land.
Together with 11 students from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), 13 volunteers from Southern Connecticut State University, Liverpool John Moores University (10) and Shanghai Normal University (10) joined the Global Volunteering Programme organised by UiTM last month to conserve and sustain the environment.
Themed “Conserving their Home and our Home”, they visited the Orang Asli at SK Sungai Tiang and Kampung Semelor in Pulau Banding, Belum Forest Reserve, and the Orang Utan Island rehabilitation and conservation centre in Bukit Merah, Perak.
The volunteers planted trees, taught English to Orang Asli children and cleaned up the orang utan centre, as well as helped to feed the primates.
The activities aimed to raise awareness among the volunteers on the significance of conserving Orang Asli culture and saving the endangered orang utan in Malaysia.
In a ceremony held at UiTM recently, the volunteers received their certificates of recognition from UiTM Office of International Affairs director Dr Zainab Mohd Nor.
Pam Karabeinikoff, 19, said the programme challenged her as she was placed in a new environment that was different from her home country in the United States.
She said interacting and integrating with people of other cultures was a challenge.
“One of my goals was to interact with other students and learn about their cultures. I definitely enjoyed making new friends from Liverpool, Shanghai and Malaysia, as well as having the chance to explore the rainforest with a lovely group of people.
“One of my fondest memories was sitting on the boat to go to Belum Rainforest. We all just sat in silence, enjoying the view,” said Karabeinikoff, a bilingual elementary and Spanish undergraduate student at Southern Connecticut State University.
She said the programme had honed her soft skills, such as teamwork and cooperation, which also got her out of her comfort zone.
“This is something that I need to use in the classroom as well. As a future educator, I learnt how to teach students whose native language isn’t English.
“That is one skill that I’m going to take back with me to the US. And also the friendships I’ve made is something that is going to help me in my home country in promoting multicultural diversity.”
Liverpool John Moores University media production undergraduate Alex Brabbing, 20, said the educational toy library session with the Orang Asli children was memorable.
He said he got the opportunity to interact with the native children and spend time playing with them.
“The children were all shy, but the impact we made was the most special moment for me. The joy and happiness on their faces were priceless,” said Brabbing.
Since this was the first time he travelled outside of Europe, the 14-hour journey was not the only challenge for him.
“The heat was uncomfortable, but throughout the days, the overwhelming feeling was to have a first-hand experience looking at the people I met along the way and comparing their lives and ours.
“I think we should conserve and preserve the natural heritage, including keeping the animals in their natural habitats.”
On cultural diversity, Brabbing said it was nice seeing how Chinese and Malaysian students interacted with the rest of the volunteers.
“They were proud of where they come from and the things they believed in. At the same time, they’re happy to sit with me and discuss other cultures and its similarities.”
He said he would bring back the positive outlook on how he could create awareness on sustaining and conserving the ecosystems for orang utan and Orang Asli.
“Now that I’ve been here for the programmes, I can share that experience in a more realistic way.”
Chen Xiao Yun, 19, an English education undergraduate from Shanghai Normal University, said she would utilise her experience, especially during her time with the Orang Asli children, as material in her career.
“Though I found it very difficult to communicate with them with my rusty English, I piqued their interest in learning a lesson or two in English,” she said.
UiTM medical student Siti Nuraidatul Amira Mohamad Anas, 23, said the programme was an eye-opener when she visited the Orang Asli community in Pulau Banding, Perak.
“As a future doctor, the first thing I noticed upon arrival was the lack of medical awareness among the villagers.
“They took their own health for granted and didn’t seek treatment when they are sick. I am glad that I was able to tell them the importance of medical treatment and nutritional diets, especially for pregnant women,” said Siti Nuraidatul.
“I hope that more medical students and doctors will come to places like this and conduct health screening and talks to the villagers.”
The Better Futures Consortium, established last year with the aim to promote social responsibility by creating multilateral exchanges and volunteering opportunities for students, has entrusted UiTM to lead the first Global Volunteering Programme.
UiTM vice-chancellor Professor Emeritus Dr Mohd Azraai Kassim said programmes such as this allowed volunteers to gain new and valuable learning experience and share their expertise in various fields and backgrounds.
He said all these experiences could only lead to more fulfilling experience and create beneficial relationships among volunteers.
“The desire to learn new things; the drive to be inquisitive; to explore various possibilities in conserving endangered species and indigenous communities can lead to new discoveries and amazing findings.
“Hopefully, the volunteers can create a network in helping one another for a better future in their countries.
“Programme like this do not only open your eyes to the ways in which environmental conservation and sustainability can be approached, but through various activities no matter how small it may be.”
UiTM seeks to strengthen the UiTM Better Futures link through sustainable programmes that enhance its presence in the global arena.
UiTM International Office director Dr Zainab Mohd Noor said international volunteering programmes were crucial for all students to develop their soft skills.
She said it is a real-life learning experience that they would not get in any textbooks or from lecturers.
The Better Futures Global Volunteering Programme 2019 organisers embrace social responsibility as part of its contribution to the future generation by helping to save endangered species and Orang Asli communities in Malaysia.
It supports the United Nations Sustainability Goals by mobilising university and research staff, students and partners, besides facilitating intercultural education.