As much as I want to update regularly, life has been really busy on this island. Even so, I feel really happy to do even more for the community here. I am not saying I am working like a slave 7 days per week but there are just so much to do at the start of the project this year that it makes sense to sacrifice the days off. All I can say is working is enjoying over here. After being here for almost 4 months, one thing for sure, I have turned darker by each day being under the hot sun. From being a stranger in this village in the beginning to being close friends with the locals, I can buy stuffs at a local price or get free food/drinks sometimes, I hear kids calling me Kak Seh Ling (Sister Seh Ling) wherever I go. Although the kids can be a pain in the ass at times, they are still like angels in my heart! I have the opportunity to know a lot of people from different organisations as community and conservation work involves many.
As the Project Leader, I continued the work that the past staff and volunteers had been doing. I owe a big thank to them for building up this nice and comfy Ecoteer House. With a complete base in the village, year 2012 is the time to do more projects for the locals. I am really grateful to have a good team and volunteers helping me throughout all the activities!
Implementing most of the projects at Perhentian is a challenge but I believe we can make it! Currently we have started the following projects and there will be more coming up!
DIKIR BARAT PERFORMANCE
My first experience to the school children was teaching them Dikir Barat. When I first visited the school with Dan and got to know the headmaster and teachers, they asked us for a favour to teach a performance. ASTRO was coming to the school to film about ‘Sekolahku Hebat’ which means my school is the best! Luckily I used to learn different traditional dances while I was younger. It was very common to perform during international camps. I taught 18 Standard 6 students how to do Dikir Barat. Right from the beginning where they couldn’t even remember the moves to the day they actually performed it, I could see how much effort they had put in. I was really proud of them and most importantly they had fun!
We run an English Club on Wednesday for Standard 5 and 6 students. Each lesson was a challenge as the kids are hyperactive! The hardest part is to ensure that they really learn and remember what we are teaching them as all they ever do the whole time is having fun, talking and laughing! The last lesson, we had 38 kids in the class!
Besides, we also have an Ecoteer Club (Environmental Club) every Friday morning to educate them about environmental issues and create awareness among the younger generation. We taught about recycling, green energy, food web…etc. I doubt the kids really remember everything but they always attend as they have fun learning and doing arts and crafts.
Recently, we just started Eco-Snorkel Club to educate the students of the do’s and don’t’s during snorkelling. Most of the boys here are strong swimmers, yet at the same time they have a habit to touch marine life. We teach them to put on a life jacket and take care of the mask and snorkel at all time. We also teach them the names of fishes in English, at the same time learning the names in Malay!
We had also chosen 12 Environmental Ambassadors from the school, aged 10 and 11 years old. They will be the role models to other students. They will engage in most of our educational and environmental activities, such as recycling, composting, gotong-royong and eco-snorkelling. They will also have the opportunity to mix and communicate with our volunteers in English, which provides them a good exposure.
There are no school clubs during school holidays but we conduct school camps for the kids. The first one was in March and it was fun! It was more like an educational, interactive and fun camp. We had 30+ students who attended. They did sand castles, spelling games, obstacle games, flag design, beach clean…etc. It was really hectic during that two days and all of us did not have enough sleep but it was worth it! The next one will be held this coming June!
Besides school activities, we do composting. The whole point is to encourage the locals to start separate their organic waste from non-organic waste. When I first arrived here in February, the sight of rubbish at every corner of the village was very disturbing. The problem wasn’t just the ignorance of the locals but there is no dump site here. There is no proper waste management system. During the monsoon season, pretty much from November until March, all the rubbish stay in the village. The usual dump sites were full with black plastic bags. The amount of waste produced in 4 months period was tremendous and the smell was unbearable. Things only improve in April when the contract started where cargo ships actually collect all these waste from the dump sites and ship them out to mainland. Local ladies are hired as cleaner to clean the village. Although the cleanliness has improved, many still have the habit of throwing rubbish everywhere and also into the ocean. Thanks to the Operators Association of Perhentian Islands, a composting machine was placed in the village. The school hosts the machine now. We walk around the village with the wheelbarrow and collect organic waste everyday to put them into the machine. The waste is broken down into fertilizer after 48 hours, using enzymes. Not many actually understands the reason to composting. We are starting to educate the ambassadors and they have been helping us to collect waste lately.
VILLAGE / BEACH CLEAN
Gotong-royong means everyone in the village come and help to do something. However, after being here just a short while, I noticed how hard it is to actually get the villagers to do any clean up. Instead we have always done it with the school kids. Each time we went for gotong-royong, we taught the kids to separate tins, glass and plastic bottles. However, no matter how often we did it, there is still rubbish everywhere. It is really important to instill in the locals not to throw or burn the rubbish! It would not happen immediately but hopefully in a long run, they would actually take care of the environment and start throwing rubbish into bins!
The hardest part about recycling is to get all the recycle waste out of the island. Before the cargo ships start collecting waste in April, there was almost no way of bringing waste out other than paying for a boat transfer which costs a lot. We contacted some recycling companies but we still need to find a way to ship these waste to the jetty at mainland and they would only come and collect if the waste is at least 100kg. Lately we met a Bangladesh man who comes to the village and collects recycled items. We have been doing beach and village clean with the kids and all this while we have been storing everything under our wooden house. It is good to know that we have a way to dispose all of it. We are going to start a recycling competition in the school to encourage the school kids to recycle and hopefully it will develop into a good habit.
Outside of Ecoteer House, we have a garden where we plant herbs and vegetables. Although it is just a small area but managing it does take lots of effort. If we do not sweep the fallen leaves and pull out weeds, the garden looks like a growing jungle. I do not have much experience in gardening actually and it has never really been my thing. The first time I ever help to clear a garden was when I was in Swiss. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it because unlike in Malaysia, I did not sweat at all after a few hours outside. Gardening in such a hot weather in Malaysia is exhausting. Before I realise, I am already soaked wet and sweat just keeps dripping off my face. Besides our own small garden, we are growing a community garden which is probably twice or more the size. Thanks to Pak Din, who allows us to use his land to build a garden. The garden is in the jungle by the hill side. We need to hike up a bit to the garden. It took months to clear up an area in the jungle to even start planting. After all the hard work and lots of sweat from so many volunteers, we finally have a clear piece of land for the garden. Initially, it seemed impossible to start a garden in a jungle but now I can actually envision a garden there soon!
HOUSE AND MURAL PAINTING
We also do basic construction work in the village. Besides, painting Ecoteer house, we had also painted one of the villager’s house with the help of students from USM. The work get done quickly when we have enough manpower. We are going to paint another four more houses, hopefully before Malay Raya so that they get to celebrate the new year with newly painted houses!
At the same time, we also painted and mosaic the old school pond. When I first saw the school pond, it was covered by moss and had been left unused for a very long time because the pond was leaking. This is one of the projects that had taken us a very long time to finish. We first scrubbed off all the moss from the surface and clean the pond. Thankfully, a lot of the school children helped out. It actually took us two days to finish cleaning it. Before the first group started painting, we painted a layer of undercoat. Then we painted the background and different marine life. Lastly was mosaicing the tiles. It took exactly about one month to finish as it took up a lot of time to mosaic the bottom of the pond. The school pond is looking really nice now! Great job done by by Ecoteer’s local and foreign volunteers, USM, Monash University, STAR, FUZE and GroupOn.
WESTERN COOKING COURSE
We also teach the cooks from local stalls and cafes, as well as housewives some Western recipes, with the hope that they can add more recipes onto their menu. So far we had taught Schnitzel, pumpkin soup and meatballs. Although only 3 ladies showed up for each lesson, they all enjoyed cooking with us! Thanks Jill and Nat for being the main chefs while I was mostly doing the translation.
When new volunteers arrive, we do a village tour to show them around the village. It is not a big village but to actually tour around the village, including walking up the community garden, it sometimes take up more than an hour! There are no vehicles here, except for a few bikes. The only ‘car’ they drive is the wheelbarrow. We have one Ferrari and Alpha Romeo! It was weird in the first to maneuver a wheelbarrow but it got easier with time. This village has a primary school, a police hut, a small fire hut, a community hall, a graveyard, a mosque but they are building a new floating mosque, a beach football field, cafes and a few guest houses.
TURTLE AND CORAL TALK
For all of our volunteers, we do a turtle and coral talk. It is a plan to also do the same talk to tourist at different resorts around Perhentain Islands.
SNORKEL TRIP / CORAL WATCH
Snorkel trip is always the highlight of the week! Everyone loves being in the ocean and enjoy watching those marine creatures. I have not got bored of snorkelling. Although it has always been the same snorkel sites, snorkelling with different volunteers makes it fun. For all volunteers, we conduct a water confidence session where they learn to put on the life jacket and wear the mask and snorkel. This is to ensure that everyone know what they should and should not do during snorkelling. It is very common to see turtles, blue-spotted rays, black tip reef sharks, clownfish, parrotfish, bumphead parrotfish, triggerfish, squid, butterfly fish, corals, christmas tree worms…etc. Every month, we do Coral Watch once. It is a very simple coral survey by University of Queensland that non-biologists can do. We dive down to the selected coral and match the colour of the coral to a chart and record down the type and colour of the coral. These data will then be uploaded to the website.
Malay dinner is also everyone’s favourite. Nobody would say one malay dinner per week is enough. We get a few housewives to host malay dinner for our volunteers every week so that they could earn some money for their families. It is also a cultural experience for our volunteers as to taste delicious Malay food using their hands while sitting down on the floor in sarongs. I never really knew how to tie a sarong so that it does not fall off but now I’m a pro! Practise makes perfect! Sometimes the volunteers get to play traditional games like congkak with the kids.
We all work really hard but at the same time enjoying more! Although we don’t always have the Sunday off, we will have fun whenever we can and wherever we are!
This pretty much sums up my current life at Perhentian Island. It may look like all fun but that’s what matters the most. Be happy working! Not forgetting Ecoteer initiation jetty jump! All volunteers would have to make this first step to overcome the fear of height and jump off the village jetty. It took me quite some time for the first time to finally have the guts to jump off with Jolene and Dan! It is still interesting to see every volunteer jumping off with different acts and expressions. The best is of course the children! They are truly beach boys – represent!!!