Malaysia: Caring for Perhentian

Volunteers devote their time for Pulau Perhentian.
The Star 18 Dec 12;

OVER the past 12 months, tourists from all over the world have been doing their bit to make a difference at Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu. Instead of just lying on the beach or snorkelling, they have spent time painting homes, picking up trash, protecting turtles and teaching village kids English and about the marine environment.

The effort was led by Ecoteer, which relies on volunteers to carry out various community work. This year, Ecoteer’s project in Perhentian was financially supported by The Star Foundation, the charity arm of The Star Media Group.

Also lending a hand were 35 employees from Star Publications and nine readers of The Star, who gamely joined the endeavour to promote responsible tourism and preserve the island environment. Here is a round-up of the year’s activities at Perhentian.

Green thumbs: A patch of land, donated by a villager, was cultivated with sweet potatoes, turmeric, ginger and pumpkin to create a community garden.

Island spruce-up: Regular beach clean-ups by volunteers and schoolchildren kept the island clean. The kids were taught recycling practices and a competition at the school saw 325kg of recyclables collected in two weeks. Volunteers collected 800kg of kitchen waste from the village and that was converted into 205kg of fertiliser in a composting machine.

Home improvement: Volunteers painted five village homes and built walls to prevent flood water from entering two homes during the monsoon.

Turtle watch: Talks were held to impart knowledge on marine life to volunteers and hotel guests. Volunteers patrolled the beach at night to protect nesting turtles from poachers, and collected eggs for the hatchery. This year, 95 turtle nests were protected, 1,285 eggs were incubated and 998 hatchlings, released.

Empowering women: The Ladies Community Tourism Group’s kuihmaking sessions and Malay dinners for tourists and volunteers proved to be extremely popular, and gave the visitors an insight into the local culture.

Seeing a difference in Ecoteer project
The Star 18 Dec 12;

The people of Pulau Perhentian see benefits from the Ecoteer project.

Norishani Mohamed Nor, housewife, 39

SHE supported the project by serving Malay dinners, conducting kuih-making sessions, separating food waste for composting, and preparing refreshments during beach clean-ups. Aside from earning income from these activities, she got to know the volunteers from different countries.

“All the activities gave me good memories. I was able to mingle with people from abroad and to know about other countries. I also shared our culture with the volunteers, such as by teaching them how to make local delicacies.”

Che Ayub Che Deraman, school teacher, 55

His involvement in the school recycling competition, English Club, Eco-Snorkel Club, Ecoteer Club and beach clean-ups was a beneficial experience, and allowed him to interact with foreigners. He suggests that budget be allocated for refreshments, prizes and awards for the schoolchildren to encourage them to get involved. He says more incentives from relevant governmental agencies will also encourage the villagers’ participation.

Nik Syazwani Zulkifli, 11

Participating in all the activities, including collecting food waste for composting, beach and village clean-ups, the various clubs, recycling competition and the kuih-making session, has taught her a lot. She says these activities have instilled a spirit of teamwork among villagers. She enjoyed the English Club sessions the most because of the fun and interactive games and is thankful for the opportunity to learn English. For the future, she would like to continue having lessons about environmental issues.

Siti Nur Hidayah Binti Mat Adam, 10

Apart from improving her English, she now knows more about environmental issues and also sees a cleaner village and beaches at Perhentian. She is happy with the presents she got from her participation and would like to see more snorkelling sessions. She likes the English Club as the games were a fun way to learn the language.

Muhammad Afiq Syazwan Mohd Ghazali, 10

His English has improved due to frequent interaction with foreign volunteers, and he is happy with the gifts from the school clubs, recycling competition, and village clean-ups. Like many of his schoolmates, he enjoys the games and activities held by the clubs as they were fun and educational at the same time.

Zainudin Mohd, village head, 43

He sees a cleaner village and a slight improvement in waste management. He is now working with the Marine Parks Department and Ecoteer to set up a women community group. He hopes this association will help get more locals involved in community activities.

Mohamad Jidin Harif, retiree, 63

Ever-supportive of Ecoteer’s work, he had offered a piece of land for the community garden and explained to the locals about the purpose of the compost machine.

“Most of the locals recognise the individuals from Ecoteer but they don’t really understand why Ecoteer is doing all this work in the village. Besides, they have to work, that’s why not many were involved in the activities.” He has fond memories of the volunteers spending Hari Raya at his house and working together on the garden.

“The garden is a trial and we have already harvested some vegetables and fruits. Next year, we will be more experienced at maintaining the garden.”

Hasmah Omar, housekeeper at Abdul Chalet, 54

She says the project offers many benefits, such as providing extra income for the villagers, encouraging knowledge-sharing and cultural exchange, and giving villagers the opportunity to get together. “Although there were conflicts and small misunderstandings while organising the activities, overall, there were no big setbacks or problems. The most memorable experiences are hosting the dinner for the volunteers, meeting and interacting with people from different countries, and showing them traditional games such as congkak.”

Zaharah Deraman,retiree, 56

She is grateful for the extra income she got from preparing Malay dinners for the volunteers and giving kuih-making demonstrations. She appreciates that Ecoteer sought her opinion for its activities, and participation in the activities was flexible; the villagers need not join in if they were busy.

“All this while, Perhentian has been a tourist attraction but the tourists hardly mingle with the locals. With Ecoteer acting as the liaison between the villagers and volunteers, we now have the chance to interact with the volunteers and tourists.”

She says the project has fostered better relationships among the locals and in the future, there should be more discussions on the activities as some villagers are unaware of how they can get involved.