Wednesday, 27 May 2009

MNS Open Day at the Malaysian Agricultural Park

I’m getting to be quite a consummate time traveler. It feels as though hardly 3 months have passed since our last MNS Open Day at the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), and hardly one month since our Raptor Watch Week at Tg. Tuan, and now yet another biannual MNS Open Day has come and gone. Whatever happened to March and April? All of us seem to be just oscillating from one frenetic activity to another. At the rate I'm going, I might as well just declare myself a full time staff (or indentured slave, rather, since I don't get paid) of the Malaysian Nature Society.

There is nothing essentially wrong with having Open Days. The MNS Open Day is a useful awareness-raising and outreach event, and has successfully increased the number of visitors to nature sites such as FRIM and our own MNS Urban Nature Centre. It is an excellent opportunity for MNS members and curious visitors to learn more about our different Special Interest Groups and what we do, and get involved in local conservation issues. We have always welcomed school groups, corporations and other clubs and societies who wish to participate in our Open Day celebrations, and actively encouraged and accommodated residents of welfare homes and organisations, especially children, to attend our events.

It's just that it's always the same core group of volunteers like Eugene, Lillian, Pasupathy and I who end up doing most of the legwork, and we are feeling the strain. If you are of the opinion that 'no one is indispensable', you should try joining the MNS. The guilt of trying to foist work on those who are unwilling or unprepared to assume our responsibilities is so immense that we just carry on over-committing and over-Committee-ing ourselves, year after year. Pasu had coordinated the last Open Day, and Eugene had coordinated this one, and judging by their testimonies, it really is a full-time job!

I am concerned over how much of our resources is directed towards each major outreach event like Raptor Watch and Open Day. What worries me is that I cannot determine for certain if the social and educational benefits outweigh the environmental cost. At each major outreach event, we spend inordinate amounts of money on packed lunches (even if in Eco Pak and even if we bring our own drinking water), buntings/banners (even if made of recycled and recyclable Tyvek), canopy rental and transport allowance for volunteers.

Despite my misgivings about the environmental cost, I have to admit that our public outreach events are always highly successful in mobilising the support and assistance of other MNS members (including the occasional volunteers) and in inculcating a love of the Malaysian outdoors and an interest in environmental conservation in our visitors.

Our Open Day, held at the Taman Cendawan ("Mushroom Park") of the Malaysian Agricultural Park in Bukit Cherakah, Shah Alam, on 23rd May 2009, had everything a nature-lover could ask for. Our theme for this event is “Nilai Air Tanah-airku”, or “The Value of Our Country’s Water Resources”, as transboundary water and the construction of dams in vital watershed areas are hotly debated topics at the moment.

The Nature Guides took visitors on hikes and kayaking sessions and conducted lessons on responsible camping and trekking techniques, as well as firestarting and ropework classes. The Flora Group took visitors on Flora and Mushroom Walks. The Marine Group conducted a Turtle Workshop, among other things. LUAS had a booth conducting water quality and stream ecology-related activities.

As for Green Living, besides our usual exhibition of informative charts and posters, sale of pre-loved books, Q & A sessions, 3R Game and collection of recyclables, I had prepared new display materials, a Water Conservation Board Game and a Water Conservation Hunt/Challenge to raise awareness on and advocate good water conservation habits. I am fortunate to have the assistance of competent and experienced volunteers, as usual.

A little lake (a pond, rather. I think almost 30% of the water feature is shaded by vegetation overhang, and the water temperature is pretty even throughout, so it cannot, geographically speaking, be a lake) separating Taman Cendawan ("Mushroom Park") from the rest of the Park.

Young'uns from the Sri Inai Beaconhouse School exploring the event grounds and watchtower.

The MNS Registration booth, sans Powerpoint presentation, sans slideshow, sans everything it should have, thanks to a power cut. Whatever frustration I feel over not having our Special Interest Group slideshows screened is nowhere as maddening as what Eugene and Lill must have felt, as they have worked on the video for weeks, and Lill had apparently stayed up until 0500 hrs the morning of the event to record and calibrate the voiceover.

That's what comes of living in the Third World. Independent power producers like YTL Corp are making a killing from the government and ratepayers by constructing superfluous power transmission infrastructure, and the electricity is supplied to us only intermittently.

Birders conducting an Introduction to Birdwatching session.

The tent in the foreground is part of the Nature Guides educational session on Responsible Camping and Trekking.

Visitors registering for the Water Conservation Hunt at the Green Living booth.

Mee Hong and Siew Hua supervising the rugrats in the Water Conservation Board Game. I am good at conceptualizing educational activities and doing all the critical work, but hopeless at communicating with children. I talk at my pace and level, not theirs, and have a very low threshold for whiny, irrational or uncooperative behaviour. The ladies make it so much easier for me.

Water Conservation Hunt in progress. It was too easy. All the participants had to do was locate all the picture clues which showed instances of water wastage, and then list down the water conservation measures to be taken in relation to each picture. I should have made things more challenging for them. I should have buried clues in the ground with hidden mousetraps, suspended clues from hand grenade pins, or hidden the clues in pits watched over by Komodo Dragons and Gila Monsters.

Water Conservation Hunt Prize Giving Ceremony, sans microphone because the power supply was still out. Mad Props to Lill, whose voice is in inverse proportion to her size! She would make a great drill sergeant. I had planned it so that each team received a Green Living booklet and a set of Green Living pocket posters, and the top 3 teams received hampers of organic goodies in reusable cloth bags.

I hope that for the next Open Day, we will find ways to cut down on food and beverage packaging and disposable materials, utilize a location that is accessible by public transport or is within walking distance of residential areas, and find ways to reduce reliance on water, electricity and private vehicle usage.

~ CO78: Good work, Soldier! ~


Unknown said...

We truly appreciate volunteers especially those who are always there, consistent and sacrificing their time at the drop of a hat.
I understand how you and others felt when the electricity was out. But in true volunteerism spirit, you still did your best. Kudos!

mamasita said...

You and your friends should be awarded medals for your untiring and persistent efforts in environmental conservation activities.
Its difficult and time-consuming yet you all still plodded on..ever so willingly.
I admit most of us will cabut lari! hahaha

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you, dear Keats and Datin Mamasita. We all do the best we can, and that is what makes the Malaysian Nature Society such a dynamic organisation. Everyone gives 100% to the organisation and the cause of conservation and environmental education. In too many other NGOs in Malaysia, there is a lot of bickering and politicking. Take the SPCA, for instance. I have been volunteering there for the past 13 years. Funds have multiplied tenfold since it was set up in the '50s but there's not much improvement to the animal shelter -- it still looks like it's trapped in time, with sheds and cages! It's tough when you're a volunteer doing all the work and noticing all the failings and shortcomings, but the decisions are made by the committee over wine and coffee in their sterile little homes without ever having to set foot into the animal shelter!

Ellen Whyte said...

It is a lot of work but I think you are reaching out to people and making a difference. I hear about MNS quite a lot when I'm out and about. WWF has a better "brand" but I haven't yet met anyone who actually works with or helps or supports WWF whereas I meet lots of people who go to MNS events.

So so sorry I missed it! Arrrggghhh!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks for your encouraging words, Ellen! Am sorry you had to miss it. Perhaps we can have a special Great Outdoors Day Out for the children, staff and volunteers of the orphanage. I've done that a number of times for different Homes. It's great because I put a lot of emphasis on creating opportunities for the children to GIVE BACK (yeah, the fascist killjoy headmistress in me) and the children feel empowered and heartened after their day out. We just need to contact a few others to see if we can arrange for transport and lunch, that's all.

Unknown said...


Another MNS member eh?

Good to know U!

Angie said...

Oh this looks like lots of fun on that day and it was so near my home too for the first time. So sorry that I missed it and wasn't able to help at all.

Kudos to you and the rest of the team for such a successful day!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Ahan, yes I'm with MNS Selangor, Green Living Special Interest Group. Am a fellow lawyer too! Pleased to meet you!

Angie, I was pretty disappointed you couldn't make it, as you live so close by. But thanks for the books! I think Green Living made around RM150 from the sale of your books alone. We really appreciate it! Am thinking of handing over Green Living to someone younger, brighter and more energetic, and concentrating on advocacy, policy and corporate events at Committee level. What do you think?

Pak Zawi said...

Ee Lynn,
Sorry for the late arrival. Just found time to visit friends and this is almost 4.25 AM Malaysian time.
Sure glad to know that the Agricultural Park is still being maintained. I used to visit it at its inception. Loved the park so much but felt disheartened when the previous state government decimated the park to its present size due to personal greed more than need.