Volunteer testimonial

Written by Tan Yi Han, volunteer from 3 June to 14 July 2013

I came to the Global Environment Centre (GEC) not knowing what to expect, other that I want to learn more about the annual haze that afflicts my homeland, Singapore, and that GEC is one of the main NGOs tackling this issue. I had been working as an insurance agent for 2 years, but I knew my core passion lay elsewhere. So I took leave from my clients and supervisors and started my new adventure across the Straits of Johor.

I came without a relevant technical background. My degree is in Engineering Science, not Biology, Geography, Environment or even Social Science.

Yet, the folks at GEC tried to accommodate my interests and strengths to give me meaningful tasks to do. My first major task was to join a homestay programme and help them develop their eco-tourism programme. It was the first time I stayed at a kampung (village) and I was struck by how friendly and open the kampung people are. Once, I was walking around the kampung when I passed by an old man who invited me to join him, and we had a really nice chat.

The other major highlight of my volunteer stint in Malaysia was fighting a peat fire. I experienced first-hand just how hard it is to fight a peat fire. We quickly extinguished the flames above the ground, but spent days trying to put out the smoking soil that was a sign of fire beneath the ground, ready to return with a vengeance like a demon from hell.

After 3 eventful weeks in Malaysia, I then had the opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Indonesia. I saw the devastating burn sites which only days before were the source of the worst haze in history in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia. The burnt carcasses of oil palm trees and pineapple plants stretched all the way to the horizon. The family who had been farming this land never used fire themselves. Yet, fire from neighbouring land spread into their farmland, devastating their crops. As the fires raged outside their homes, engulfing them in thick smoke, the adults had opted to stay to save their homes, until rain and a national disaster force finally put out the fire. Despite the harrowing experience and their livelihood in question, when we visited them, the family received us with cheerfulness and even offered us tea and snacks. They had hardly enough food for themselves and yet, did not forget to be kind to others.

As I conclude my volunteer stint with GEC, I leave with many beautiful memories, important lessons and a burning desire to do something to stop the haze - not only for my homeland, but also for the wonderful people of Indonesia and Malaysia!

For more information, please visit http://www.gec.org.my

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