Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Ecoteer in Malaysia?
Cam: On a previous trip I had done some volunteer work with an NGO connected to Ecoteer as they offer many varied opportunities across the world. Some months later I received their monthly newsletter, advertising a position for volunteer Construction Leader. I didn’t know much about Malaysia and thought it would be a good way to experience a new culture and live on a tropical island. The application was accepted and the plane ticket was booked to Malaysia. Perhentian Islands here we come!
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer
Cam: We started the day with a simple breakfast followed by the daily chores around the house. Depending on the day I would arrange equipment for the construction work or help out with the lesson plan for English or the Eco-club. A great aspect of the project in Perhentian Island project was the broad range of activities to participate in. Some days we would be attending to our village vegetable garden, or teaching the kids English, or painting one of village houses. We were also given the opportunity to snorkel the local reefs monitoring coral quality.
We would usually take lunch at a local restaurant enjoying local rice and noodle dishes freshly prepared with locally caught seafood. To avoid the heat of the day we had a rest for the afternoon activities.
In the afternoon again there were various activities, sometimes an eco-recycling club where the kids competed to gather the most amount of recycling material (paper, glass, cans and plastic). Other days we would take the kids on the eco-snorkeling trip, firstly clean up the beach, a game or two then take them out to show them the incredible marine life around Perhentian Islands. Some kids returned to the house for a while in the late afternoon, giving us a chance to play games with them or some personal time to shower, catch up on emails etc.
Dinner would be at the local restaurant or taking turns to cook at home then either movie nights with the other volunteers or chill out. Our weekly highlight was the traditional Malay dinner on Friday night, dressing up in sarongs, visiting a local home and enjoying some freshly cooked Malay food whilst sitting on the floor, eating with our hands. Macan Sidap! Some Saturday nights we would head to the local party beach to let our hair down with a couple of drinks and a dance.
Do you feel like you made a significant impact on the local community? Why or why not?
Cam: I believe that we did make a great improvement to the environmental awareness of the village children; the cleanliness and appearance of the village as well as surrounding beaches were markedly cleaner as a result of our efforts. We were involved in assisting in developing income and employment opportunities for the local ladies. Teaching the kids to respect the ocean and marine life was an important part of the project.
What did you wish you knew before going to Malaysia?
Cam: How much I would like the country! It has an effect on you and gets under your skin, making you want more and to see more of this beautiful place. Looking back, I probably would like to have learned more of the language, which definitely helps with communication in the village and bond with the locals. Some more research on the cultural diversity would have helped in understanding how the country functioned.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Cam: Personally it has helped me develop greater tolerance when dealing with people as you must be patient and understanding. A better understanding of religious beliefs and cultural differences between the west and the east. The incredible marine diversity of the Malaysian seas inspired me to complete my Advanced Open Water diving certification, eventually leading me to become a certified Divemaster a few months later. My time spent with Ecoteer in Malaysia was so much fun and rewarding, this encouraged me to seek more volunteering projects in the future.