Saving the earth is an everyday affair for 12 young environmentalists. TAN SHIOW CHIN gets to know them better at an eco-camp held recently.
WITH youth nowadays more into the latest fashions, gadgets or celebrities, tertiary students who are environmentally aware often find it a lonely pursuit.
But, for the 12 students recently named Bayer Young Environmental Envoys, this feeling of isolation has disappeared following the friendships they formed at an Eco-Camp held at Kuala Gula, Perak last month.
Taylor’s College communication student Kelly Ch’ng shared: “Back in college and secondary school, finding a teenager who is passionate about the environment was like finding a needle in a haystack.
“I knew that this competition would give me a chance to meet people my age who share the same interest in environmental protection. True enough, I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in this battle for a better environment.”
Learning how to make charcoal from mangrove lumber.
Coming from various universities and colleges around Malaysia, these 12 students were chosen from a field of 55 entrants based on a 1,000-word essay about their personal contributions to the environment and an interview session.
“As I only found out about the competition at the last minute, I had one night to complete the essay. It wasn’t so difficult considering that I wrote from the heart,” said Universiti Teknologi Mara mass communication student Khairun Nisa Mohd Zabidi.
Universiti Malaya environmental engineering student Goh Meei Ying agreed: “At first, it was hard thinking of how to start writing the essay, but once I started to write, the flow just came. It took me less than half a day to finish it.”
She added that the interview was initially nerve-wracking as she does not speak English fluently. “There were times I forgot the words to describe what I wanted to say. But later the interview got better.”
Participants on their way to see fireflies at the Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary.
Up close with nature
The five-day Eco-Camp was the final round of the Bayer Young Environmental Envoy (BYEE) programme held in Malaysia for the first time this year.
The objective of the camp was to enable participants to experience nature, learn about environmental science, as well as exchange ideas and opinions with fellow participants and environmental resource persons.
Activities at the camp involved a mixture of field trips, lectures and team-building activities held at the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve and Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary.
The field trips included visits to the mangrove forest reserve and charcoal kilns at Kuala Sepetang, a cruise to watch fireflies, a bird-watching session and a visit to a fish farm.
“The most memorable experience I had during the camp was the trip to Kuala Sepetang. It was my first time visiting a mangrove forest, and I saw so many interesting things, like seeing a dog swim (at the riverside fishing village on the boat ride to Kuala Sepetang), the making of charcoal, wildlife in the mangrove forest and fireflies,” shared Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten) electrical and electronics engineering student Jason Pok.
Kolej Universiti Sains dan Teknologi biodiversity management and conservation student L. Joann Christine agreed: “The field trips were so much fun. Watching those magnificent birds like the Brahminy Kite and the Lesser Adjuctant was such a thrill.”
Learning from the experts
The passion and knowledge these students have for environmental issues was clearly demonstrated during the lecture sessions, where they peppered the various speakers with in-depth questions about current environmental issues.
Many of the sessions threatened to run into overtime, with the students taking full advantage of the speakers’ expertise to ask questions on current environmental policies and practices, as well as controversial topics like the Broga incinerator and the Bakun dam.
The 12 participants taking a walk through the Kuala Sepetang Mangrove Reserve, guided by Forest Range Officer Ahmad Nizam Ngah.
Among the topics presented were An Overview of Environmental Management Efforts in Malaysia, Environmental Laws, Environmental Governance andEnvironmental Attitude and Awareness.
The speakers came from various organisations, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Perak Department of Environment, the Business Council for Sustainable Development Malaysia and Universiti Putra Malaysia’s (UPM) Environmental Studies Faculty.
UPM biomedical science student Jenny Lim said: “The talk on Business and Environment by Datuk Ghazali Yusoff had the most impact on me. I never knew that we could actually focus on the economic value of environmentally-friendly practices to encourage industries to go green.”
One for the record: The 12 envoys posing for a picture at the ecology-learning centre at Kuala Sepetang.
The most significant talk for Uniten mechanical engineering student Azmil Md Ikram was Sustainable Forest Development by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) lecturer Prof Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Mohamad.
“He described the scenario in Malaysia on the implementation of sustainable development precisely and accurately.
“It made me realise that everything must have a sustainable process so that the process or source can outlast time,” he said.
Two for Germany
At the end of the Eco-Camp, each participant was required to come up with a personal action plan for the environment and present it to a panel of judges.
The plans ranged from a quarterly environmental magazine to an “Environmental Educational Syllabus” tailored specifically to disabled children and a plan for research on sewage sludge management facilities.
The participants were judged according to the feasibility, significance and sustainability of their project ideas, as well as their capability to carry out the project.
At stake was a weeklong all-expenses-paid study trip to Germany to visit Bayer Group’s global headquarters and learn about industrial and governmental environmental practices in Germany.
Finally, Meei Ying and Azmil were chosen to join around 50 other Bayer Young Environmental Envoys from 16 countries around the world to go on the study trip.
Both of them were shocked to hear their names announced as the Malaysian representatives to Germany.
“I didn’t expect to win as many of the others showed good leadership skills and were very confident during the camp,” said Meei Ying, who suggested a programme to expose her fellow engineering students to the wider impact of technologies and management systems on the environment.
Azmil said: “I didn’t think my idea was very practical compared to the others as it was a large scale project that would be difficult to execute. But I’m tremendously happy to be going to Germany!”
He proposed a control carriage system to effectively manage the build-up of waste left by mountain climbers on Mount Nuang, Selangor.
As a testament to the close bond these “environmental ambassadors” formed during the camp, the other participants gave Meei Ying and Azmil a spontaneous standing ovation when their names were announced.