By Xu Wanwei who is a Science Educator at Science Centre Singapore.
I was inspired to attend a sharing on mangroves by Dr Daniel Friess at Science Centre (which Danny alluded to in his article ‘The Swamp Thing’), after my love-hate relationship with nature was put to the test during my 3-week swamp adventure in Kuala Selangor Nature Park. Organised by ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme, AsiaEngage UKM, 97 youths from the 10 different ASEAN countries were divided into four biodiversity sites to promote environmental conservation through community engagement. I, very luckily, was chosen to live with ‘the swamp thing’ for 21 days.
In my mind, the swamp thing has always been huge, slimy and green. Never did I imagine that it was actually small, irritating, blood-sucking fiends. The moment I stepped out of my chalet, there was an army of mosquitoes waiting to attack.
The interesting thing is that only my Chinese Malaysian friend and I in the volunteer group were at the receiving end of their wrath. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that Malaysian mosquitoes love Chinese blood! Overlooking that one teeny weeny downside, it was a revitalising experience to live with nature and its inhabitants for a good 21 days, away from the concrete jungle of Singapore.
The first few days were spent orientating ourselves to the park which stretches over 800 acres of land, comprising distinct habitats such as secondary forest, muddy estuaries and mudflats, and a brackish lake. Situated just an hour’s drive away from Kuala Lumpur, locals call this place the jewel of the city.
The programme was divided into three modules, with one module per week. At the end of each week, we had to design a community engagement programme “Apprentice” style. We were only given the task less than 24 hours before and we had to organise an event which would be attended by the local community.
While preparing for these events, we also had the chance to sit in various lectures conducted by professors and professionals from related industries, go on field visits and experience life in the Kampong. The most memorable experience I had has got to be rice planting.
Upon seeing the rice paddy, the city kids from Singapore and Malaysia excitedly bared their feet and jumped into the waterlogged fields without hesitation! Judging from the facial expression of the Cambodian participants, they must be bemused that there are people who have never seen a rice field before. We spent a good half an hour under the sun, planting rows and rows of rice seedlings.
Apart from experiencing life living close to nature, it was interesting to learn the cultures and habits of our fellow ASEAN friends. This programme opened my mind and expanded my knowledge of regional environmental conservation issues. Having heard the stories first hand is way better than reading them from the news.
Should there be similar programmes in the future, city kids should definitely go.
Check out some of the other activities I got stuck into during my Kuala Selangor Nature Park trip!