Volunteers spend a morning helping out at the zoo

VOLUNTEERISM in Malaysia has been growing from strength to strength in recent years, with more youths stepping forward believing that their actions, no matter how small, could make a difference for society and the environment.

Today is International Volunteer Day 2013 (IVD) and the United Nations (UN) theme for this year’s celebration is Young, Global and Active.

On their website www.unv.org, it says IVD is not only to celebrate and recognise volunteerism but also to pay special tribute to the contribution of youth volunteers.

IVD 2013 is a global celebration of young people who act as agents of change in their communities.

Unlike volunteers in Western countries who are quick to offer their services for any task, in Malaysia the perception is that if a volunteer does something too much out of their comfort zone, it could discourage them from volunteering in future.

Close encounter: A volunteer feeding the wallabies at the national zoo recently.

However, when The Star organised its latest Do Good Volunteer project at the National Zoo on Nov 28, it was encouraging to see participants, especially the youths, getting their hands dirty - literally!

A total of 35 people, mostly teens and youths in their early 20s, arrived at the zoo at 8am and worked until 1pm.

They were given a briefing on safety in the morning before they were divided into groups and led by zoo keepers to their assigned areas.

The volunteers helped out in many ways, including manning the ticket counter, handling visitors, feeding and cleaning the exhibits and selected animal enclosures.

“The animal droppings were definitely smelly, but I knew exactly what I was getting myself into when I signed up as a volunteer.

“In fact, when I asked my friend to join me on this volunteer project, I messaged her “hey, do you want to get dirty?” and my friend replied, “Sure, why not,” said Phoebe Chua Jie Xin, 19, a student.

Her friend Tam Xin Yan, 19, a first-time volunteer, said she thoroughly enjoyed her experience and that her parents also encouraged her to participate in the project.

“My parents were very supportive when I told them that I would be volunteering for a day at the zoo.

“They said my experience can teach me about being responsible and appreciate the efforts of the zoo keepers and staff to maintain the zoo,” the college student said.

Hosing it down: Xin Yan (left) and Phoebe cleaning the tapir enclosure.

Tam and Phoebe, who were tasked with cleaning the Tapir enclosure, said they learnt a lot about the animal’s shy and timid behaviour from the zoo keeper.

“You may visit the zoo and watch documentaries countless times, but nothing beats the experience of being with this gentle creatures up close,” Tam said.

Many of the volunteers, armed with brooms, brushes, shovels, rubber boots, rakes and other items went about cleaning various areas within the zoo under the supervision of the zoo keepers.

One of the groups were even allowed in the gaur (Indian bison) enclosure, where they cleaned the area within the enclosure and laid out grass for the animals to feed on.

The volunteers were clearly anxious as they were merely meters away from the large animals, with nothing in between them. By the time they were done, the volunteers were brave enough to take photos with the animal in the background.

Meanwhile, for Jerimiah Samuel Ommen, 20, it was a dream come true when he was given the envious task of cleaning the tiger and lion enclosures, as this allowed him to get close to the majestic animals.

“The moment I signed up to be a volunteer at the zoo, I wanted the tigers enclosure.

“The white Bengal tiger is huge and kept roaring as we cleaned the area outside his enclosure,” Jerimiah said.

National Zoo education department executive Edwina Lim, 28, said the zoo was in constant need of volunteers as it lacked staff to fully maintain the zoo.

“Thankfully we get volunteers almost every week.

“Sometimes, we even have to turn down people or tell them to volunteer on other days.

“We are also very particular that the volunteers are supervised by our staff to ensure their safety.”

Lim said she was thankful for The Star’s volunteerism initiative and urged more corporate bodies to follow suit in educating its staff and its customers on the benefits of volunteerism.

For Phoebe, volunteerism is a noble act.

She said she would definitely encourage her friends and family members to participate in volunteer projects.

“Although there is no monetary gain, the satisfaction derived from helping out is a wonderful feeling,” she said.

Those interested to be a volunteer at the zoo, can call the Zoo’s education department at 03-4108 3422 (ext 37).

For more information on The Star’s Do Good Volunteer programme and projects, visit www.dogoodvolunteer.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/DoGoodVolunteer.

Related story:
Good Day Out events to be proud of

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