A STUDY in 1996 by the Department of Environment found that although 90% of Malaysian students were aware of environmental issues, only 30% were actively involved in preserving the environment.
Realising the need to improve the situation, the department joined hands in 1998 with the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) to organise the Wira Alam or Environmental Warrior project, a first of its kind in the country.
“The project aims to motivate students to be more pro-active in saving the environment; in other words, to make environmental warriors out of them,” says MNS programme officer Evelyn Lim.
The project comprises three stages: Wira Diri (Level 1), Wira Komuniti (Level 2) and Wira Alam (Level 3).
At each stage, participants are required to complete the assignments in the activity books given to them, progressing to group projects in the later stages.
The group projects can be in the form of fund-raising, community clean-ups, conducting audits, and devising environmental games. The first two stages should be completed within a few months, while for the final stage, an ideal time-frame is one year.
Explains Lim: “Although the project is open to all students from upper primary to secondary school level, we found that the majority of those who took part were from secondary schools.
“The project becomes more challenging and time-consuming the higher the level as participants have to liaise with more people, such as local councils, agencies, NGOs, other schools, and corporate sponsors. As you can see, the Wira Alam project involves student initiative and creativity as they have to plan, organise and carry out their ideas.”
The activity books are given free and can be obtained by writing to MNS.
For group projects, students can work in teams of two to six members. Reports must be submitted, complete with photos and articles (e.g. school newsletters, newspaper cuttings, etc about the activity which they conducted). Upon the successful completion of each stage, they will receive a certificate and mementos.
Initially aimed at schools with Nature Clubs (Kelab Pencinta Alam), the project drew more than 9,000 participants from 119 schools. Out of this, 991 students got through Level One, 87 passed Level Two and 21 passed Level 3.
“The number of students naturally dwindles because it takes more time and effort the longer it goes,” says Lim.
Recently an awards ceremony was held for 21 students from Sabah, Sarawak and Kuala Lumpur who had successfully completed the final level. Each of them received a Wira Alam vest, a certificate, trophy and cash from Science and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Law Hieng Ding at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia in Kepong, Selangor.
Among the projects they carried out were studying water samples in the river to determine its ecosystem, auditing for a recycling campaign and organising gotong-royong for their communities.
“The 21 environmental warriors really deserved the award as they persevered through the three stages of the project,” says Lim, adding that the quality of the reports submitted was also impressive.
“For example, we had a report submitted by a girl who used her own home-made paper, while another was made from an old magazine,” she says.
Lim adds that the whole project will soon be revamped in order to attract more students. “We are opening the doors to all students, regardless of whether or not they are Nature Club members, as we want as many students as possible to participate.”
Plans are afoot to make the project less complicated and easier for students to move on to the next stage. There are also plans to translate the workbook into English and perhaps Chinese and Tamil.
“However, because we have just completed evaluating the success of the project, we are still fine-tuning and upgrading the activity book. The good news is that we have received requests from many schools expressing interest in taking part,” Lim adds.