FOR many Malaysian children who learn about local culture and heritage within the four walls of their classrooms, the experience can be likened to playing in an empty playground.
To promote the rich tapestry of Malaysian culture, especially in the arts, DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd has launched a nationwide community programme – called the DiGi Yellow Mobile – that gives underprivileged children an opportunity to step away from their textbooks and classrooms, and experience an array of cultural activities and diverse musical heritage.
Launched in June last year, the DIGI Yellow Mobile has travelled across Malaysia, teaching children the different art forms of dance, music, drama, arts and crafts, via whole day workshops conducted by renowned local artistes.
To date, the programme has touched the lives of more than 700 children nationwide through various short courses organised in Kuala Lumpur (Art Attack), Kuantan (Dance Deliria), Alor Star (Music Mania), Johor Baru (Drama Delight), Kuching (Craft Crazy), Kota Kinabalu (Culture Caravan) and Penang (Festive Fiesta).
“The programme represents an excellent opportunity to present and hopefully preserve Malaysia’s rich culture and art that otherwise might die off if the younger generation is not exposed to them,” said DiGi chief operating officer Tore Johnsen.
The latest in the series of workshops was the Festive Fiesta held in Penang last week, which saw more than 100 children aged between 10 and 15 gather at the Mutiara Beach Resort for a colourful celebration of Malaysia’s rich ethnic and cultural diversity.
At the workshop, special children from the Salvation Army Children’s Home, St Joseph’s Home for Children and Rumah Kanak-kanak Taman Bakti learned to make lanterns and sing a Chinese song to accompany a lantern festival procession. Others tried their hands in making the ceremonial bunga manggar, as well as in weaving ketupat for a traditional Hari Raya celebration.
Another group was taught to decorate earthen pots and sticks, and perform simple dance steps for the Ponggal harvest festival, while their friends learned to make traditional Christmas decorations, sing a popular Christmas carol, and perform a dance.
Traditional weddings are a community affair in Malaysia, thus the last group of children went through some of the customs of wrapping fruit, making bunga rampai and tying a sarong in preparation for a peranakan wedding.
Penang’s cultural experts from the Temple of Fine Arts, the North Theatre and the Eurasian Society of Penang, as well as artistes such as Hamili Kassim and Michael Cheah, acted as tour guides for the children.
Learning more about the Chinese lantern festival was something special for 14-year-old Nagarajen from St Joseph’s Home for Children.
“All these years, I have see children playing with the lanterns without realising that there is a legend on how this festival began. Today, I learnt not only how to make lanterns but also the real story and song that are related to the lantern festival,” he said.
Similarly, 12-year-old Nurul Syahidah from Rumah Kanak Kanak Taman Bakti said participating in the workshop was an eye-opener. She found the Indian Ponggal rice harvest celebration particularly fascinating.
“I know about Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, but I never knew about the Ponggal festival. Today, I not only decorated a pot which is normally used to cook rice during Ponggal, but I also mastered some simple dance steps, usually performed during this festival. I can’t wait to take this pot back home and show my friends how to paint it,” she said happily.
The grand finale of the Festive Fiesta saw the children re-enact exuberant celebrations of the various ceremonial festivities before their peers, with the guidance of the artistes and volunteers.
“In just two hours, they were able to learn a song in Chinese, make a lantern and paint designs on an umbrella. They expressed keen interest from the very moment we started teaching at the workshop,” said Ang Ban Siang of the North Theatre.
Johnsen said: “Creatively instils in children a deeper sense of appreciation, tolerance and understanding of the various faiths and ethnic groups found in multiracial Malaysia. This is something they will carry with them for a long time.”
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