Foreign volunteers get a taste for local culture at ponggal festival


  • Nation
  • Tuesday, 15 Jan 2019

PETALING JAYA: The best way to enjoy the unique facets of a country is to participate in its cultural practices.

And that’s exactly what 16 people from China, one from Canada and two from Europe did, by observing the annual ponggal festival practiced by the Indian community.

The group participated in a ponggal celebration, where they were given the chance to boil milk and cook the sweet rice, synonymous with the harvest festival.

The experience was made possible by Yellow House Kuala Lumpur, a non-profit organisation that arranges for foreigners to come and volunteer their services and expertise for charitable causes here.

Yellow House founder M. Shyam Priah said she always strove to introduce local culture to the volunteers in between their volunteering hours.

“If there is a festival during their volunteering period, I arrange festivities at Yellow House for them to participate in," she said.

Shyam Priah arranged for milk to be boiled outside, as well as inside Yellow House so that more people could get the chance to prepare the ponggal rice.

For retired teacher Vicky Penrice, 65, from the UK, the story behind the ponggal festivities was fascinating.

“It was very interesting to learn about the significance of boiling the pot of milk and then adding rice and sugar to it.

“I just love the anticipation of the milk boiling over," she said.

She added there was a harvest festival observed in the UK where farmers give thanks to all the produce they have grown and harvested.

Chinese military cadet trainee Guirong Cai, 26, said her initial perception when the pongagal celebration started at the Yellow House was that it was a bonfire with a huge pot of food to feed the local community.

“There are similar celebrations in all cultures, including in China where we celebrate the water festival," said Cai.

Her fellow volunteer Xiangyun Li, 26, said ponggal reminded her of a tea ceremony back home in China that has been practiced since ancient times.

The teacher added the minority community in Yunnan worship their ancestors as well as pay homage by brewing pu-erh tea (black tea) during this festival.

“My favourite part of this festival is cooking together," said Li.

Shyam Priah said the volunteers will work five hours daily teaching at a Rohingya refugee school in Ampang as well as participating in cross-cultural activities.

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