Not many people find their true passion in life at the age of 21, but Muhammad Najib Mumbi has – elephants.
And he’s not the only one. Thanks to the Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre (NECC), many of the elephant trainers, or mahouts and guides are young people just like Najib who have found their true calling in helping to rescue and rehabilitate elephants.
Najib is one of the few who have benefited from a training program organized by the National Guides Association, better known as “Persatuan Pemandu Pelancong”.
The course, organized yearly at different regions according to states, aims to promote adequate skills for tour guides in the field of eco tourism- and youths from various rural ties around the country were greatly encouraged to join.
Another guide working with the sanctuary, who only wanted to be known as Ka May, aged 26, stated that this course has greatly improved the lives of rural youths as it provided them with opportunities they previously didn’t have.
“The course organized by the Persatuan Pemandu Pelancong is open for all, though most participants are youths under the age of 30. The underlying factor behind this is because most of them choose not to further their education,” said Ka May.
“Opportunities for work in rural areas like these are limited,” he stated. “Most SPM graduates opt for working in the forests as rubber tappers. Some of them even choose not to work at all. When presented with rarities like these, they take full advantage to learn something new that could present them with useful skills they could make a living off.”
Ka May also stated that after attending the course, which lasts for seventeen days, most of the youth have taken an immediate interest in working with nature, which is usually the initial spark igniting their passion.
“Upon discovering my true passion, I shut down my car wash business to focus on being a guide at the elephant sanctuary.” – Muhammad Najib Mumbi
For the youth of Kampung Bolok, Lancang, most of them end up working at the NECC as it is closest to where they live.
Like Najib, his passion and interest only developed after attending the course. “At first I was reluctant, but after being influenced by friends to give it ago, I decided to try it out. I then realized how interested I was with nature, especially elephants. I wanted to learn more and become within closer proximity to nature,” he claimed.
“I started working here at the age of 21. I started off here at the NECC as a part timer, as I used to run a car wash for two years. Not too long after that, upon discovering my true passion, I shut down the car wash business to focus on being a guide at the elephant sanctuary as my main priority,” explained Najib.
For others, when asked why they chose this job, one of them, who only wanted to be known as Jefry, claimed the proximity between his home and the sanctuary was the underlying factor.
Jefry, aged 30, mentioned that moving out of Kampung Bolok to find job opportunities elsewhere was very costly. Also, his priority was to live close by to his family, who had always been permanent residents of this area.
“Both my parents are ill and growing old. My main priority is my family, therefore, working here allows me to live in a location where they are constantly under my care and supervision. I have siblings who are now working here as guides as well,” he stated.
According to Ka May, there are 20 permanent tour guides working at the sanctuary, and 100% of them are youth. There are, however, close to 60 guides in total who worked part time, or as volunteers.
“The NECC is a platform for all of us. Working here, we uphold the image of this place together, as well as the image of our country, due to the increasing number of foreign visitors every day.” – Ka May
“All of us enjoy working here. It’s mostly about the passion for nature, but this job also comes with many perks,” he said. “Working here isn’t stressful at all. We go about our jobs and have fun educating people- especially young children. We love elephants, we love nature. When we see our guests happy, it makes us happy as well.”
Najib mentioned the same thing. “I love this job. I get to work with nature, and I get to meet new people, see fresh faces everyday- and educate them. It’s very fascinating to me.”
Ka May told us that the youth enrollment at the sanctuary was merely something recent, as it only began in 2011. According to him, there was an initial attempt in 2008, but it failed due to the lack of response from the local youth. However, in 2011, after the exposure and encouragement from the Persatuan Pemandu Pelancong, the youth were more aware and inclined to join.
The guides at the NECC fulfill their duties with a strong sense of pride, patriotism and responsibility. Ka May claimed, “the NECC is a platform for all of us. Working here, we uphold the image of this place together, as well as the image of our country, due to the increasing number of foreign visitors every day. Getting positive feedback from tourists is always our focal point.”
With increasing awareness and provision of opportunities, more and more rural youth of today are now utilizing their potential to take themselves further. This helps shed a positive light on the rapidly flourishing rural community, welcoming a rising national asset.