USUALLY, at this time of the year, our thoughts turn to those who are less fortunate than us, and we are thus reminded of how good most of us have it. We have caring friends and family, decent jobs and good health, which are more than some people can wish for.

Many of us feel compelled to give just a little more when the collection bag is passed around in church, or to not ignore the beggar on our street corner. Some even volunteer time and effort to do philantrophic work.

While we may feel a lot more charitable during this season of giving, for most of us, the rest of the year is taken up by work commitments and other priorities.

There are, however, groups and individuals that don’t just get involved in volunteerism “seasonally”. Instead, they give of themselves all year round.

For these youths, helping out in any way they can is an activity they commit to all the months of the year, and it brings them joy regardless of the season or reason.

Apart from fundraising, youths today have initiated many different ways to conduct community service and social work, finding new and creative methods to not just help others out financially, but also in building skills and imparting knowledge.

For each individual, the desire to help others comes from different places. It may have come from a talk they attended, a pamphlet handed to them in a shopping mall, a TV documentary or even encouragement from friends.

For Pechay Amoothan Jhagarajan, a 19-year-old building services engineering student, the desire came from within his own community in Desa Mentari, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

The low-cost housing area which houses residents moved from the squatter areas of Kampung Lindungan and Kampung Ghandi in Subang Jaya has been his home for the past few years.

Amoothan is a member of B2 Youth Group, which was formed in 2005 by former nurse Stella Michael (who has been giving kids in the area tuition classes since 2004). The group recently carried out a community mapping project called Desa Mentariku.

The B2 Youth Group recently held a video workshop under the project Desa Mentariku

“I was inspired to be part of this group because of my former teacher Stella Michael,” says Amoothan, who helps coordinate the group’s activities. “She taught me so much; not just school education, but also life education. Before this I was really playful but now I’ve changed a lot in my character and my thinking.”

The group regularly conducts tuition classes, yoga classes, leadership workshops and even has a credit cooperative, which provides financial education for the residents in the area.

Desa Mentariku, a project which begun in February this year, was carried out in four phases: Getting to know the community and human rights, community video workshop, Desa Mentari community mapping and finally, an editing workshop.

“In this project we used a lot of creative tools like cameras, video cameras, computers to edit and others, I really enjoyed it,” explains Amoothan, who works mainly with 10 core members of the group, which has around 25 members overall.

Like Amoothan, 23-year-old Shidah Mohamed also uses creative methods to carry out social work. Along with members of her martial arts group Bantus Capoeira, she teaches youths in the Chow Kit area in Kuala Lumpur the Brazilian martial art on Sundays.

Every month for several hours on a Sunday, Shidah and her mates head to a youth centre in Chow Kit to teach around 20 kids.

The Bantus Capoeira group hold lessons for youths in Chow Kit

“We start with warm-ups, then basic steps like cartwheels and bridges,” says Shidah. “We also guide them through exercises that will help them increase their flexibility.”

The group has also introduced the youths to other forms of Brazilian culture such as traditional songs and the playing of instruments.

“We also sing songs and play instruments, the kids love it! And kids are so smart, they learn very fast,” adds Shidah.

Fitness and sports activities are always a great way to reach young people, and these elements are part of what 26-year-old Joy Lee May Yen does as a volunteer with the Asian Youth Ambassadors (AYA).

“AYA started a children’s programme in Kampung Muhibbah, Puchong (Selangor) sometime in the middle of this year,” says Joy, who is reading for her masters in publishing at the moment.

“We have been going in on a monthly basis to do simple games and short lessons with the kids there, and we started a futsal clinic where we hope to train them in futsal skills.”

Joy Lee

Joy’s role in the project is mainly to befriend the children and teach them lessons, hoping to be able to inspire them to want to learn.

“We hope to increase the frequency of our visit to Kampung Muhibbah next year. We have plans to start some kind of English reading programme and to continue with our futsal clinic next year,” says Joy, who went into this volunteer work out of the desire to do something for her community.

Music is another great way to reach out to youths, and the folks at the Epic collaborative are doing just that.

Co-founder Jayne Kennedy, 23, along with the rest of the Epic collaborative, have been working on a project called EpicHomes for two years, with the intention of building homes for the orang asli next year. Funds raised will go directly into building costs and raw materials, as well as the transportation of the items.

Just recently, as part of fundraising for this project, the group started EPIConcert, a project aimed at raising awareness for their causes while having fun with musicians who performed (for free) at the event.

“The EPIConcert began with the intention to raise funds for two causes: Surgery, and EPIC Homes. Unfortunately, just a week before the event, the friend who needed funds for surgery pulled out due to personal reasons.

“The reason the event was planned in such a short amount of time was because of this particular cause. It was a challenging situation, but after seeing the response of the attendees, friends, and corporate sponsors we decided to go ahead, move in faith and continue to raise funds for EPIC Homes,” Jayne explains.

The first event was held last week and attracted quite an audience, who came to enjoy the concert as well as give support through donations.

“Nothing is quite as incredible as seeing a dream come into reality. For a month and a half, this idea of the EPIConcert swirled around in our minds, and to see it come to life, in such a positive way that exceeded our expectations, is beyond words,” says Jayne.

While there are many new ways of carrying out philantrophic work, there’s nothing like good old group work like tree planting, gotong-royong, fence painting and organic farming. Edward Chuah does exactly that with Service Civil International (SCI) Malaysia.

The 25-year-old medical sales representative dedicates a lot of his time to working with the organisation, with activites ranging from fundrasing walks to helping out at the zoo to organic farming.

SCI Malaysia does a lot of environment-related work

“The main objective is to have volunteers from all ages and statuses to work and laugh together and to do things in a simple and fun way,” says Edward. “Every month we would have our SCI Comittee members meeting and any activities can take place anytime. Some are internally organised and some other collaboration projects.”

Trials and tribulation

As it is with everything, community work and volunteerism come with their own set of challenges.

Joy finds that balancing her emotions when working with the people she serves a bit of a challenge.

“The challenge at times, is trying to balance having the heart for people and yet not be too emotionally involved with them because it doesn’t help either party to be too emotional about anything,” she says.

“Of course, finding time may be a challenge from time to time. But I enjoy doing it because you get satisfaction out of knowing that someone else learnt something new or when you see the fruits of your labour.”

For Jayne, the biggest challenges come in lessons of leadership and teamwork.

“How to choose and lead a team with a balanced mix of personalities, ensuring that communication is clear on both ends, making sure that all your volunteers are appreciated and that they know their role is instrumental in the success of the event.

“We pulled our hair out a few times over sponsors, because we were rejected by a few in the beginning, but we feel as if it only paved the way for more epic sponsors,” says Jayne, who is thankful to sponsors  Carrefour and Tune Talk and and Advertlets for spreading the word.

In Desa Mentari, Amoothan says getting residents involved was one of the obstacles they faced.

“Also, during the course of the project, we realised that there are so many different characters and personalities around us, that we need to tailor the activities to meet everyone’s needs, and be flexible when it comes to working with people,” says Amoothan.

“We also had to find sponsors to support our projects, but our friends helped us out and the Krishen Jit Astro Fund was very helpful to us,” he adds.

Any working adult in Malaysia will tell you they have very little time for anything but work and their families, so how do youths like Edward, Shidah, Joy, Jayne and Amoothan find the time to volunteer?

Says Shidah, “I enjoy passing on what I know. Classes with the youths are a lot of fun, it’s a joy seeing the kids rush and greet you before classes, and enjoy themselves during the sessions.”

Edward says it is the feeling of being a part of a community that spurs him on.

“It’s the closeness among members. We can laugh, share problems and talk about anything under the sky,” he says. “With volunteer work, I believe you have to believe in the cause and enjoy doing it, and you will find the time.”
For Joy, it’s a commitment that she won’t back out of.

“I will keep doing what I can as long as I can still do it. There are a lot of organisations out there that serve the different needs of the society. Find a cause you believe in and google or ask around on how you can get involved,” Joy says.

Jayne finds the experiences she’s received and the lessons she’s learned through the course of her work with Epic invaluable.

“I suppose it is the quality of these lessons and learnings and most importantly the relationships I’ve built on the way that makes the adventure extremely exciting,” she says.

Amoothan wishes to pass down this spirit of working for his community through the activities they run, and hopes that more youths in his area will join them.

“The best way is to arrange some games or activities to make them feel free to join us, and next, start with small discussions in very simple topics or issues in our Desa Mentari, and find a way for them to get involved,” he notes.

“From this journey there will surely be youths who will improve themselves and put in effort to helping the community.”

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