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MEMORABLE MOMENTS AROUND KEMAH KERJA NILAI MURNI REMAJA

One of the wonderful things about volunteering in youth camps or workshops is that you get to see graduate participants remember you kindly, though the camp was aeons ago ... once, when my car broke down, this young man jumped off his motorcycle and helped to push it to the side of the road. He offered to find a mechanic. Thanking him, I said it wasn't necessary as someone was already coming. To my surprise, he said "Ok, teacher, bye. You need anything, call me at xxx". It seemed that he remembered being a participant at an FPA youth camp years ago. Perhaps incidents like this are one of the reasons for volunteers to continue working in youth camps every year.

Some of this year's enduring moments unexpectedly came during our first-ever Perpaduan(Unity) camp co-organised with Kawasan Rukun Tetangga (the Neighborhood Task Force) Mt Erskine, Kemah Kerja Nilai Murni Remaja. The camp focused on creating good values among youths. The camp was conducted from 16th to 19th October 2003 at the Sports Centre of Westlands (PSKW) in Penang and involeved 40 students.

The ten fully-committed volunteers ranged from 19 years to 71 years. On the last night, we celebrated the actual 71st birthday of one of our volunteers, Mrs Molly Kwong. She declared that she would come back for the "surprise" party after celebrating with her family (husband, children, grandchildren and six dogs) because we are also her family! Late into the night and early morning, Molly was on the stage demonstrating dance steps in synchrony with the karaoke performers. Grassroots volunteers like Molly inspire me to work in community services. I admire Molly's passion for life. I attended another friends birthday steamboat dinner, but I made a point to return to PSKW to see Molly cut her cake.

Molly joined Penang FPA in 1998. At youth camps or seminars or National Council of Women's Organisation's meetings, Molly puts those half her age to shame with her energy. For this camp, Molly was put in charge of food and beverage. Because of her, all the 40 lower secondary school participants from all over Penang had plenty of good food and water. The caterer was impressed by our washing up system and scrap food recycling for dog-owners.

Adding colour to the camp were the six youth facilitators, who were coordinated by Ms Christine Low. Though the going for the participants was tough at the Intention Walk, Night Owl (a leadership activity), Telematch and Station Games, they really enjoyed these active breaks. These broke the ice for them and with the facilitators' team. Edmund Phoong was thoroughly drenched from the splashing during the games; Kuan Y'ng Y'ng was powdered in flour and Goh Hoay Fang had her face painted in colour stripes just like the teens. Nur Azyyati, Jennifer Tan and Loo Sian Siong managed to preserve their appearance.

A municipal enforcement officer, Mr Shankar, acting as voluntary night camp warden, evoked very strong reactions among some 14 year-old boys who had looked forward to sneaking out of the camp hostel after lights out but were deterred by Mr. Shankar.

On the second day, there was some drama. Four participants, unhappy with rules like "no going out of camp area" and "no hand phones" (ground rules were made by participants themselves) were "caught" running away. They were stopped by an alert volunteer. After a personal chat with Engie, each decided that they would stay, as they came to "make new friends and have fun" and they would not be getting that experience if they went home. Molly offered them the chance to go home when their teacher (participants' going home were to be fetched by parents or teachers) came but they declined. On the last day, the two boys and two girls declared that they achieved their intention as evidenced in their autograph books and they were glad to have stayed.

This Kem Nilai Murni was special because we worked differently for the first time in many ways. Unity and self-esteem were the values we wanted to create. As Perpaduan officers had requested for a camp to cater for ethnic Chinese and Indian youths, a lot of effort was made to ensure the Indian youth participation matched the numbers we had set. We succeeded through intensive informal networking with Indian-based organizations by Project Officer M Jaya. She telephoned people while on the way to factory activities and on the bus coming to work as there was only about ten days to recruit participants. Without her there would be no youth camp because it can only happen when there are participants.

At the end of the camp, I can truly say that I experienced unity and self-esteem when a team of people contribute in their unique ways to realize a vision. Project head Ms Yeap Meng Chee was so iron-willed to see the camp through that she attended night meetings with RT and morning meetings with Perpaduan. Despite the challenges of budgetary problems and changes, she really ensured the show went on. During the camp, she came to facilitate workshop sessions, went to work and then returned to the campsite in the evening.

Rukun Tetangga members who came for the games and performances were amazed at the results of each session: students' happiness interacting with others, creative models of their team work, pride on stage, courage using the microphone to speak publicly, acting, singing and dancing. The Indian teenagers spontaneously put up a cultural performance at the finale. Parents'/relatives who came to fetch them were bursting with pride to see their children do so well. What they (parents and students) experienced was more self-esteem and more unity with those they interacted with.

Another first: strict discipline with penalty. The penalty could be to exercise (for non-punctuality), to sit in front of Ms Chan Bee Suan, female warden (those playing with hand phones or side talking). Students had male and female group leaders who attended nightly meetings with the organizing committee. In this way, the facilitators got to know how the participants were doing. Strict discipline meant no double standards. The volunteers were treated likewise. I had a meeting at 7.00am on the third day, so I left at 6.30am and returned before 9.00am for my session.

It really showed up when we conduct activities with love. All the volunteers had fun too. No moment of boredom though they were tired out. A month after the camp, a Form Two student who was a team leader at the camp saw Christine and I with a volunteer of Women's Development (WD) Committee and a visiting FPA member from another state in a fast food outlet. The boy waited for his parents and younger siblings to come in to introduce us at some length... in Hokkien. Whatever his academic achievement, this boy will be a leader and FPA would have been part of his journey.

With such dynamics, it is easy to understand how it was that the education sub-committee volunteers were motivated to run three camps in six weeks; ie we had Camp Reach Out and Teach (ROOT) MPWK (Majlis Pembangunan Wanita dan Keluarga) and Regional RHAM (Reproductive Health of Adolescents' Module) Youth Camp on top of a myriad of other activities and the daily clinic operations. FPA premises looked like and sounded at times like a market in those months.

Ten participants joined as FPA members after the camp, although their parents initially reluctant or apprehensive. Our youth volunteers' zest to leave a legacy speaks for itself when the new youth members chose to be involved in the recently concluded "Reach Out and Touch" World AIDS Day event on 7th December 2003.

As Sian Siong once said, "At first I don't know why we do... it was fun doing, meet people, had chances to go places; after some time, I knew what made me continue... now I know how... that's why I want to recruit other youth to join us".

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