Desk Officer Chris Hitch recently visited Project Trust’s Malaysia Volunteers. Here are five things he learned on the visit:
Malaysia is a foodie’s paradise
I’ve been Malaysia Desk Officer for four years and I’ve travelled to Malaysia personally, so this was the eighth time I’ve been there. I still maintain it has the best food in the world. The cuisine available is so varied, from Indian to Chinese to Malay. There is even variation across Malaysia, and you can order the same dish in different states and end up with very different meals. In the north and east of Malaysia the food is very sweet, and every dish is laced with condensed milk. Then in the south and west it’s spicy and hot food, so the Gap Year Volunteers in different projects get very different culinary experiences.
First impressions of Sarawak
This was the first time I’ve been to Sarawak, a state in Malaysian Borneo. Sarawak is very different to peninsula Malaysia where our volunteers currently are, and slightly different to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo where we’ve had volunteers previously. In peninsula Malaysia the vast majority of people are Muslims, and people’s daily routine is focused on their beliefs: You are woken up for morning call to prayer at 5.45, there are gaps in the school day for pupils to pray, then there is evening call to prayer. In Sarawak there are many indigenous cultures which have a strong influence, so there is a greater mix of religions and languages. The mix of languages makes English more prevalent in Sarawak because people use it as a common language to communicate in, whereas on the peninsula the common language is Bahasa Malay.
25 days is plenty for an Outward Bound expedition
Malaysia is one of the countries that Project Trust has an Outward Bound project. The volunteers there this year were really thrown in at the deep end – at the start of their Gap Year they were taken on a 25 day expedition to give them an insight into what it is like to be a participant on an Outward Bound course. The expedition took in a huge amount of activities, including four days of kayaking, climbing various mountains in the rainforest and a three day solo camp. A solo camp involves living at a very remote campsite with no form of communication and basic supplies.
Because it was the start of the year, the Malaysia volunteers were still adjusting to the heat and humidity, so it was a real challenge for them.
Malaysia volunteers are night owls
I’ve decided I would have been a rubbish Malaysia volunteer. Having volunteered in Guyana, I’m used to getting up early and working through daylight hours, but volunteers in Malaysia seem to end up being a bit nocturnal. Because it is incredibly hot during the day (about 40C and 90% humidity) people usually nap around midday, then keep working through the night when it is cooler. The range of work and activities the volunteers are doing after scheduled school hours this year is really impressive, from preparing lessons, to helping students with homework, to running clubs, hosting debates or even arranging scrabble competitions.
Monkeys are nasty
I always warn Malaysia volunteers about monkeys on training but they always laugh at me. In the first few weeks of volunteers being in Malaysia they will be posting cute pictures of monkeys on social media. Then after a while they realise the monkeys are going to steal their food, their cameras and their bags and break into rooms and trash the place (all of which have happened this year).