|Sit-down dinner : The sarong-wearing participants about to have a traditional Malay dinner at the home of a villager.|
CLAD in a T-shirt and sarong, graduate trainee Selina Ng, 23, made her way through the traditional wooden houses in Kampung Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu, to have dinner at the house of Kak Ani, one of the villagers who grew up on the island.
The Star has teamed up with Ecoteer to encourage villagers, readers and tourists to help protect the marine environment of Pulau Perhentian.
Under the year-long “Treasured Island” collaboration, financial contribution from The Star Foundation will support Ecoteer projects on the island, which are aimed at improving the livelihood of villagers and raising awareness on environmental protection of turtles and coral reefs.
“I have never eaten sitting on the floor before and it was my first time wearing a sarong. The Malay food was authentic and Kak Ani was so warm and welcoming,” said Ng.
Having the local families host a dinner once a week not only lets participants have an authentic village experience but also allows the villagers to earn some extra income.
|Let’s get creative: Ecoteer participants from The Star teaching children some simple craft.|
Kak Ani, or Norishani Mohd Nor, 39, said she never thought she would be preparing meals for tourists before Ecoteer came to the island.
Her seven-year-old daughter Juwita Sabri is very comfortable with the volunteers who come in and out of the village and she spends a lot of time in the Ecoteer House next door, where volunteers teach children English and conduct environmental awareness activities.
Ecoteer founder Daniel Quilter said they get about five participants every month who help them with programmes such as the English Club and Environ-mental Club.
“We have only two or three people who are here full time and with so many things to do, sometimes projects get delayed,” said Quilter, 29.
|Hard work: Pak Din (second from right) looks on as participants clear his plot of land for cultivation.|
|No need to fear: Quilter (right, facing camera) conducting water confidence training with children from Kampung Pulau Perhentian.|
One of the initiatives to help villagers become self-sustainable was to start a community garden where villagers can plant fruits, vegetables and herbs for their everyday use, instead of buying them from the mainland.
Project coordinator Michael John Ignatius, 24, has been working on clearing the plots on a land owned by villager Gidin Mohd Aris, 60, or more fondly known as Pak Din.
“I came to the island in March and I met Pak Din on the boat. I bumped into him again when I was on the island and got to know him better.
“We were looking for a piece of land to start the community garden and I asked him if he knew of any land available on the island.
“By a stroke of luck, Pak Din owns three acres of land on the island where he used to grow watermelon and bananas. He has stopped working the land because he is getting old and none of his children are interested in agriculture,” he said.
Pak Din said his children would rather work in the tourism industry where it was easier to make money.
“I can’t manage the land on my own and since they want to cultivate the land for the benefit of the villagers, I was more than happy to let them use it.
“The young people are so gung-ho and they have the energy to work on the land,” said Pak Din.
Ignatius said he only had basic gardening skills and had learnt a lot from Pak Din.
“I would come up here (the land is located on a slope) with Pak Din to clear the land.
“It’s a lot of work and having volunteers around makes it so much faster,” he said.
The plan was to eventually get families to each tend one 6m by 8m plot of garden.
“We just have to start planting the seeds so that they can see for themselves that the trees and plants can all be grown on their island,” he said.
Ng, who helped out with the land clearing, said that it was a satisfying experience knowing that she played a small part in helping the community.
“If we had come here as tourists, we would just be staying in a rented room without ever getting to know the locals.
“We had so much fun interacting with the children. They would just run to us whenever they see us around the village or scream out our names.
“They are inquisitive and want to find out things about us and where we are from while we also learn about their families and their village by talking to them,” said Ng, who hails from Kuala Lumpur.
Finance executive Nor Shahira Kamaruzzaman, 24, helped to paint pictures of fishes and ocean life on the sides of a pond at SK Pulau Perhentian.
The pond, which was not functioning very well was dried out and would be turned into a small garden with colourful paintings and tile mosaics on its floor.
As she sat cross-legged with a paintbrush in her hand with a few other volunteers, schoolchildren would gather around them chatting away while they painted.
“The island is beautiful and the people here are friendly. I have never done something like this before and it is also my first time in Perhentian, so it makes the experience very meaningful,” said Shahira.
Features editor Tan Gim Ean also presented donations of clothing to two families whose houses burnt down recently and gave books to school representatives
The participants also organised a learning session with about 20 children and took them out on a snorkelling trip.