Last updated on 26 February 2020 at 03:15 pm
If you are asking yourself, “How to become a volunteer in Asia?” and “what type of volunteer work can I do?”, there are very exciting prospects and benefits for you in Malaysia, and indeed entire Southeast Asia. Malaysia is in a region of tremendous culture and explosive growth. Southeast Asia is forecast to be the centre of the world’s next major economic boom, with the entry of millions and millions of people into the newly affluent middle class delivering a projected $278 billion in annual consumer spending by 2025.
It is an incredibly dynamic time now in this part of the world. But the meteoric rise in economic growth throughout the region is only one part of the story. As is often the case with colossal changes in a short span of time, the spillover effects and negative externalities of this growth has manifested into dozens of unique social issues that each young nation of Southeast Asia now has to face.
While this is worrying, a solution has already presented itself: Voluntourism. Southeast Asia stands to benefit tremendously from the approximately 2 million international volunteers that enter Asia annually to volunteer for worthy causes. Volunteer opportunities in Asia are gaining more and more traction, and one day it will be the default and ideal way to start a career. Malaysia ranked 22nd on the World Giving Index 2016, which measures how much people are willing to sacrifice their time, money and effort in helping others.
Amongst the many issues that challenge Malaysia and Malaysians, the following five has attracted the most attention. Note that this article will portray the issue as it is currently perceived by the relevant parties involved, in an attempt to provide the reader with the most practical, up-to-date, on-the-ground understanding of the challenges faced by Malaysia, and the amazing people stepping up to meet those challenges:
As of May 2017, there is no official census on the number of homeless people in Kuala Lumpur or any other city in Malaysia. What exists are official surveys and estimates, and only limited to Kuala Lumpur. Numbers and definitions vary, but according to surveys done recently by the Ministry of Federal Territories, there are approximately a thousand individuals living on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
While this is a modest amount compared to some of the crisis-level situations faced by the world’s bigger cities, the issue has nevertheless received a lot of publicity. Various newspapers have run articles on the homeless topic, and in Malaysia, there still exists the age-old stubborn stigma that the homeless are drug addicts, alcoholics and lazy people who deserve to be on the streets.
There is a wonderful culture of street feeding that is now blossoming into the mainstream. Several NGOs have stepped up and dedicated themselves to the plight of the homeless. The young people of Malaysia volunteer often to roam the streets late at night, giving out food.
This, however, has also created a public backlash about food wastage. As thousands of eager volunteers address the front-end issue of food, it creates an abundance of food wastage. Involved NGOs are critical of this, advising that while the front-end issues like street feeding are important, it’s even more important to address the root of the issue: why are they on the streets in the first place?
Recently, several NGOs that have been engaged with the issue for decades have come together with the help of NGOHub to discuss the problems involved, and perhaps to collaborate to tackle it collectively. The issue is still very much alive, and street feeding NGOs are passionate organisations with loud voices. There are a bunch of volunteer opportunities in Malaysia to help tackle these issues, some of these organisations following are just some of the many NGOs actively engaging the problem:
2. Animal Welfare & Environmental Conservation
Malaysia is fortunate to be the home of a wondrous array of wildlife, being one of the 17 megadiverse countries on Earth. As the wheels of progress grind onward, we can only expect that more and more of this wildlife will be threatened, making the situation more delicate than it already is.
Volunteering for wildlife conservation in Malaysia is not a difficult thing to do. There is a wide array of organisations fighting for animal welfare. Unlike the other social issues however, wildlife conservation has taken a backseat when it comes to publicity. Still, the challenges are more real than ever.
The problem with volunteers who want to give their time to wildlife conservation is that they have the wrong expectations about their experience. This problem is so severe that some projects even explicitly state on their volunteer calls: “if it has always been your dream to hold a baby orangutan, this is not the project for you.”
Wildlife conservation is inextricably linked to environmental protection. Volunteers working for animal welfare often have to focus less on the actual animal than that animal’s habitat. Forest, river and ocean habitat degradation is the main threat that wildlife in Malaysia faces. So, while being concerned about orangutans or turtles or pygmy elephants, volunteers have to also understand the concept of ecology: that nature is an entire system, with no single part that can be removed and perceived in isolation.
The animals that are highly endangered are much talked about when it comes to the topic of volunteer opportunities in Malaysia. Orangutans, Sun Bears and Pygmy Elephants in Borneo, sea turtles along the Eastern beaches of the Peninsula, and the Malayan Tiger in the forests of central Malaysia. In addition, animal shelters in urban environments receive large amounts of volunteers too. Check out the following projects!
Education in Malaysia is always a trending topic. From the national education system, to the national language used in classroom delivery, to the education of minority groups like refugees and Orang Asli, there will be no end to discussion and attention heaped on this issue.
One of the most intensely debated, long-seated issues when talking about education in Malaysia is the role of English within the country. The opinion spectrum is wide, ranging from those who believe that English should have priority in the national schooling system, to those who believe that English threatens the primacy of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language. This particular issue is significantly politicized, and many people have passionately divided opinions.
More recently, the government of Malaysia has recognized the importance of English to the economy, particularly to one that aims to achieve the status of a developed economy by 2020. After all, the language of international trade and global business today is English.
The lack of English proficiency has created several challenges that are important to overcome, particularly related to youth and employability. In the 2016 Salary Survey by the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), it was found that more than 90% of respondents indicated the need for graduates to improve their English proficiency to become more employable.
The Malaysian government has started supporting local NGOs that are pushing to improve the standards of English in the country, even rolling out the Dual Language Programme (DLP) in 2016 to 300 public schools, increasing the scope of volunteering opportunities in Malaysia. There are many NGOs engaged in education as their primary cause. Volunteers coming to Malaysia can even choose instead to work for the many refugee-centered education organisations. Check these out and lend a hand!
4. Community Development
Rural areas in Malaysia comprise a whopping 94% of the total land area in the country, in contrast with the 6% proportion of urban areas. Malaysia’s problems suffer the same symptoms as any other developed country: infrastructure struggles to keep up with the pace of development.
This manifests in many ways. From the traffic jams that infest rush hour in downtown Kuala Lumpur to the startling disparity in development between urban and rural areas. To illustrate, a mere 16 kilometres from the gleaming Petronas Twin Towers, once the tallest building in the world, is the town of Gombak. The indigenous (Orang Asli) families on the outskirts of Gombak cannot even afford to pay the RM1.50 bus fee for their children to take a 10-minute bus to school.
Let us not talk about the communities hundreds of kilometres away from the capital, hidden in the jungles, or in the rural heartlands of Malaysia. They lack electricity, water, sewage, equality in education, equality in healthcare, equality in opportunity, and dignity.
Thankfully, there are organisations dedicated to alleviating the struggles of these communities by building infrastructure and developing the community.
5. Child Protection
In recent times, there has been a mounting reputation of Southeast Asia as a destination of “child sex tourism”. The region has attracted global attention after a couple of shocking headlines in 2016, one of which occurred in Malaysia. This has aroused some concern and caused some very disturbing statistics to emerge.
UNICEF reported that in the region, the prevalence of severe physical abuse is up to nearly 1 in 4 children. Between 14% to 30% of both girls and boys have reported experiencing forced sex in their lifetimes. These monstrous numbers indicate that there is an urgent need for Southeast Asia to be educated about the scale of child sexual abuse. This includes Malaysia and the Malaysian public.
Earlier this year, a coalition of top child protection NGOs came together under the name Citizens Against Child Sexual Abuse (CACSA). They launched a rigorous campaign and succeeded in pushing the Malaysian parliament to table the Child Sexual Offenses Bill 2017. Yet, a month later, a Malaysian MP said that it’s “OK for rape victims to marry their rapists”.
In Malaysia, the fight is far from over. The coalition of organisations who initially campaigned for parliament to table the bill is still active and still receiving volunteers. Publicity over the issue hasn’t died down, and all parties involved are still in the thick of the issue and extremely engaged. Volunteers who decide to work in this field can expect to have a very lucid, very in-depth, and very alarming understanding of this problem.
Explore these child protection NGOs below!
- PS The Children
- Voice of the Children
- Women’s Centre for Change
- Projek Layang-Layang
- Women’s Aid Organisation
We hope that with this article, we are able to provide you with information on what kind of volunteer opportunities in Malaysia are waiting for you. Life as a volunteer in Malaysia can be challenging, but it is a life-changing experience.
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