Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity, intended to promote good or improve human quality of life, but people also volunteer for their own skill development, to meet others, to make contacts for possible employment, to have fun, and a variety of other reasons that could be considered self-serving. Volunteerism is the act of selflessly giving your life to something you believe free of pay. Although if a person volunteers they may not earn money, it produces a feeling of self-worth and volunteers earn respect and Favors instead of money.
Volunteering takes many forms and is performed by a wide range of people. Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work in, such as medicine, education, or emergency rescue. Other volunteers serve on an as-needed basis, such as in response to a natural disaster or for a beach-cleanup.
This month’s spotlight on amazing eco-knights in the country features Wong Ee Lynn (picture left), a passionate and devoted volunteer for all kinds of causes you can think of.
Ee Lyn is a lawyer by training but left a career in legal practice in 2009 to work as a fulltime humanitarian service professional. EcoKnights has been following her volunteer-based endeavours and find Ee Lyn to be exceptionally devoted to just about any volunteering that has a good cause.
There are various forms of volunteer and charity work which you can participate in. Whether charity involves donating money or goods, or volunteering your time, there is always something for everyone to do. They should contact their charity of choice and find out how they can best assist. For our readers who have always wanted to volunteer but perhaps shy to do so, or better yet, don’t know how to get started, then this article might be the first step to getting yourself started.
Here’s a brief interview with Ee Lyn on her experience volunteering at the zoo.
EK: Can you tell me briefly about your volunteer experiences and what motivates you to volunteer?
WEL: I have been a volunteer with SPCA Selangor since 1996 and Malaysian Nature Society since 2001, and I continue to offer my services to other organisations and initiatives, including the Bar Council Legal Aid Centre, Gerai OA and Sampah Masyarakat. As a volunteer with several organisations, I am frequently called upon to speak to youths and new volunteers. Faith groups, youth groups and special interest groups have their own reasons for promoting and advocating volunteer work, but what would impel individuals to invest their time, energy and resources in public interest work that would bring them very few, if any, tangible returns? My arguments in support of volunteering are as follows:
Volunteers perform a valuable community service that has economic worth. I have always believed that if governments and public bodies had to pay wages for the service that is rendered by volunteers, the economy could very possibly collapse overnight.
Volunteering exposes volunteers to a wide range of experiences, people and situations that they would not usually encounter in their daily work. These experiences help us develop our capacity to cope with crises, difficult and frustrating situations, and learn how to manage time, people and (often very limited) resources to the best of our ability. It also helps develop perseverance, commitment and resilience, qualities that would stand one in good stead in life.
Volunteering empowers you to be the difference you want to see.
EK: What do you do on a normal day? As in your job?
WEL: My day job has no connection with the work I do as a volunteer, and the work is just as challenging and work hours just as long as in legal practice, but in my current job I get to make friends and allies with many like-minded individuals, many of whom also volunteer with various organisations during the weekends. I work 12-14 hour days, so I have to manage my time well to ensure that I am able to divide my after-work hours between housework, animal care work (I rescue, neuter, foster and re-home stray animals) and drafting and reviewing documents and correspondences for the NGOs that I volunteer for. My weekends and days off are devoted to volunteer work.
EK: What prompted you to volunteer at the zoo?
As an animal welfare volunteer and activist, I have been following the progress of Zoo Negara for several years, especially since the Malaysian Zoo Animal Welfare Forum in Sept 2010. I was advised by friends who work in Zoo Negara, Katie McDonald and Eddy Junaidy, who I met while volunteering with the SPCA and MNS respectively, that Zoo Negara now complies with the latest guidelines set by the World Association of Zoos and Aquarium (Waza) and South-East Asian Zoo Association (Seaza) and has increased its conservation awareness efforts. It no longer does elephant shows and there is a lot more emphasis on enrichment programmes for the animals. All the recently acquired animals are legally sourced and there is a great deal more transparency in the way the Zoo operates. I was heartened by this and decided that I too, would like to make a difference in the lives of the Zoo animals.
The Zoo Volunteer Programme is not only a good opportunity for volunteers to get hands-on about helping wildlife, it is also an exercise in transparency. Volunteers can see for themselves that animals are not being denied the food and medical care they need, and volunteers can act as the Zoo management’s eyes and ears in pointing out things that are less than satisfactory. I decided to volunteer because I feel the need to walk the talk on the welfare of wildlife in captivity. Being part of the solution often entails getting down and dirty and doing hands-on work. To have a World Class Zoo, we need to be a World Class Society — and it begins with you and me.
|Pic above (left and right_: Ee Lynn taking some time out after a hard day’s of volunteering to chill with these adorable rabbits and fawns.|
EK: How does one go about volunteering at the zoo? A number to call? A person to speak to? Describe the process you went through.
The Zoo Volunteer Programme is not for those who want to come and have fun for several hours without paying the admission fee. As with a normal workday, you have to be there for a stipulated time, i.e. 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., and be prepared to work continuously for much of the 8 hours. You should come in comfortable old clothes that cover the knees, chest and shoulders, and wear covered shoes, e.g. trainers. Bring your own drinking water, sun block and food, because most of the food supplied in the Zoo is still packed in Styrofoam. This is an issue I would like to work with the Zoo on. To register, you need to contact the Education Department at email@example.com” target=”_blank”>firstname.lastname@example.org at least a day in advance. The registration form is available at http://www.zoonegaramalaysia.my/education/pdf/volunteerprogramme.pdf, or you can register when you arrive. You must arrive at the Zoo on the designated day before 8.00 a.m. If you are driving, do try to park at the staff parking area or neighbouring residential area to avoid having to pay a hefty parking fee to the car park concessionaire. Enter the Zoo from Gate 3 and ask the Security personnel to direct you to the Education Office. Inform the Education officer on duty that you are here to volunteer and submit your registration form.
EK: What was a typical zoo volunteer’s experience like based on yours?
My zoo volunteer experience was amazing because it was so varied, interesting and educational. I started my day at the Children’s World section, helping the staff clean the area, bag up the rubbish, rake up animal waste and wash food and water bowls. I got to work with miniature horses, rabbits, goats, fawns, ferrets, tortoises and porcupines, which are really very smart and friendly. Then it’s time to clean the hippo enclosure and refill it with harvested rainwater. You should see how excited the hippos were to see clean, flowing water – they couldn’t wait to go swimming! Then it’s kitchen duty and preparing food – a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and grains – for the rabbits, goats, tortoises, squirrels and hornbills. The ferrets and hedgehogs got food suitable for carnivores and omnivores. I got to enter the enclosures and feed the animals myself. It was such a satisfying thing to watch them eat. I had a break for lunch, and when I returned, we washed more food and water bowls and prepared the long grasses for the ruminants and hippos. As it was a hot day, we cut some palm and coconut fronds from the banks of the stream to put in the animal enclosures for shade and enrichment. The Prevost’s Squirrels and porcupines loved it best of all. Then it was time to give the horses their evening meal of vegetables and grain. I stayed until closing time to help tidy up and put the animals – monkeys, hedgehogs, hamsters, ferret and rabbits – in their night-time enclosures.
EK: What kind of benefits/satisfaction did you derive from it? Could be educational, or could be in terms of understanding the challenges in zoo management, and etc.
Being a zoo volunteer is rewarding in so many aspects. Not only is it educational both from an animal care and natural history perspective, you also get to appreciate the challenges of operating and managing a wildlife facility. It is also empowering because you know you are able to make a difference in the lives of animals. They are already in captivity, so the very least we can do is help to improve the quality of their lives.
EK: What is your advice to those out there who are keen to volunteer at the zoo? And for those who are just keen to get started on volunteering?
WEL: My advice to all potential zoo volunteers – adults and children alike – is to be prepared for some hard work. Don’t sign up to be a volunteer and then behave like tourists or visitors, it’s not honest or decent. If you are bringing children under 14, then be sure that they are already capable of carrying out basic tasks like sweeping the floor, raking grass, cutting vegetables, doing the washing-up and cleaning up after pets. Of course you’ll get to hold lovely animals and have your photo taken with them, but you will have to work to earn those privileges.
EK: What is your aspiration for volunteerism in Malaysia? How do you see it going? Compared to the past, do you think more Malaysians today volunteer more? Why is this so? Can you share some of your speculations on this?
WEL: My aspiration is that in future, volunteerism and community service will be such an integral part of our lives that it will be the duty of laws and society, and not shelters and welfare homes, to protect the vulnerable in our society – be it humans, animals or natural spaces. Thanks to education and rising standards of living, I see more and more people volunteering. There is growing concern for the environment and many people want to take direct action. There is also a rise in animal welfare groups that rescue, vaccinate, neuter and re-home stray, abandoned or injured animals. 20 years ago, most people would have just relied on the SPCA Inspectorate, overburdened though it may be. The rise in volunteerism is also thanks to the rise of social media, which has played a large role in educating and empowering Netizens and recruiting volunteers. The digital natives (age 40 and below) are less concerned with formal registration and membership procedures. They don’t want to attend AGMs and be embroiled in the politics of NGOs. They frequently make impulse decisions to volunteer, especially when they notice events announced on social media sites. Malaysians are natural “joiners”, and many of us don’t mind participating in clean-up campaigns or public events as long as there’s plenty of food and friends. There is also a lot more social prestige and acceptance attached to volunteerism now than, say, 20 years ago.
Now when you mention that you are a volunteer, people no longer make the automatic assumption that you are a member of a faith group or some dull, protocol-riddled organisation. The volunteer scene in Malaysia is getting more and more vibrant and flexible, and people contribute in whatever ways they can. At Zoo Negara, for instance, you also have the option of doing education work, graphic design, creative writing or public speaking, if feeding and cleaning up after animals isn’t your idea of fun. One of our MNS volunteers, Patricia Zahara Ariffin, for instance, does face-painting at the Zoo and gives the profits to the Zoo for the upkeep of the animals!
EK: What qualities must one have or attain to be a good and productive volunteer? And what are the qualities that you shouldn’t bring along?
WEL: To be a good volunteer, you have to leave your ego at the door. You mustn’t think, “I am a professional with such-and-such qualifications, how can you expect me to do this!” You must have a positive attitude and plan to enjoy yourself. You must be prepared to encounter someone you know while you are dirty and in the middle of hands-on work, and be proud of it. If you feel ambivalent about volunteering, chances are, you’ll focus more on the negative experiences than on the positive. You must stay true to the cause even if there is a change in leaders or when your friends tire of volunteering and you end up going alone each week. I wish to remind all activists and volunteers to have a sense of humour about ourselves and the world around us. Mankind isn’t doomed and the challenges we face aren’t insurmountable. The world is essentially good, and most people are doing the best they can, based on their knowledge, values and convictions. Stay positive, stay optimistic, look back on our successes, and remember how far we’ve come.