What led you to volunteer abroad with Ecoteer in Malaysia?
Bridgette: Malaysia was on our list of places to visit in Southeast Asia while we were backpacking. I was very curious about the country and wanted to explore.
I felt it had a lot to offer and seemed different to other places we have previously been. I feel that by volunteering, you gain a special bond with communities, local people, and cultures you can not deeply engage with as a backpacker.
Sharing and exchanging valuable knowledge we have in life from different parts of the world helps to improve us all as people.
I read about the project online and decided the Ecoteer project was the perfect opportunity because it was such a diverse program and worked to improve the environment which is always a very important factor. It is also nice to meet other like-minded travelers who I can become very good friends with!
What was the most memorable moment of the trip?
Bridgette: It would be impossible for me to decide upon a particular moment, as the experience as a whole was so interesting. Teaching the children and adults of the village English and about the environment created such a positive spirit.
The people were learning and improving their skills, having a huge impact on the island. It also left us a feeling of achievement.
In exchange for our academic help, the ladies from the PILA (Perhentian Islands Ladies Association) taught us to make traditional malay deserts and hosted malay dinners in their homes on an evening.
These people have the potential to ignite such a positive spirit with you and such a warming atmosphere that you will never forget. You will want to keep helping as much as you can in any way possible.
After school, we would play games with children at the Ecoteer house or they would take us for a tour around the island. Examples include the jungle trek or the football beach on an evening. I would describe our time on the island overall as uplifting.
What do you wish you knew before your trip?
Bridgette: I wish, as I always do when I visit countries, that I knew more of the language.
We had basic Malay lessons from the Ecoteer staff when we arrived but not enough to enable us to fully to have conversations with the village people. I also wish I knew more about the Malay history, Indian/Chinese culture, and the Muslim religion.
But I did learn a lot while I was on the island which was partly my reason for choosing to volunteer!
Had I have known how much interaction we would have had with the children, I would have liked to have taken something to share with them or something small to use in the lessons such as stickers which I have done when previously volunteering.
I know that it is not materialistic things that count but it is always nice when you can to give a small something to show your appreciation to the children.
Tell us about one person you met.
Bridgette: The Ecoteer staff was amazing and educated in environmental science and the island in general. We gained so much knowledge about Eco tourism.
Seh Ling, the project leader, taught us so much about turtles and corals. We have taken the information with us and now are a lot more aware and alert when visiting other places.
Also, several of the children we met we will never forget. Everybody on the island is like one big family. They make you feel at home. One boy in particular arrived onto the island on a weekend as he is now attending school at Kota Bahru, due to his age.
He came home to the island barely able to communicate with the volunteers and left the island (after spending many evenings at the jetty and swimming at the beach) making jokes in English.
He was so much more confident and his attitude appeared to change, as in an informal manner, he was beginning to realize he had the potential to learn English!
Another girl spent a lot of time doing henna tattoos all over my hands and feet for the celebration which was happening in the village one evening. This was something all of the girls were involved in and was part of their culture for celebration.
How has this experience impacted you?
Bridgette: I am still traveling through Southeast Asia and now try to engage with local people as often as I can. I want to become a part of their community to try local food, see the values in their culture, and their day to day life.
Whenever possible, I also try to learn as much of the language as I can. I am also a lot more educated on eco tourism after taking part in the coral surveys and other marine tasks preserving the environment.
I want to help to create and sustain a better world. No matter what skills you have, you can always help somebody else in some way. No matter how educated or experienced you are, somebody can always help you or teach you something new. Even if it is as little as learning to make doughnuts or do henna tattoos!