My experience volunteering with REACH

by Wilfred Calder-Potts

Though initial contact was slow, (both on my and REACH’s side), after a few weeks I  managed to arrange a few weeks of volunteering through Aseema. After arriving at Cameron Highlands I met with Aseema and Dr Liau in a coffee shop. We talked about our ideas and decided that I would spend my time teaching at a local school and helping Dr Liau (Doc) with his reforestation project. The next day Aseema picked me up and we went to the school, where we met the headmistress. We decided that I could teach physics. For the next few days I went around the area with Doc, talking his dog for a walk, exploring the surroundings, and looking for the species of tree we wanted to plant in the reforestation area. On Monday I went back to the school to iron out the details of my teaching with the head science teacher. Doc and I also ended up giving an impromptu lesson to a group of 17-18 year olds, which went pretty well in the end considering we hadn’t done any preparation! The following day I taught a physics lesson to two separate classes of 17 year olds. The head science teacher asked me if I could teach the same two classes 4 days a week, and after checking with Doc I agreed.IMG-20160622-WA0000IMG-20160622-WA0001So I settled into a routine of teaching 4 days a week and spending the other 3 days with Doc working on the reforestation project. The first weekend was spent looking for the trees, scoping out areas where we could potentially dig them up in order to plant them in the reforestation area. We also spent some time selling pictures to friends of Doc in order to raise money for REACH. Both of these activities inevitably ended up with us being invited in for food or coffee, or being shown around something nearby. In fact, Doc seems to know most of the people in the surrounding area and so going around with him felt a bit like being with a celebrity!  The people I met were always kind and sometimes their English was good enough to have a decent conversation. It was a great way to experience the local culture and area, and I got to try some food I’ve definitely never had before!

The second week was again spent teaching the two classes, whilst the weekend was spent removing the trees and planting them in the reforestation site.IMG-20160622-WA0003DSC_1913IMG_3804IMG_3907IMG_3896IMG_3876IMG_3856 The final week was just spent teaching. Throughout my time I also spent some evenings helping out Doc at his nephew’s restaurant. After doing a very bad job of waiting on tables for a few hours I was always rewarded by some freshly cooked Japanese food from the chef which was bloody delicious! I also spent an hour with the kids at the Orang-Asli village which was chaotic but fun!

I really enjoyed my time volunteering with REACH; I ended up staying the maximum amount of time I had planned (3 weeks). Doc is a very friendly, easy going, generous guy. The other people I met at REACH were also very friendly, and always willing to help. Despite the fact that I had no experience of teaching, the students were receptive and pretty well behaved (though the lack of experience gave me little to compare with).

In summary, I would recommend volunteering with REACH to anyone.

Editor’s Note: Wilfred has been an excellent volunteer. He handled the tasks assigned to him with youthful energy, enthusiasm and cheerfulness. We are indeed fortunate to have him and his weeks with us passed all too quickly. We thank him.

While we are delighted to have requests to volunteer from here and abroad, many a time we had to disappoint as there are no assignments for them. We have some mossy forest and reforestation activites in the next 2 months which may require volunteers.  Other activities where volunteers would be of great help would be our research programmes with University Malaysia Kelantan which gets fully underway by next year.