Connecting with rural communities through John Curtin Weekend
MIRI, 14 December – For nine solid years, members of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia’s biggest student volunteer organisation, Curtin Volunteers! (CV!), have been reaching out to rural communities in and around Miri through the annual John Curtin Weekend (JCW).
Curtin Volunteers! can be found at the Curtin campuses in Western Australia and Sarawak and JCW is their largest and longest running community outreach project. The project gives them the opportunity to travel to rural areas and metropolitan sites to work on initiatives that add real value to the community.
In Sarawak, volunteers have built strong community partnerships by working alongside rural villagers in Miri Division on a range of community development, educational and cultural awareness projects.
JCW in both Western Australia and Sarawak has become so popular that it now runs over multiple weekends to accommodate the needs of various communities. Each year, the projects in both locations are run concurrently, but the one in Sarawak is unique in that it is akin to the anak angkat or adoption programmes where the volunteers are adopted and provided meals and accommodation by the villagers for the weekends.
During the recent JCW in Sarawak held over two consecutive weekends in September and October, more than 200 volunteers went to two rural primary schools, namely SK Kampung Bakam and SK Kampung Bungai in Bekenu, and four longhouses – Rumah Empaga in Sungai Beluru, Rumah Linggi in Sungai Urong, Rumah Mandau in Sungai Sekerat, Niah, and Rumah Panjang Sungai Tiris in Sibuti.
At the schools, the volunteers cleaned the school compounds, painted wall murals and carried out repairs to buildings, as well as conducted grooming and educational workshops and games for their students.
Meanwhile, in the longhouses, they carried out a variety of activities including organising gotong-royong with the villagers to refurbish and repaint the longhouse structures and helping them in their farms and oil palm plantations.
In addition, they organised sporting activities with them, taught them how to conduct fire drills and apply first aid, and held handicraft and basic English workshops at nearby schools.
Student Clara Michael, who volunteered for the first time, said it was an exceptional experience engaging with the Kedayan community at Kampung Bungai and students of the primary school there.
Fellow student Arthur Fong said his exposure to rural community living made him appreciate life more as he compared his relatively privileged lifestyle in the city to the hardships faced by the villagers.
The headmaster of SK Kampung Bakam, Awang Rapbil Awang Sulaiman, commented that the interaction between the volunteers and the staff and students of his school was highly beneficial to both parties as they were able to learn from each other.
Baki Lamat, a villager at Rumah Mandau, said it was the first time his longhouse received such a large group of volunteers and hopes there will be opportunities for future collaboration.
The JCW was co-organised by the Leadership and Entrepreneurship Centre (LEC), Curtin Sarawak’s student and community development arm which aims to enhance the overall university experience for both domestic and international students, and develop socially responsible graduates who are likely to be future leaders in business and the community.
It provides students with opportunities to engage with the community and develop new skills by offering volunteering opportunities, leadership skills development and experience in leadership positions.
Also supporting the project were sponsors Deleum and Lyn Min Perdagangan Sdn. Bhd., and the Malaysian Red Crescent Society (MRCS) Miri Chapter.
Since its inception at Curtin Sarawak in 2000, CV! has been assisting students and staff of the campus, as well as the wider community, to experience the many benefits of volunteerism. It regularly organises activities and projects such as blood donation drives, beach cleaning campaigns and charity fundraisers in addition to JCW and other community outreach projects in support of rural communities.
JCW has its origins in John Curtin Day, a celebration of the day wartime Australian prime minister John Curtin took office on 7 October 1941. John Curtin Day was first held in 1998, with medals being handed out to those who demonstrate John Curtin’s values of vision, leadership and community service. In 1999, students and staff began doing community service on John Curtin Day and within a year, this became ‘John Curtin Weekend’.
For more information on CV!, email to [email protected] or contact 085-445 025.