Na­ture’s trea­sure trove

New Straits Times - - News -

CHUAH BEE KIM GELANG PATAH news@nst.com.my

LIKE many other fish­er­men in vil­lages that dot the sea­side sub­dis­trict of Tan­jung Kupang, Sha­lan Jum'at has seen an in­creas­ing in­flux of Malaysians and for­eign­ers want­ing to hire guides like him to dis­cover the nat­u­ral beauty in this cor­ner of south­west Jo­hor.

The 30-year-old's life now is a far cry from the time his neigh­bour­hood in Kam­pung Pen­das here was re­garded as a sleepy hol­low that was too far off the grid for many ur­ban­ites.

The ad­vent of devel­op­ment such as nearby For­est City, and a boom in eco-tourism have opened Sha­lan's eyes to the po­ten­tial of the nat­u­ral won­ders in the sea and rivers that lie just at his doorstep.

"Rapid devel­op­ment has changed the face of Tan­jung Kupang for the bet­ter.

”It prompted me to grab the op­por­tu­ni­ties by di­ver­si­fy­ing my skills.

"Though I cher­ish the good old days, when my fam­ily solely re­lied on the sea for our liveli­hood, I know I must face the changes around me head-on.

"I still go about my work as a fish­er­man, but I also train youths in the vil­lage to be­come eco-war­riors.

“I teach them to seize op­por­tu­ni­ties around them by im­part­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial skills," said Sha­lan.

The sub­dis­trict of Tan­jung Kupang, Gelang Patah, has a pop­u­la­tion of 11,000; 245 of them are reg­is­tered fish­er­men.

Nine years ago, Sha­lan co-founded Ke­lab Alami, an out­fit that en­ables vil­lagers and school pupils to learn more about the rich marine eco-sys­tem and en­vi­ron­ment there.

The area is known for its rich sea grass nearby Pu­lau Mer­am­bung and the Sun­gai Pu­lai es­tu­ary, which are teem­ing with marine life such as sea horse, starfish and a myr­iad of other species.

When recla­ma­tion work for For­est City be­gan two years ago, the project's mas­ter de­vel­oper, Coun­try Gar­den Paci­ficview Sdn Bhd, be­gan lend­ing its sup­port to Ke­lab Alami's grass­roots ini­tia­tive.

The mas­ter de­vel­oper also adopted five schools in the sub­dis­trict and pro­vided free tu­ition for hun­dreds of pupils as part of its cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

This has worked well for Sha­lan, who earns the re­spect of the lo­cal youth who are part of Ke­lab Alami.

Some of these young­sters re­turned to the club and now work as marine re­searchers and fa­cil­i­ta­tors. Oth­ers have be­come en­trepreneurs at For­est City and its sur­round­ing tra­di­tional vil­lages.

Sha­lan also met his wife, Dr Se­rina Rah­man, through his work in Ke­lab Alami.

The cou­ple have been train­ing youths to be­come marine re­searchers and train­ers for school pupils in the pro­grammes con­ducted by the club.

Se­rina, 31, who is a con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tist and en­vi­ron­men­tal an­thro­pol­o­gist, re­lo­cated from Kuala Lumpur to Kam­pung Pen­das in 2008 for a re­search project.

When she mar­ried Sha­lan four years later, the cou­ple con­tin­ued to bring pupils from nearby schools to con­duct site re­search and ex­pe­di­tions to evoke aware­ness about the area's nat­u­ral trea­sures.

"The chil­dren were as young as 10 when I first met them. We trained them to be­come cit­i­zen re­searchers and eco-tourist guides.

"Those that I met when I first came here are now grown up. They can present slides and give talks on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues in the vil­lage.

"The tourists love it when the lo­cal youths share with them about things in their own vil­lage," said Se­rina, who is a down-to-earth per­son, de­spite her aca­demic cre­den­tials.

She holds a doc­tor­ate in Ap­plied Sciences from Univer­siti Te­knologi Mara (UiTM) and a bach­e­lor's de­gree from Cardiff Univer­sity of Wales, United King­dom.

When talk­ing about de­plet­ing marine life in some parts of the coun­try, Se­rina said it was an is­sue af­fect­ing the en­tire world.

"It is a global phe­nom­e­non where marine food stocks face a threat of be­ing wiped out by 2050.

"The best we can do is re­build and re­sort to species re-stock­ing.

"The mas­ter de­vel­oper of For­est City is fund­ing Ke­lab Alami," she said. Se­rina said the club be­came a plat­form to men­tor pupils from the nine vil­lages in Tan­jung Kupang.

Ke­lab Alami mem­bers in­form each other about work and in­tern­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able in the devel­op­ment of the mega project.

"This club ben­e­fits the lo­cal chil­dren in var­i­ous ways. As In­ter­net con­nec­tion is not good in some parts of Kam­pung Pen­das, and most of the older fish­er­men and their fam­i­lies aren't In­ter­net-savvy, our mem­bers will knock on their doors when­ever there is news of job op­por­tu­ni­ties in For­est City," she said.

Nur Afiqah So'ot, 19, is among the many young­sters who joined Ke­lab Alami as a child and de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in na­ture and con­ser­va­tion.

"As a child, I used to love play­ing mar­bles and all sports that boys like to play. But the club en­abled me to learn about farm­ing and the rich marine life that we have.

"I hope to be­come a sci­en­tist one day. I am hop­ing to pur­sue a de­gree in bio­di­ver­sity and con­ser­va­tion," said Nur Afiqah.

Mo­ham­mad Ir­fan Yazid, also 19, ini­tially dreamed of be­com­ing an ar­chi­tect. But now, he has set his sights on be­com­ing a sci­en­tist, spe­cial­is­ing in the study of man­grove forests, which is in abun­dance in his vil­lage. For now, Ir­fan is help­ing out at a mo­tor­cy­cle work­shop lo­cated in For­est City.

"I also dab­ble in mak­ing and sell­ing burg­ers. I’m run­ning an 'ikan bakar' (grilled fish) stall in the vil­lage. I am learn­ing all these en­trepreneur­ship skills from Sha­lan," Ir­fan said.

SK Tan­jung Adang head­mas­ter Zulk­i­flee Miswan, 47, said Coun­try Gar­den Paci­ficview's free tu­ition pro­gramme had ben­e­fited the five schools that were adopted by the mas­ter de­vel­oper.

"The tu­ition ses­sions come with com­plete meals for pupils and these have ben­e­fited them as they make prepa­ra­tions for their Ujian Pen­ca­pa­ian Seko­lah Ren­dah (UPSR) this year," Zulk­i­flee said.

He said SK Tan­jung Adang was among the five schools adopted by Coun­try Gar­den Paci­ficview.

The other four schools were SK Ti­ram Duku, SK Tan­jung Kupang, SK Murni Pok and SK Pen­das Laut.

"No other de­vel­oper has done this and we ap­pre­ci­ate the de­vel­oper's ef­fort un­der its cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity pro­gramme," he said.

Coun­try Gar­den Paci­ficview cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions head, Aeron Mu­na­jat, said the de­vel­oper sup­ported Ke­lab Alami be­cause its ac­tiv­i­ties helped youths de­velop their con­fi­dence and self-es­teem as well as their so­cial and in­ter­per­sonal skills.

"As a re­spon­si­ble mem­ber of the com­mu­nity, Coun­try Gar­den Paci­ficview helps to in­crease aware­ness about the en­vi­ron­ment in this area as the com­mu­nity is sur­rounded by nat­u­ral trea­sures some are not aware of.

"We are look­ing at a col­lab­o­ra­tion to set up a Na­ture Cen­tre, which will boost eco-tourism in the area in the fu­ture. Eco-tourists also love the young am­bas­sadors of Ke­lab Alami," she said.

Aeron is a Jo­hor Baru-born pub­lic re­la­tions prac­ti­tioner, who de­cided to re­turn to her home state af­ter work­ing for many years in the Klang Val­ley.

Aeron said events such as ‘buka puasa’ (break­ing of fast) dur­ing Ra­madan and gath­er­ings, as well as do­na­tions of cat­tle and other items dur­ing big cel­e­bra­tions such as Hari Raya Aidil­fitri and Hari Raya Aidi­ladha, have strength­ened ties be­tween the com­mu­nity at For­est City and folk in the sur­round­ing vil­lages.

She also paid trib­ute to the teach­ers of the five adop­tive schools for their will­ing­ness to stay back af­ter school hours to pro­vide tu­ition in four sub­jects for the pupils who were tak­ing their UPSR this year.

"We are also launch­ing a free Man­darin tu­ition class for the vil­lagers this month. We hope that all our ef­fort will give the lo­cal com­mu­nity a sense of in­clu­sive­ness."

Zulk­i­flee Miswan

Aeron Mu­na­jat

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