Malaysia — BRIGHT and early on a Saturday morning, 12 employees of HSBC Bank Malaysia Bhd (HSBC) departed for Raja Musa Forest Reserve near Bestari Jaya, Kuala Selangor.
Volunteering at the Peat Swamp Forest Ranger Camp, the employees were there to lend their support to 40 students from SMK Rantau Panjang, Bestari Jaya, SMK Sultan Sulaiman Shah, SMK Raja Muda and SM Teknik Kuala Selangor .
The camp is part of a community-led forest rehabilitation programme at the reserve that is supported by HSBC in partnership with Global Environment Centre (GEC) and in collaboration with the Selangor state government, Selangor Forestry Department and the Kuala Selangor District Council.
The programme is part of a project to rehabilitate more than 10sq km of degraded forest.
It is also to protect the remaining areas within and adjacent to the forest reserve.
Besides establishing the Peat Swamp Forest Ranger programme, GEC also involves the local community to develop and implement appropriate rehabilitation initiatives such as the establishment of a community action group called the Sahabat Hutan Gambut.
The group is responsible for setting up tree nurseries, participating in tree planting, and forest patrolling and monitoring.
It will also set up a community activity centre to function as an information centre for the community and the public.
The programme will help the community understand the role and value of peat swamp forests, and thus the importance of its rehabilitation.
The camp is part of a year-long environmental education initiative that involves the active participation of students from secondary schools neighbouring the lush Raja Musa Forest Reserve.
Led by GEC, the programme encourages the younger generation to develop and initiate plans that can contribute towards the rehabilitation programme.
This is done by raising their awareness about environmental problems, so that they would want to come up with ways to preserve the environment.
This gives youths an opportunity to actively participate in conservation, and eventually run projects independently to bring this about.
At the camp, the students were divided into four teams — The Peatland Lovers, The Greenies, Peat Pineapple Crew and Pineapple.
They were tasked with the responsibility to develop and present their action plans for rehabilitation of the peat swamp forest.
At the camp, students and volunteers learnt valuable lessons via such activities as tree planting, briefings on peat assessment, water quality monitoring and that of the surrounding community to help them see the bigger picture.
First on the agenda was a tree planting exercise.
Forty students from Universiti Malaya were also there as volunteers for the Public Volunteering Day, an extension of the Peatland Rehabilitation Programme.
As a result, the schoolchildren, varsity students and HSBC employees were able to plant as many as 400 saplings within a few hours.
The volunteers were then briefed on scientific field methods for peat soil assessment, water quality monitoring as well as the use of the fire danger rating system to monitor and predict the outbreak of fires.
It was an informative session that gave everyone hands-on experience in understanding the value of peat swamps and their conservation.
To enhance the learning experience, the volunteers spent an hour at the Sungai Dusun Wildlife Conservation Centre, and another hour at Kampung Sungai Sireh, an agro-tourism area with padi fields as its main attraction.
The 43sq km Sungai Dusun Wildlife Conservation Centre was established in 1964.
It is characterised by lowland forests and some peat swamp forests.
It is an ex-situ breeding area for endangered wildlife such as the tapir, long-snout crocodile, porcupine and slow loris.
The tour of Kampung Sungai Sireh highlighted the different methods of sowing padi seeds — scattering them or by using the padi seed sowing machine.
Participants also learnt about the type of crops villagers grow, depending on their economic advantage.
Later, the students and volunteers went on an unforgettable kayaking adventure at one of the numerous river canals in Kampung Sungai Sireh.
On the final day of the camp, students presented their plans based on their experiences and what they learnt at the camp.
The students decided on three main action plans which they will establish and run in their respective schools:
– Start sudut Ilmu or notice boards in their schools to raise awareness on peat swamps.
– Start a nursery for 400 saplings which will be planted at the Raja Musa Forest Reserve at the end of the programme.
– Promote the programme and create awareness on peat swamp forest rehabilitation initiatives through various carnivals and exhibitions that target students from all schools.
The camp ended with a closing ceremony, with the students each receiving a certificate of participation from GEC.
HSBC volunteers bid adieu to the students, expressing the hope to visit their school exhibitions once they are up and running.
Other activities lined up for the rest of the year include Environment Day celebrations at the district level among Kuala Selangor schools, the Festival of Wings (a Kuala Selangor nature park programme), more tree planting and another camp to review lessons learnt.