Aloha Malaysia! USIE Reunion! :)


After close to a year, the pioneer batch of USIE (United States Institute on the Environment) were reunited in Malaysia from 22-26 April 2010! Participants from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Malaysia gathered in Kuala Lumpur for 2 days before heading to Trengganu for more hands-on activities.

Downtown KL

The KL leg of the trip was hosted by the Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE), coincidentally on Earth Day! The follow-on workshop was a chance for USIE participants to take stock of how far they had come with their action plans, which they had formulated in the US. It was great to hear the developments thus far – from garnering support and planning activities at the community level (eg. schools, sporting events, organic farming) to participating in global events such as COP15, 350.org’s day of action on 24th Oct 2009. But USIE folks aren’t just event organisers. Indeed, many have been able to take on leadership positions as well as provide support and inspiration to others in furthering the need to protect our environment. From gaining opportunities to speak at international events to simply providing constant reiteration of environmental awareness to young students, USIE alumnus are indeed diverse in their professions and skills in catering to various audiences. What was also clear from the experiences of the USIE alumnus, their 6 weeks in the US in 2009 was an inspiration and primary motivation for their action plans…. or as USIE participant, Chow Geh Tsung, would put it…. “FIRE!!”

USIE at MACEE

This was followed by roundtable sessions with invited speakers based in Malaysia to share their thoughts on the environment, namely – Mr Steve McCoy (Managing Director, Counterpoint), Mr Thiaga Nedeson (Senior Manager, Formal Education System, WWF-Malaysia), Mr Kris Kvols (Economic Officer, Environment, Science, Technology & Health, US Embassy in Malaysia) and Miss Eio Er Jin (Programme Officer, Global Environment Centre).  These sessions were fruitful as it allowed USIE participants to compare the issues and opinions of environmental practicioners from the  US in 2009 and Malaysia in 2010.

Jom, pergi Trengganu!

Mangrove Planting at Setiu

Trengganu offered a clearly different scenario vis-a-vis Kuala Lumpur. Away for the hustle and bustle of urban life, the serene quiet little town life in Kuala Trengganu was perhaps slightly different from what the Singaporeans were used to, but indeed a  familiar feeling for the Pacific Islanders. Dr Siti and UMT (Universiti Malaysia Trengganu) folks were wonderful hosts during this leg of the trip, from the time we landed close to 11pm (due to flight delays) to our departure at 6.30am.

Mangrove planting at Setiu was a worthwhile experience. The importance of mangroves as natural defense systems should not be understated. According to Assoc Prof Sulong Ibrahim, the Malaysian government chanelled more funding to mangrove rehabilitation in the post-2004 Asian tsunami period. He also elaborated on the role played by locals in the area in maintaining the mangroves as well as contirbutions by visitors (a form of Eco-Tourism for Trengganu). Prof Sulong along with a team of locals in Setiu then demonstratedto us  how mangrove planting was done. After a couple of hours of getting wet and muddy in the mangrove, USIEians successfully planted 300 young shoots of Rhizophora apiculata.

The warm hospitality of UMT culminated with a dinner hosted by the Vice-Chancellor of the University. USIEians had the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences with several members (primarily) from the maritime and marine studies faculty…. while tucking into BBQ-ed seafood fresh off Trengganu’s coast! Mmmm….

It was unfortunate, however due to choppy sea conditions, that we were unable to set out to Redang Island to explore the Chagar Hutang Turtle Sanctuary. It would have been a wonderful experience and a good comparison with USIE’s turtle watching experience off the island of Molokini in Maui, Hawaii. Nevertheless, we were able to explore the UMT campus and its various research capabilities in Marine Sciences. What was indeed commendable in UMT was the breadth of knowledge and opportunity that undergraduates had for their final year projects (i.e. access to resources that for most universities would be largelylimited to post-graduate students).

Some USIE advice to SUSI

The last night together was spent collating ideas on what lessons and advise could be given to the following batches of  USIE participants (officially known as SUSI on Global Environmental Issues). In doing so, several common themes arose, including:-

  • Being practical and sensible in whatever action/task is to be performed
  • Being open to new or alternative ideas
  • The power of networking and strengthening weak ties
  • Not being afraid to get out of one’s comfort zone

While the entire trip was only 6 days, it certainly brought back many memories of USIE’s 6 weeks in the US. USIEians have expressed feeling much more recharged knowing that our action plans are moving along – albeit with occassional difficulties – and that we are all doing our part in fostering greater environmental protection via our various fields. Indeed, the USIE fire will carry on burning.

Media coverage on USIE’s trip to Malaysia

US Embassy in Malaysia’s Press Release

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