I had just started the first year of my undergraduate studies in my Bachelor of Chemical Engineering program and I was looking to get involved in extracurricular activities outside of the university. Back in my Foundation year, I had made the mistake of joining too many student clubs (eight in fact) and I found it is difficult to balance them with my studies. Thus, in my degree, I had stuck to mainly joining engineering student chapters, notably the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). I took Organic Chemistry in January-April 2018 semester. My lecturer, Dr. Ayu stated she wanted to organize a volunteering event at her kid’s pre-school and asked if I could help in organizing the event. As I happen to find the opportunity I was searching for, I quickly accepted this and started on the planning process.
The first part of organizing a volunteering event required volunteers, and I had reached out to other members of the SPE student chapter. I was the youngest in the student chapter, but it wasn’t my first time organizing an event as I was involved with the Student Council in my Foundation study. The seniors were quick to hop on board. The pre-school – Prasekolah Sekolah Kebangsaan – was located in Putra Heights which was quite a distance from UCSI University. I had reached out to the Group Logistics Management Office (GLMO) to arrange for the shuttle bus service on 7th April (Saturday) but the cost was too high. Lacking experience and contacts in booking an external shuttle bus service, I thought of traveling to the venue via LRT but it wouldn’t be convenient for a group of twenty volunteers. That was when Mr. Taj, former president of SPE, stepped in and offered to help with the transportation arrangements.
Our group met early in the morning around campus and enjoyed breakfast at the Gading Mamak before heading out to the venue at around 8:00 AM. Almost everybody who volunteered was seniors and I was sharing the ride with one of my Yemeni seniors from the petroleum engineering department. We navigated through Waze and as luck would have it, we actually lost our way. Thankfully, we were able to arrive at the venue before 9:00 AM. The preschool was a vibrant place and my lecturer, her family, and other families were already there. When we arrived, we were treated to a warm and delicious authentic Malaysian breakfast prepared by the families. After breakfast, we gathered to divide the tasks and moved on with our assigned work.
There were multiple tasks available: painting murals, filling a well with sand, gardening, and constructing a busy board. I went along with every activity except for painting murals as I left it to the more creative types. Together with my friend, I started painting the busy board yellow. It wasn’t my first time painting but it was the first time being so very careful because I had to ensure that I was doing a great job. My friends and I certainly had fun painting the board as we started to fling paint from our brushes at each other. Meanwhile, the creative types started outlining balls, balloons, and flowers on an empty wall. The rest of the gang started filling a small well with sand. The gardening activities were put on hold as we were waiting for one of our members, Deanna, to arrive with the flower pots.
By the time my friends and I were done with the busy board, we lent a hand to our friends filling the well with sand as we waited for the paint to dry. I found it much harder to use a shovel than I had expected. After the well was closed off, I proceeded to the activity which I had been itching to try for the first time: gardening. Deanna had arrived with the pots and the staff and parents had laid down bags of seeds and compost. We were given a quick tutorial on gardening and we pitched in right after. My friend started digging and I started planting. I had always wanted to garden and I found it to be extremely enjoyable. The activity really took my mind off things.
As the day progressed, more of the parents and kids started to pour in carrying lunch. Among the parents was a man called Mr. Fauzi who had shown with his family. I honestly thought he was there because his kids went to school there. As it turns out he was my academic advisor and the advisor for the IChemE club. I didn’t know Mr. Fauzi back then but as the years progressed, he became my role model and a crucial mentor in my academic life. By noon, the busy board had dried and all the activities were finished. My friends did an amazing job with the mural and completely transformed that white wall into an illustration of a garden decorated with grass and balloons displaying numbers and alphabets for the children’s learning. There were several items such as computer keyboards and telephones that needed to be attached to the busy board so that the children may play. However, Dr. Ayu’s husband took charge of that, and we volunteers were treated to a great lunch.
After lunch, we took a group photograph to commemorate the moment. Dr. Ayu informed us that we will be receiving certificates for our hard work and that she hopes to have us on board for future activities to come. We left the venue around 02:00 PM and went to Bab Al-Yemen (Gate of Yemen) restaurant in One South, Serdang for another feast! My seniors can eat. It honestly was an incredible experience as the whole event felt like a bonding session where I got to know my seniors better. And it was great to feel welcomed and appreciated for my efforts that went into organizing this event.
On a side note, being involved with student chapters such as SPE and IChemE is a great way to expose yourself to many extracurricular activities both on and outside the campus. Activities included, but are not limited to competitions, design projects, and volunteering events. It is encouraged for students to join in as many activities as possible as it helps develop soft skills such as communication and teamwork. Soft skills cannot be learned through theory and must be earned through practice and they are in fact essential for your workplace success. It’s the soft skills that distinguish you from your peers. Moreover, by partaking in events such as volunteering (e.g., beach clean-up, trash collection, etc.) you will experience the great feeling of giving back to the community. It’s not always about the certificates but what comes from the willingness of your heart.
After the volunteering event at the pre-school that semester, I found it hard to participate in events outside the campus. I had taken up more subjects in the coming semester and I found it hard to balance external events with the events I was responsible for on-campus as well as my other extracurricular activities such as tutoring under the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) program. However, I still keep in touch with Dr. Ayu constantly asking her for more volunteering opportunities but with Covid-19 cases always at large, it is difficult to carry out such events. Nevertheless, the volunteering activity at the pre-school during my first year of studies is one that I will treasure forever.