Over two weeks in September, the SIF’s Friendship Express brought 50 Singapore and international students from six nationalities on an expedition for good spanning three countries.
Developing sustainable composting for a bamboo plantation, improving product packaging for a local cottage industry producing banana chips and transforming a jetty into a waterfront tourism hotspot – these were just some of the challenges posed to the 50 Friendship Express participants, of six different nationalities – Bruneian, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean and Vietnamese.
Over two weeks from 16 to 29 September, these students boarded the Friendship Express and travelled from Singapore to Malaysia and then to Indonesia, to engage with locals on meaningful social innovation and community development projects and participate in cultural exchange activities.
FX 2013 was launched on 16 September with a Dialogue with the Ambassadors session, during which Malaysian High Commissioner, Husni Zai Bin Yaacob, Indonesian Deputy Head of Mission, Ridwan Hassan, and veteran Singaporean diplomat, Ambassador Verghese Matthews, engaged participants in a discussion about the commonalities shared between Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. This was followed by a trip to Chai Chee estate where they packed food hampers for 100 needy beneficiaries of local non-profit Food from the Heart.
Equipped with insights about the countries they were about to visit and having experienced a taste of volunteerism, the FX participants were ready to board the KTM Train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur for the first leg of their multimodal learning journey.
FX spent five days in Klang District, Selangor, Malaysia, where participants engaged villagers in three kampungs on several social innovation projects. Lim Hui Voon, 24, Student at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), was part of a team of 10 who worked with Madam Noraini Saleh from Kampung Telok Nipah on developing ideas to enhance her business. Mdm Noraini owns a small business producing banana crackers from her kitchen. Through chatting with her, her husband, distributors and customers, the team developed suggestions for marketing, packaging and distribution. “Our team represented four nationalities, so there were certainly differences in culture and perspectives. But we complemented one another to come up with unique ideas,” said Hui Voon.
“We built trust by involving everyone in the cracker-making processes: Peeling bananas, cutting and frying the bananas crackers and packing them into plastic bags,” she said. “Despite the language barrier, all of us listened attentively and watched body language and facial expressions to better understand what was being said.”
At the end of the first day, Mdm Noraini told the team to address her as “Mak”, which means mother in Malay. “And by the end of our time with them, after we presented our ideas, Mdm Noraini’s husband insisted that we visit them in the future, even after we have our own children, and declared that the logo we designed for their banana crackers would still be there on their packaging,” said Hui Voon.
The journey also provided wonderful opportunities for cultural exchange. In Bandung, Indonesia, Rafika Rizki Putri, 20, a student at Bandung State Manufacturing Polytechnic (POLMAN), was able to play host to the new friends she had made and show them around her home city. The FX participants were treated to a welcome ceremony by POLMAN, where Rafika explained the meaning behind the traditional Sundanese greeting ceremony and dances such as tari piring from West Sumatra and Tari Merak from West Java.
“Indonesia, including the state of Bandung, has a lot of different cultures. As I explained more about my country’s culture, as well as the different cultural ceremonies, they learnt more about my country. I was proud to be able to share this cultural knowledge with them,” she says.
At the end of the journey, Jonathan Pang, 18, student at Singapore’s Republic Polytechnic, had this to say: “In the two weeks I spent on Friendship Express, I learnt a great deal about the local cultures of Malaysia and Indonesia, and experienced the warmth and hospitality of both countries’ peoples. The journey has inspired me to give back to communities by applying knowledge learnt in the classroom and offering service to help improve lives.”
If you’re interested to read more about Friendship Express from the participants’ perspectives, do visit the FX Blog: www.sif.org.sg/friendshipexpress/
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