Meeting Dr Jane Goodall and Volunteering for Roots & Shoots Malaysia

I didn’t grow up admiring Jane Goodall, or any other environmentalists.

I was pretty much ignorant about environmental issues mostly because the surrounding environment I grew up in did not talk much about them.

So how did I start to care about the environment?

Long story short, I was willing to learn the world’s truths, and climate catastrophe was (still is) one of them. Veganism had a lot to do with the epiphany and I’m glad I’m now aware.

But I felt like I was starting from zero and I literally had to learn the issues as I go along. At that time, I was also starting my journey into adulthood a.k.a the struggle to find jobs and good income.

To not bore you with a long-winded account, here’s my brief history:

  1. 2016 – finished uni and started working at an environmental consulting company

  2. 2017 – joined a climate change youth group dealing with climate policy; also left the aforementioned job after one year.

  3. 2018 – joined a new vegan society NGO; found work as a copywriter at a startup agency.

  4. 2019 – stopped joining the climate change group; sporadic involvement with vegan society; continued with copywriting; decided to get back to the environmental scene.

Basically, I was on a journey of ‘shit what do I actually do with my life’.

But then I realised that I like writing, dancing and anything to do with the environment.

So when I saw this Roots & Shoots Malaysia Awards (RASMA) program on Instagram, I signed up.

Why I Joined RASMA

I thought it was about time that I apply my copywriting/social media skills in an environmental context.

I had been doing copywriting for various types of clients via the agency I worked with and to be honest, I was sick of it.

It was against my values to promote stuff that people don’t really need and to perpetuate capitalism and consumerism. I knew that. But I just had to do it as a means to an end.

I thought that RASMA would be able to bridge that gap between my interest in writing and passion for the environment.

RASMA was a pilot program working together with 15 other NGOs. The idea was to get volunteers with various skills and interest to volunteer for their preferred or allocated NGO(s) for 3 months, or until they achieve their hours.

The hours were divided into three:

  1. 45 hours = 1 ⭐️

  2. 55 hours = 2 ⭐️

  3. 75 hours = 3 ⭐️

I thought I’d achieve 75 hours but life happened and I only managed to get 1 star, which was good enough for me considering my situation.

Why didn’t I work more hours?

In the months of July to September, not only did I volunteer with Roots & Shoots Malaysia working on their social media content and a couple of article writing, but I also:

  1. managed to quit my 9-6 and jump straight to full-time freelancing

  2. attend rigorous dance training & classes

  3. enter a dance competition with my crewmates

Suffice to say, those 3 months were packed so I didn’t have time to volunteer with any other NGOs as I initially thought I would. Plus, I felt that I did my work quickly.

What I Learned With Roots & Shoots

While most of the volunteers got to be on-site, in the forest or educating people, I was mostly on my desk with my laptop and communicating with 3 other team members.

I actually enjoyed that.

Although I would have liked to go to Royal Belum, I think at that point in my life, it was just right for me to work on social media content.

And this is what I came to learn and accept: I didn’t need to be in the forest or the parliament to help the environment; I could just be at home curating insightful posts to inspire others to do their bit for the environment.

Working on the social media content for R&S really fueled me to continue to spread the message on my personal platform as well. That and the fact that I got to be vulnerable with my emotions during the dance competition.

Curating content is not all sunshine and butterflies.

Having the knowledge of marketing, I did want to challenge myself to curate something that’s worthwhile, eye-catching and thought-provoking. But at the same time, I had to come to terms with the fact that I’m no match for the algorithm especially when it was all organic reach.

So I did the best that I could with all my brain and heart in each post.

I would say though that what R&S lacks is consistency and focus (which are what I sometimes lack in my life too funny enough). I’d say consistency less so when volunteers were active. But they lack focus in terms of topics. I guess it’s good that R&S is championing all topics but in terms of marketing, that’s not a good strategy. People tend to switch off to things that don’t matter to them or when the topics are too broad. And most of the content for R&S social media were about the environmental awareness days which covered many grounds.

As I was only a volunteer, I couldn’t change that. I at least played my part in making the content a bit more interesting (I hope!). And I am happy with each outcome.

The Award Ceremony

When I applied for this, I didn’t know that we would meet Jane Goodall. But then they told me about it within the first week of the program. Naturally, I was ecstatic and this was a boost for me to do well for my part.

So 3 months passed and I managed to complete the minimum hours. This meant that I was eligible to receive the award.

(I actually continued doing their social media for another month because I felt I should end with the Vegan Day post hehe)

The Award Ceremony took place on the 21st of November at Bukit Kiara Equestrian Club. That place brought back fond memories of riding classes, so it made the event a bit sweeter.

Meeting Jane Goodall

The RASMA alumni were invited for a private session with Dr Jane Goodall. Initially, I thought it would be just us volunteers in a room with JG. That we would be able to freely ask her questions and discuss pertinent matters of the environment.

However, it was more of a spectacle rather than a private event.

There were media representatives as well as the representatives of the 15 partner NGOs.

I didn’t mind the media much, but the fact that the media were given the chance to ask more questions directly to JG instead of the alumni kind of pissed me off.

For the alumni, our questions were merely written on pieces of paper and placed in a transparent bowl. Only four or five of the questions were picked out and none of them was mine.

After JG answered the randomly-picked questions, several media reps were called out to ask their questions directly.

Wasn’t this supposed to be an event for the alumni?

All Vegetarian Buffet

One thing I was really happy about was that the buffet was definitely all vegetarian and mostly vegan.

I actually requested a vegan meal and the organiser actually prepared one for me. But I was told they mistakenly thought that the requested meal was for JG. So they gave that to her.

I wasn’t too bummed about that because the buffet was actually pretty good.

It’s funny how they think a special meal that was set out was for the special guest when that guest wasn’t even vegan.

Humans are funny creatures.

More spectacle

So after that private session and buffet which ended roughly around 7 pm, there was actually the main event which was the award ceremony.

Again, I thought it was for us alumni.

But it was more for the VVIPs who had either paid a huge sum or been invited to the exclusive dinner.

There was even the Queen of I don’t know which state (possibly Perak).

So there was all this protocol that we had to adhere to.

And the funny thing was that us alumni weren’t given a table to dine in the ballroom. We had to wait outside for about an hour I think before we were called in to receive our framed certificates. And before receiving our certificate, we had to bring our palms together and over our foreheads as a protocol of respect to the Queen.

I’m just glad I didn’t have to bow to her. Not that I had any contempt towards monarchy but I don’t believe I should bow to anyone that has not earned my respect or who is not God.

After the award-giving ceremony, JG gave a nearly hour-long speech. Since there was no room for the alumni, we had to either stand at the sides or sit on the floor. I chose to sit on the floor.

roots and shoots malaysia

Great program, elitist award ceremony

All in all my experience was great. Truly.

I liked the camaraderie between the marketing team members and I wish I could continue working with them but with full wage.

But they are in fact an NGO and not of WWF or Greenpeace calibre.

I’m also glad to have met with the other volunteers who were so inspiring and gave me hope of the future. They will indeed be the people to champion the environmental cause and I hope they will do it with verve and good intentions.

The award ceremony could have been better in terms of prioritizing the alumni (and the partner NGOs) throughout. I guess it’s not common sense to show appreciation to the alumni who were the crucial aspect of this RASMA program. They might argue that appreciation was shown, but what could be better was at least to give the alumni the actual private session with JG. It’s fine if they want to scuttle us like cattle during the award ceremony. But at least give us the chance to speak directly and privately to JG. At the very least.

Nevertheless, I hope this program shall carry through to next year. I think it’s a good opportunity for youth to experience volunteering with an environmental group with the added pressure of completing a certain number of hours.

I only wish I had volunteered more during my school days.