Coordinators by choice
THE term break is here and many public university students have returned to their hometowns; most of them boarding the first bus or flight home after their final paper.
However, a few students from Universiti Sains Malaysia stayed back in Penang.
Michelle Yip, Tan Tzyy Yun, Amir Anwar Abdull Rashid, Wong Siat Looi, Sylvester Lim and Bong Jia Xi gave up six days of their holidays to volunteer as coordinators in the Arts and Heritage Camp.
The camp, organised by Arts-Ed (a heritage and education based programme), aims to open teenagers’ eyes and minds to the value of their heritage, and encourage self-expressions.
Dealing with teenagers is not an easy task. To prepare them for the camp, they attended a facilitator’s training session by arts educator Janet Pillai.
“I learned that I was not superior to the kids, and do not have the right to start giving them orders. A facilitator needs to be adaptable to the strengths and weaknesses of each of her charges, and to give them positive provocation. She has to be friends with them, and yet not lose track of the goals in the camp,” said head coordinator Michelle, 21.
“Unofficially, I was the pao ka liao(Hokkien) person. Loosely translated, it would mean semua pun buat (do everything),” she said.
What started as a plan to fill up their free time for most of the university students turned into week of hard work mixed with fun. Coordinators were in charge of all logistic matters, but that is not all they do.
“The most important duty is to take care the ‘welfare’ of those kids. I have to make sure they don?t get too tired, drink enough water, take a break when working for a long time, remind them what they have to do the next day and make sure that they are safe when on tour,” said second year acting and directing student Siat Looi, 21.
On the first day of camp, the coordinators found themselves among a diverse bunch of youngster. There were the shy and quiet ones, boisterous and chatty ones, smart ones and slow learners, artists, ‘scientists’, and dancers.
The youngsters could choose to participate in any one of the six workshops: toy invention, bicycle float, photography, music, movement and stencil graffiti.
Participants work with artists to capture artistic elements in the inner city of Georgetown such as motifs on old buildings, heritage elements such as the dialects and market traders and turn them into products that they can relate to.
In the movement workshop for instance, the participants observed how the traders clean fish, slaughter chicken and converse with their customers, and adapted the movements into a dance. Occasionally, a few boys would start to breakdance and chase chickens into an imaginary coop, rousing cheers from the audience.
To make things fun, chalk-and-talk was kept to the minimum and there was a lot of experiential learning. Siat Looi brought her music workshop participants to the Carnarvon Street market, an old market in the heart of Penang, which has become smaller in recent years.
The wet, smelly and crowded market is certainly not the place that youngsters today want to go. But the participants went with a mission to record sounds, conversations and movements that they can use to compose a song based on the market scene. In the process, they realised about the importance and relevance of the market?s existence in their community.
Initially, Tzyy Yun was anxious when she realised that she had 20 teenagers under her wings. The participants in her workshop crafted two bicycle floats which function as a mobile gallery for the children’s photographs.
When the energy level dropped, her duty was to pull everyone together again. She had to learn to speak the teenagers’ language and know when to be firm and when to be their buddy.
A coordinators’ role requires soft skills, and every day at the camp was another opportunity for the undergraduates to learn how to communicate with the participants and gear them towards a common goal.
“On the second day of camp, a boy told me that he?d rather die than perform in front of his parents and friends. When we went for lunch together, he told me that actually his parents forced him to attend the camp and he didn?t understand why they did that,” said Siat Looi.
“The difficult thing was when they started to get bored. I tried to make them happy by playing games. Sometimes, we will take a break from work to get them relax, and I always try chatting to find out about their problem,” shared Amir, 20.
The undergraduate has learnt to not be shy in communicating with the participants. He realised early on that it is more effective to be frank and straight forward to get things running smoothly, than beating around the bush in order to not hurt anyone’s feelings.Of course, the main aim of the day was still to teach the youngsters to appreciate the arts and heritage around them.
“Everyone tends to forget about heritage and don’t take notice of the heritage around them. Heritage is very important because without it you will lose your identity. Our heritage makes us special and different. We should nurture the kids to learn heritage in a very fun way,” said Tzyy Yun, 21.
On the final day, the participants invited their family and friends for a presentation and exhibition of their works.
“When all the kids finished the bicycle floats, they were very proud of themselves and felt that the work belonged to them. They tried so hard to build it in four days and were very satisfied with the outcome,” said Tzyy Yun.
The camp experience has been a colourful and memorable one for the campers. The boy in Siat Looi’s workshop eventually decided to play a small part in the music ensemble using utensils and daily items. The other participants’ enthusiasm has rubbed off on him, and he was so happy with his performance that he insisted that his parents send him for camp next year.
It has been a worthwhile time for the coordinators too. Now that camp is over, it’s time for them to plonk into their beds and enjoy their well-deserved long break.
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