A Missing Generation in Environmentalism

by Dusky Eric

A Missing Generation in Environmentalism?
Written by: Dusky Eric Thoo

Now, if I were to ask you to picture a group of Millennials, you would probably see a group of tech-savvy young adults in branded clothes. Eyes fixated on the latest iPhones, they discuss the latest cafe to hang out. Indeed, when it comes to defining the generation born between the early 1980s and 1990s, that image seems to be the norm.

“Young people nowadays are unwilling to get their hands dirty”, one of the participants remarked in a forum. It was August 2017 and I happened to be in the book launch of “Penang At The Climate Crossroads” hosted by Penang Institute. It was pretty awkward as I fell exactly in that category. Looking at my copper-toned hands, I thought they have had their fair share of dirt and sand. I’m just not so sure if they would be deemed adequately dirty (read worthy) by that participant.

The forum ended with a rather less-than-enthusiastic note. Moderator Evelyn Teh fittingly pointed out that the participants of the forum were mostly elderly. It was a telling sign that environmentalism is ‘not a thing’ among the new generation. Being a Millennial herself, she hoped one day “new young champions could step up and take the torch from older generation”. That hit a spot for me. The underlying implication that my generation has little to no interest in our environmental well-being is certainly troubling, to say the least.

Our Dirty Hands

Unbeknownst to all of us, however, a remarkable event is taking place just 15 kilometers from the Penang Institute at the time. Armed with scorching hot passion and strong arms and strong legs, a group of young adults was navigating through uncharted jungle routes in Teluk Bahang. They slid down steep soils by pushing through obstacles with mortal hands; They climbed sloppy hills on all fours by holding onto any plants within reach; Most importantly, their eyes never leave a very particular species of primate right above them.

I present you (some) members of the Langur Project Penang (LPP)! Left to right: Hong Jing (from Nature Classroom), Min Yu, Joleen Yap (LPP founder), me, Wen. Members of the Langur Project Penang (LPP) love to describe themselves as “Human primates with binoculars as eyes, ‘parang’ (machete in local Malay language) and notebooks as hands, GPS as legs and a heart of passion”. The organization counts locals and expats among her rank with young adults making up most of her number.

Into The Wild

Langur Project Penang is primarily a research project to study the ecology and behaviour of Dusky Leaf Monkeys / Langurs (Trachypithecus obscurus). It was initially proposed to be conducted in a single sampling location, Teluk Bahang. Jo Leen Yap, a postgraduate from University of Science (USM) decided the scale of the project was too small for any meaningful data implication. Under the umbrella of the university and as an outreach project of the Malaysian Primatological Society, Langur Project Penang (LPP) would eventually branch out to various data sampling sites such as Cherok Tokun, Penang Botanical Garden and Penang Hill.

“Adventure found me” – Data collection at a sampling site

In a time when the public conceives environmental and wildlife conservation as something only scientists do in a distant laboratory, Langur Project Penang prided herself as a grassroots organization whose strength lays exactly within the relationship she built with the people and nature.

Outreaching to The Public

In collaboration with the Nature Classroom and a local childcare center, LPP’s Langur Rainforest Educational Programme embraces children from various ages in a nature tour. Through sharing and interaction with trained nature guard, our little future leaders are introduced to the animals, insects, and greeneries in Penang Hill, Taman Rimba Teluk Bahang, and Penang Botanical Garden.

In collaboration with the Nature Classroom and a local childcare center, LPP’s Langur Rainforest Educational Programme embraces children from various ages in a nature tour. Through sharing and interaction with trained nature guard, our little future leaders are introduced to the animals, insects, and greeneries in Penang Hill, Taman Rimba Teluk Bahang, and Penang Botanical Garden.

Admittedly, I have had my doubts before volunteering for the programme in December 2017. We are talking about a generation that has easy access to technology from a young age. Surely learning the names of flora and fauna would pale in comparison to the ‘bigger’ and ‘more explosive’ scenes they are accustomed to? It turns out, like the participant from the forum, I am equally guilty in projecting baseless stereotypes on these kids.

“I talk, you listen” education method can only get you so far. We believe in learning and growing together by a conversation from both sides. Ask us questions! We love it! We might learn a thing or two from you too! – Langur Rainforest Educational Programme

Planting The Seeds of Hope

Look at their proud work! – In Collaboration with Nature Classroom and Tadika Seri Comel, Nibong Tebal

The activities in the programme include letting these kids experience working as a ‘biologist’ of the day. They picked up leaves or fruits, pasted them on a piece of paper, and described their name and characteristic. They actually did a fantastic job about it! Kids nowadays are so smart.

We also delivered a short script to illustrate the relationship between living things in a jungle (I played a tree, don’t judge!), and the cruelty of animal poaching. Once again, these little geniuses amazed me with their existing knowledge of the topics. Adults have much to learn from our young ones!

Embracing The Bottom-Up Approach

Yes, you heard me right. I had a standoff with a macaque. It’s a long story.

Like many Malaysians, we envision a better country where people live with compassion and respect for each other and Nature. It dawned to me that these kids may one day shoulder this responsibility. They will play a big part in a movement that will topple neoliberalism and shape a world unimaginable to people before them. Between helping them to carry bags and a standoff with a crab-eating macaque (see picture below), I found myself appreciating the wonderful sight before me.

I am earnestly eager to see all generations working together towards true prosperity of our country Malaysia. Are our hands dirty? You bet they are!

Langur Project Penang is also open to an invitation for educational talk. For more details, or if you are interested to be part of our team by volunteering or interning, contact us! We could always use a hand!

(All photo credits go to Langur Project Penang)


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