15 September 2014 – “During these five week programme, I am proud to tell people that I am an ASEAN citizen, and every one of you is like my ASEAN family member.” Ooi Chai team, AYVP Facilitator, Malaysia.

Ooi’s statement indeed spoke volumes for the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme in general and the objective that it aims to achieve. Following the success of the inaugural programme on Environment and Climate Change last year, the second AYVP programme continued with its theme on “Protecting ASEAN’s Heritage.”

The 5-week programme’s implementation saw Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM – The National University of Malaysia) in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, ASEAN Secretariat, Ministry of Youth and Sports Malaysia and University Malaya as well as Museum Volunteers Malaysia, communities and NGOs in Brickfields, Chinatown, in Kuala Lumpur and Kampung Morten, Kampung Chetty, and the Baba and Nyonya Community in Melaka.

AYVP Malaysia 2014 received applications of up to to 1,400 from across ASEAN and the rest of the world, from which 48 ASEAN Youth Heritage Leaders were selected. The increase in the number of applications year in year shows that the programme is in demand from ASEAN youth. Each of the selected youth go through a stringent selection process which involved reading through their essays delineating their commitment on ASEAN, volunteerism and leadership as well as experience and passion in heritage-related areas.

The programme commenced on the 11 August 2014 where all 48 volunteers or Heritage Leaders – as they were referred to, stationed at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM – The National University of Malaysia) and attended a series of lectures and discussions on the principles underlying the programme such as: ASEAN Identity, community engagement and heritage conservation. Despite their diverse backgrounds – ranging from university students to professionals aged 18-30, they displayed enthusiasm to explore further on protecting ASEAN’s heritage efforts – a crucial role that they can play, especially when it is often overlooked at the expense of modernization.

On the onset, the Heritage-Leaders were deployed to the Capital City of Kuala Lumpur, under the supervision of the Faculty of Built Environment of University Malaya and began their heritage exploration to the National Museum and the KL Heritage Sites focused on 3 heritage communities in Malaysia: Kampung Baru (Malay), Petaling Street (Chinese) and Brickfields (Indian).

From there, the Heritage-Leaders were grouped according to the 3 heritage communities as they worked together hand-in-hand to produce a final report of their observations and recommendations in the form of a Video Documentary. The heritage leaders were divided into three main groups based on the three main races in Malaysia which are the Malays, Chinese and Indians. They then were deployed to the three heritage communities; the Malay Communities (Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur and Kampung Balik Bukit and Kampung Morten, Melaka), Indian Communities (Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur and Kampung Chetti and Little India, Melaka) and Chinese Communities (Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur and Baba Nyonya Village and Jonker Walk, Melaka).

The Heritage-Leaders who were assigned to the Malay Communities, documented their reports and identified the different rates of preservation across the 3 Malays heritage sites and drew recommendations for engagement of multi-stakeholders, particularly the youth sector. From this, they recognized the need to strike a balance between tangible and intangible aspects of heritage work, as well as conservation values with development needs, while observing the decreasing interest among the youth. During their assignment, they were introduced to the vibrancy of a Malay wedding ceremony.

In Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur and Kampung Chetty and Little India in Melaka, the Heritage-Leaders sought to bring to light several challenges that pose a threat to the Indian Heritage Community, such as the lack of cultural awareness and appreciation amongst younger generation, limited government support, and modern development. They also asserted the need to balance economic, socio-cultural, and environmental goals in order to preserve the Indian culture. Active participation from the government and other multi-stakeholders with regards to policy-making that favour the support for heritage conservation were seen as a move towards ensuring that the Indian culture remains intact.

Meanwhile, the Heritage-Leaders tasked to document the Chinese Community’s heritage lens, observed that heritage conservation in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur was largely community-driven through volunteers and local enterprises. They also liken this to the Baba Nyonya Village and Jonker Walk in Melaka where preservation efforts is driven mostly by institutions such as UNESCO and government agencies such as the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and Department of National Heritage. The Heritage-Leaders suggested that fusion of best practices, public awareness and monetization of traditional crafts are ways that the Chinese communities can preserve their heritage.

After 3 weeks with the communities, all 48 heritage leaders returned to UKM for a final series of workshops. On the last day of the 5-week programme, the Grand Celebration saw a multitude of colours from the participants attired in their traditional costumes. The explosion of sounds and rhythm radiating in the hall created the excitement of being entertained by the volunteers showcasing their various cultural talents for all to experience. This included their creative productions – video documentaries, a photo essay exhibition of ASEAN Heritage Treasures and an ASEAN Dance Medley.

The Grand Celebration may mark the closing of the programme for the Heritage Leaders but the embracing of a newly found knowledge of the ASEAN identity and preservation of its heritage with renewed commitment by these youth to the ASEAN community.

They’ve proven that they had kept their promise to contribute to their own communities when they implemented their own heritage conservation projects with other youth and their respective communities. Next year, AYVP Cambodia 2015 will focus on the environment and climate change, a replication of the theme chosen during the inaugural ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme.

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