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In Johor’s Gelang Patah, young adults are spearheading community development and environmental education through Kelab Alami.
On a typical weekend morning, the young members of Kelab Alami are scattered across Gelang Patah collecting data on mangroves and seagrass in the water, guiding tourists through animal and plant species on Merambong Island, or selling fish and crabs to ensure that fishermen get a fair profit cut.
Kelab Alami members Manisa Mat Arif and Arif Fazail discuss species samples with co-founder Dr. Serina Rahman.
These members, aged 11 to 19, are doing work and research for Kelab Alami, a youth environmental organisation founded in 2009 by Dr. Serina Rahman and Shalan Jum’at. The organisation operates from Tanjung Kupang, a seaside sub-district in Gelang Patah that faces the Straits of Johor and the Pulau River. Most of its inhabitants are fishermen whose livelihoods are increasingly threatened by surrounding development projects.
Species samples collected from the ocean.
Since its inception as a science education initiative, Kelab Alami has expanded its efforts to empower youth to lead community development by training them as citizen scientists, habitat experts and ecotourism guides.
Over the years, the members have collected such valuable data on natural habitats in the village and nearby areas that the local community now relies on them for advocacy and education.
Members of Kelab Alami examine their species samples collected.
“People in the village would come up to the kids and say, 'look, [developers] want to build here, what is there?' And the kids would tell them that you can't build there because there are all these animal species, and the adults would take this information to the meetings, and this is how the kids got their voice,” says Serina.
One of these projects was the USD100 million Forest City housing development, a joint venture between China and Malaysia.
In 2016, Kelab Alami received a Social Hero Award from Iskandar Regional Development Authority.
“There’s a Forest City project happening here, so we met with them to show them our data,” says Kelab Alami member Manisa Mat Arif, 19. At the meeting, the group members also spoke out against the environmental destruction the development was creating.
Besides using their data to educate the community, Kelab Alami also helps them earn alternative livelihoods. For instance, the club employs local youth as full-time members and train them to lead ecotours around the natural habitats.
Full-time Kelab Alami member Hakimi Bakri in the organisation's headquarters.
When we meet 16-year-old Hakimi Bakri (Kimi), who leads the club’s camping and tour activities, he’s busy planning for 2018’s agenda.
“Right now, we have tours to go to the islands, to the seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, and a coastal tour,” shares Kimi. “For the future, we’re planning new products: kayaking, cycling, village tours and camping. We’re also going to do a cooking class.”
Kelab Alami members Aiman Fazail, Danial Idaham, Ifah Ahim and Arif Fazail.
For the older villagers, the club helps them find jobs with surrounding development projects. In one recent project, Forest City hired applicants from the community after Kelab Alami members collected names of those looking for work.
In another project, Kelab Alami serves as a middleman for local fishermen. By taking on this role, local fishermen now enjoy a 26 percent increase in income, says Serina.
Manisa Mat Arif, 19, is a full-time Kelab Alami member.
With Kelab Alami empowering local youth with skills and work opportunities, members have developed a passion for environmental protection. Some even wish to further their careers in the field.
Sofi Mu'in Juhari, 19, has been with Kelab Alami for nine years and now works full-time with them. He hopes to continue doing work in marine preservation and education.
“I want to be successful in terms of protecting marine life and teaching about it,” says Sofi. “I want to go to schools and teach the new generation so they know the animals and plants here.”
Members of Kelab Alami. From left to right: Sofi Mu'in Juhari, Ifah Ahim, Danial Idaham, Manisa Mat Arif, Aiman Fazail, Hakimi Bakri and Arif Fazail.
For Serina, 2018 is focused on making the organisation’s youth independent and financially sustainable. The youth members are already taking on leadership roles and envisioning Kelab Alami’s future.
For Arif Aiman Fazail, 17, he dreams of opening a Nature Heritage Centre under Kelab Alami. Right now, he’s collecting stories from the villagers about the history and development of the village, and hopes to compile them into a book.
“We have to preserve the nature and culture of this village,” he says, “before all of it disappears.”
Learn more about Kelab Alami at kelabalami.weebly.com.
By Lily Jamaluddin
Photos by Zulkiflie Ma'arof
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