The Culture Club

25 April 2017

Museum Volunteers Malaysia want to see more Malaysians enjoying museums, and they are here to show the way.

Think of volunteering, and you probably wouldn’t think of a museum. But a small group of locals and expats have made museums their mission here in Malaysia. With a love of history and education, these individuals are part of Museum Volunteers Malaysia (MVM).

Set up in 2006, MVM is a non-profit group operating independently within the Department of Museums Malaysia (JMM), a federal department under the Ministry of Tourism.  Through the volunteer programme, MVM aims not only to improve the museum-going experience, but also to nurture the next generation of museum guides.

The brainchild of volunteers Janet Tee, Angela Naylor and Marie Tseng, the programme started with 16 members consisting mostly of expatriates, but today MVM boasts over 350 active guides from a variety of different nationalities including Malaysian, German, French, Canadian, American and Japanese. This diverse mix of volunteers has allowed the organisation to offer tours in different languages on a weekly basis.

The goal of the program, according to current MVM president Karen Loh, is to create a unique experience for visitors right here in Malaysia.

“When we started, we drew inspiration from similar initiatives in Europe and the United States. Through the guided tours, visitors get an immersive and interactive experience with the added benefit of asking questions and sharing their thoughts on the exhibits,” explains Loh. A businesswoman by day, Loh has served as the organisation’s president for the past eight years.

In addition to offering tours, the group runs an exclusive programme to train and equip people with the necessary knowledge to become tour guides. Open to both Malaysian nationals and expatriates over the age of 18, the flexible programme makes it ideal for students, working adults and retirees alike to participate. All current members are graduates of the programme who go on to train the next batch of volunteers.

Beginning early in the year and lasting four months, the programme covers both theoretical and practical training. The theoretical section includes lectures conducted by local and international academicians, historians and scholars on a bi-monthly basis whereas practical training covers presentation and public speaking skills as well as knowledge of the various galleries in the museum.

Although the response has been overwhelmingly positive, Loh acknowledges that there is still some way to go before MVM’s efforts can be deemed a success. One issue they hope to tackle is the apparent lack of a museum-going culture among Malaysians.

“Despite the fact that we’ve seen a rise in both visitors and volunteers since the programme’s inception, there is still a lack of interest from the general public when it comes to local history. We’re hoping our more hands-on approach makes it easier and more accessible for visitors to appreciate museums,” she elaborates.

Reflecting on the future of the programme, Loh believes the only way is up now that a solid curriculum has been built and new, exciting expansion plans are being put in place.

“We have a few initiatives we’re excited about this year, chief of which is the push to expand the volunteer program to other federal museums beyond Muzium Negara. In addition, we’re working closely with JMM and the Ministry of Education to introduce on-site museum tours as a practical module within the official history curriculum for primary and secondary schools.”

As to where the program can go from here and how the current museum experience can be improved, Loh is convinced that public support is needed in order to get more people to visit museums with more frequency and join their growing volunteer programme.

“We need passionate, dedicated Malaysians to volunteer as tour guides to inspire the next generation of museum goers. Commitment is key here and all of us have an important educational role to play. We hope our efforts inculcate a spirit of excitement and appreciation of the history and culture of our country”

Museum Volunteers Malaysia membership, RM300 (RM200 refundable upon completion of programme). Call 603 2267 1155 or email
Visitors interested in attending the guided tours can find the schedule here:

Text by Erik Gan
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi


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