By Evelyn Beh Fang Ding, YP Germany 17/18

Participants at a first-ever virtual Volunteer Congress gave two thumbs up for the two-day event which saw 70 volunteers from Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, and India connected through Zoom with engaging topics and activities.

The annual event with the theme “Looking Beyond Borders” kicked off with a welcome speech by Nicholas Song, the Organizing Chair for the Volunteer Congress 2021. This was followed by a session on “Diversity and Community Gap”, presented by Dr Charanjit Kaur. An assistant professor of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Dr Charanjit gave insights into the advantages of embracing the diversity that we have in Malaysia and the causes to the community divides that we now experience. Participants then went into breakout rooms to discuss what we as global citizens could do to bridge gaps between the communities.

The highlight of the first day was a Virtual Scavenger Hunt, a group activity designed to engage volunteers from different countries and chapters through a fun and captivating code – cracking game. During the scavenger hunt, participants were asked to answer questions about local geography, interesting facts about various cuisines and to learn about the varied cultures of Malaysia. To spice up the game and encourage interactions within each group, attractive prizes were offered and winners announced on the second day of the Congress. 

The second day began with a sharing session by Ng Yah Tyng, a YES Returnee from 2006 and an experienced AFS Volunteer who talked about her experience with virtual volunteering. This was followed by a fireside chat with Violecea Low, YES Returnee from 2013. “Times and circumstances have changed the way we work, with limited physical contact now and due to safety reasons, more organizations are in need of virtual volunteers,” said Yah Tying. Her session motivated participants to stay active and continue volunteering despite limitations imposed by the global pandemic. 

The last session was a forum on “We are all Global Citizens”. Dr Billy Tang, Founder of PWD Smart Farmability, Dr Inah Ja Abd Jalil, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Hospital Beyond Boundaries and Teoh Min Chia, Co-Founder of The Other School were invited as panelists with Divakaran Vasudevan, YES Returnee from 2004, as the moderator. Participants learned that these organizations were founded on the passion of helping people in need through volunteerism. Everyone was engrossed with the stories on how much sweat and tears were shed to build the organizations from scratch, and the challenges they continue to face in  making lives better, not just in Malaysia but also across Southeast Asia. 

Antarabudaya Malaysia Chairperson Khalilah Dato’ Mohd Talha wrapped up the Congress by thanking everyone involved in making the event a reality and a success. She also saluted all volunteers who are the heart and soul of AFS as the organization was built on volunteerism.  This was followed by an awards ceremony where 14 outstanding volunteers from across Malaysia were recognized for their contributions to intercultural understanding.