It has been estimated that each year about 4,500-5,000 YMCA youth from Asia Pacific travel for work camps, service learning trips, meetings, and workshops – broadly described as Alternative Tourism. Program Secretaries are always on the lookout for new and interesting and exciting places for their youth groups to conduct their International Service Trips, Cultural Exchanges, Youth Exchanges, Exposures and Learning Trips, etc.
For more than 3 years APAY has been providing training to local YMCAs to develop Alternative Tourism programs so that our young people will learn to travel more responsibly and sustainably. The GATN Site Sampling designed specifically for trip organizers and YMCAs Program Secretaries who are on the lookout for new and interesting sites to conduct their Service Learning Trip, Cultural Exchange, and other Youth Exchange Programs. The main objective of this GATN Site Sampling is for hosting YMCAs to introduce new and interesting alternative tourism programs to sending YMCAs.
The first GATN Site Sampling was held in Malaysia on 19-26 July 2017. The program was hosted by YMCAs of Kuala Lumpur, Kedah and Penang with participants from YMCAs of Guangzhou, Metropolitan Singapore and Daegu, Korea. The three hosting YMCAs prepared various itineraries to highlight some of the activities that they could offer as programs for Work Camps, Service Learning Trips, Cultural Exchanges, Youth Exchanges and other programs.
YMCA of Kuala Lumpur was the first leg of the program wherein heritage walk in the city, nature walk at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), and a cultural presentation at Malaysia Tourism Center (MATIC) were among the activities. One very memorable highlight was the Disabled Football experience at University Putra Malaysia. The participants had an opportunity to meet and play football with the Malaysia National Blind Football Team. Not only was it a new experience but it was also an inspiring one to realize how sports can empower even people with disabilities.
The Heritage Walk showed how multicultural Malaysia is, with worship places of different religious groups built in close proximity with one another. This showed that despite having various beliefs, people can still live harmoniously with one another.
After three days in Kuala Lumpur, the participants travelled to the north of Malaysia by train to visit the YMCA of Kedah for the second leg of the program. YMCA of Kedah welcomed the participants to its Y Café which is an inspiring testament of youth work in Kedah Y. The youth of Kedah Y painted and furnished the whole Y Café with recycled materials. The activities in Kedah YMCA include a visit to an experimental/research oyster farm and staying overnight on a boathouse, a 500 B.C. archeological site, an organic rice farm, and the NTA Refugee Home School that provides primary/elementary education to the Rohingya refugee children.
Indeed, the visit to these communities was very fruitful and an eye opening experience to see how community work by the YMCA and various NGO go a long way to contribute towards building a sustainable and peaceful society.
The last leg of the Site Sampling was hosted by the YMCA of Penang. Several activities such as rambutan fruit picking in the YMCA Campsite, night walk at the Georgetown UNESCO World Heritage Tour, and a cultural exposure to a local Malay Community were prepared by the host. The highlight of the itinerary was the visit to a local Malay community where participants ate with the locals and experience the traditional Malay rural lifestyle, like family sitting and eating together, making handicrafts, and playing takraw among others. The local community also showed the participants how to make some Malay delicacies. Aside from this, the participants also visited a rice paddy field, a fruit farm, learned about rubber tapping and visited a former mining site that has now become a place for photo enthusiasts.
An unplanned bonus was the opportunity to visit briefly with the YMCA of Lahat Road, Ipoh to share our program and introduce GATN to them. Though time was limited, the Site Sampling was a good opportunity to have a taste of what each hosting YMCA had to offer. The hosting YMCAs hoped that they have succeeded to show some of the activities and communities that sending YMCAs can expect when they come to conduct Work Camps, Service Learning Trips, Cultural Exchanges, Youth Exchanges and other programs.
For more information on these different sites, you may refer to www.ymcatourism.org, or you may also contact their respective General Secretaries and GATN coordinators for each YMCAs.