As the world advances, excitement becomes elusive and traveling turns into a means to fulfil our desires and vanities. Hence, the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs aspires to introduce a new trend of travelling – one that is responsible and sustainable.
Stepping out of our comfort zones and experiencing the world, we do not only admire and appreciate the beauty of the nature and creation but we learn how to love and to sustain it. We do not only visit the places but we experience the culture, the living and we know about the needs of the local community. We do not just learn about these needs but we try to contribute in ways we can. However, we also begin to realize that our travel exacerbates global warming and so, we begin to ask ourselves, what can we do as a global citizen and as travellers?
YMCA of Kedah has been working with the APAY in developing GATN Sites that promote Alternative Tourism. Kedah, which is located in the northern part of peninsular Malaysia, holds a great potential for alternative tourism. Often referred to as the ‘Rice bowl of Malaysia’, travelling around Kedah will let one marvel over the stretches of paddy fields (padi in Malay) and lush green rainforests on highland. About two thirds of the state is still forested with some open to the public as recreational parks. Rubber, oil palm and fruit plantations cover the edges of these forests. Kedah has a mixture of kampongs (villages), fishing villages, small urban centres and many nature parks that are sure to indulge its visitors.
The alternative tourism being developed by YMCA Kedah focuses on various services among its diverse communities. Participants can have various activities with the refugee children through the NTA School for Refugee Children in Alor Setar. This school started in 2012 when a humble living-room in a humble home was transformed into a place of learning for refugee children. The school focuses on simple yet wholesome education that emphasizes on the basic 3Rs and basic living and social skills including hygiene, health, communication and confidence building.
Another service opportunity is for participants to learn about the plight of the homeless and assist the Soup Kitchen prepare and serve lunch for the destitute. A third service opportunity is working with the Super Hope Training Centre, a training centre for physically and intellectually challenged adults ranging from ages 16 to 55. The Centre provides these adults with basic job skills that will help them become financially independent.
Nature and heritage conservation is also one of the highlights of the GATN programs in Kedah. At the Merbok River and Bujang Valley Museum, participants learn about mangrove swamps and the important role they play in protecting the natural habitat of tiny creatures like crabs, insects, and fishes. With the presence of these animals, the area becomes a perfect destination for migratory birds such as Herons, Egrets and Seagulls. Moreover, the mangrove provides protection for coastal erosion and tsunami. This experience also allows the participants to get to know a local organic oyster farm providing knowledge transfer to residents about oyster farming.
The Bujang Valley Museum is an active archaeological site with remnants of an old Hindi/Buddhist civilisation considered to be a historical puzzle of lost civilisation in South East Asia. Aside from the above mentioned, there are other opportunities for exploring and learning like the organic rice farm and the Beris lake.
Through all these activities, the GATN programs of YMCA Kedah aspire to introduce a new trend of travelling- a sustainable and responsible kind. Traveling GATN style is perhaps one of the best ways to get to experience intimately the country you are visiting.