Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Eco Kids Column: Volunteering Without Leaving Your Home

By Wong Ee Lynn
The Green Living and Eco Kids team often receives queries from big-hearted people who wish to volunteer for worthy causes but are unable to commit to a regular volunteering schedule. Some of these people are elderly folk, some are busy parents, some live very far from town and some just do not have the time, resources or means of travelling in order to volunteer at a particular place on a regular basis. A great many of these queries come from children who want to be able to do something to help people, animals or the environment.

If you are a young person with no income, no driving license and a busy school schedule, here are some suggestions as to how you can still volunteer without leaving your home.
As you know, there are collection bins for light bulbs, used batteries, old phones and broken electrical appliances outside the front door of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) headquarters in Jalan Kelantan. There are also recycling bins to collect paper, glass, plastic and metal waste at the MNS office as well as in other locations.
Some of these recycling collection centres also collect reusable items such as books, clothes and toys, for charity.
If there are no recycling bins near your home or in your school, ask your parents' permission to set up a small area to collect and store recyclables in your home. It can be a series of boxes, bins or sturdy bags hung on a hook. 
Once your parents have consented to collecting and transporting these items for you, you can inform your friends, neighbours, classmates and relatives about your recycling centre, and encourage them to pass their recyclables to you. You can make flyers and posters to inform others of what they can or cannot hand over for recycling, or you can announce it via social media and phone.
Your job is to keep the recyclables organised and clean. Wash or rinse out all cans and bottles. Keep used batteries in a dry, clean jar in a dark, cool place to reduce the risk of leakage and corrosion. Sort items into their correct categories. 
Once your bags or boxes are full or whenever you or your parents are passing through areas where the recycling and collection bins are located, drop these items off and bring home your empty bags and boxes to be filled up all over again. This way, you prevent a lot of waste from ending up in landfills, and you reduce the need for others to drive. It's a win-win situation for all.    

People often inquire about where they can send old clothes for donation or recycling. Many recycling centres collect old clothes to sell in developing countries, especially in Africa. The money goes to the charities that collect the clothes here in Malaysia. A better option would be to donate the clothes directly to the groups and people that need them the most. Your job is to set up a Used Clothes Collection Centre in the same fashion as the recycling and e-waste collection centre described above. Launder and dry any clothes that do not seem particularly clean, or that smell musty. Sort the clothes into Men's, Womén's and Children's clothes. Set aside anything torn, worn out or badly stained.
Groups such as Need To Feed The Need (NFN) (https://www.facebook.com/ftnbenefit) will accept all clothes for the homeless and urban poor. Groups such as Reach Out Malaysia (https://www.facebook.com/ReachOutMalaysia) and Kechara Soup Kitchen (www.kechara.com/soup-kitchen/) need mostly men's clothes for the homeless in Kuala Lumpur, which comprises mostly men.
Refugee organisations and refugee schools will usually also accept clothes for women and children, so please give them a call to see if they will take your donation.
You can also request your friends and family to bring you unused travel-sized bottles of shampoo and soap from their hotel stays, and once you have enough, you can hand them over to these organisations to distribute to the homeless, who will find these small toiletry items easier to take with them than regular-sized toiletries. This is a good way of putting these toiletries to use, rather than let them clutter up your cabinets.
What can you do with the torn, worn out and stained clothing described above? You can make toys for shelter animals using the said items. Toys help animals feel more relaxed and less stressed out. Playing games keeps animals alert, active and happy. Cut the old clothes into thick strips and braid them into tug toys. If you don't know how to braid, ask your mother, sister or friend to show you how. Tie the rag braids at both ends tightly so that it would not come undone easily. You can also make a cloth ball by knotting strips of cloth repeatedly until it forms a tight ball. Or you can make a rug for baby animals and nursing mama cats and dogs by laying several braided tug toys together and then stitching them all into a rug. Make as many tug toys, cloth balls and pet rugs as you can. When you do get the opportunity to visit the nearest animal shelter, hand them your contributions. This project will keep old clothes out of landfills and also create inexpensive, waste-free toys for shelter animals.

Some of the community gardens and edible gardens in the Klang Valley include the Free Tree Society of Kuala Lumpur (http://www.freetreesociety.org/), the TTDI Edible Garden (http://kgi.org/ttdi-edible-project) and Eats Shoots and Roots (http://eatsshootsandroots.org/). Some gardens may not have their own websites and Facebook pages but are managed by residents' associations next to community centres and playgrounds and can be found in neighbourhoods all over the country. Contact the volunteers managing the gardens and offer to grow plants for them to replant or give away. This is rather like being a foster parent to plants. Young plants often get eaten by insects, snails or other pests, so you can help these gardens by growing and caring for plants until they are big or strong enough to be transplanted into the ground. Collect used paper cups, juice cartons and other containers that you can use as planting pots. Poke little holes in the bottom of the cups and cartons for drainage so that your plant's roots will not be waterlogged. Fill around 1/3 of the cartons and cups with gravel or pebbles for drainage. Fill the rest of it with potting soil. Collect the seeds from the fruits and vegetables that you eat. Leave a ripe tomato or chilli on the kitchen counter to dry out for the seeds. You can also collect carrot tops, sweet potato stalks and mint stems for planting. Plant these into your planters and water your plants in moderation. Your successful plants can be donated to these community gardens.
Request nicely for unused postcards from relatives and friends who travel or collect free postcards. Sign up for YellowHouseKL's e-volunteering programme athttp://yellowhousekl.com/e-volunteer/. Fill in the postcards and mail them to YellowHouseKL for their onward transmission to children in hospitals and juvenile detention centres. This is a good way of using up postcards that you would not otherwise know what to do with.

As with collecting clothes and recyclables, you can set up a Book Collection Centre and Book Hospital to collect and repair books for charity. Collect books from your friends and family and sort through them. Catalogues, used and outdated reference books and schoolbooks and manuals should go into the paper recycling bin. Sort books into books for children and adults. Wipe the covers with a damp cloth to clean them and air-dry them for a day before you wrap them. Repair torn pages and wrap book covers in plastic wrap (You can reuse the clear smooth plastic bags that new clothes come in to wrap books with). Books for adults can go to community libraries (often in community centres) or the Green Living Little Free Library at the MNS HQ. Books for children can go to various refugee schools and community learning centres, and organisations such as The Revolving Library (https://www.facebook.com/therevolvinglibrary) and the Lorong Kurau Bangsar Community Library.

There are no limits to what causes you can volunteer for once you have  made up your mind to help. Contact the organisations you are interested in and offer your best skills. There are many ways you can get your friends involved so that you can encourage and motivate one another as volunteers. What else can you think of? How about a charity birthday party during which your guests fill in postcards, make pet toys, bake pet treats, and clean and repair used books and toys for others? No contribution, however small, goes unappreciated!
"How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it."
- George Ellison

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