Thursday 24 April 2014

The Start of Something New

Hello world! My name is Daniel and I’m the other project coordinator for Project WHEE!

After completing my A-Levels in HELP Academy, I opted to take a gap year instead of going straight to university. I didn’t do this to “find myself’’ or “discover my life’s destiny’’. I simply wanted to do what a ‘regular’ young student would not have the time to do. Two things in particular I wanted to do before university was to travel and teach. For a good 6 months, I spent time travelling the world, meeting new people and experiencing different cultures (a very ‘’finding myself” thing to do) after which I decided to settle down and do something consistent which was in line with teaching, or some form of it.
Good cop Bad cop, guess who is which?

Out came a job vacancy from a Ms Rhonwyn Hagedorn from eHomemakers who was looking for someone to help her get going a project she just initiated, called Project WHEE! in which she successfully won a grant from 1Malaysia Dana Belia to fund it. What caught my attention immediately was the project offerred more than I hoped for - travelling to Bario, a place in our own country which some (or most) Malaysians have never even heard of, English teaching for women to become eco-tourism community guides, carrying out community service work to further help and improve the society as well as working with 30 ambitious youth.

After much consideration, I finally decided to come on board as an intern in eHomemakers, working with Rhonwyn to start this project from scratch with the supervision and guidance of the Executive Director of eHomemakers, Ms Chong Sheau Ching. Though the excitement and thrill of working in Bario has always been there, the planning process has been a lot less glamorous. I knew what I was getting myself into - it was February and we intended to send off our first batch of youth volunteers in just 2 to 3 months. I accepted the challenge as I knew this would be a major learning curve for me and more importantly, it was for a good cause.

Presentation at Taylor's Lakeside
As expected, I immediately had a giant list of things to do within a short period of time (which I’m still ticking off slowly). Pre-planning has been tedious, as it involves a lot of paperwork which needs to be done right without any mistakes, hence editing the same document over and over again has become a common occurrence. Progress has been at times slow, as millions of things that needed to be done depended on a single decision which made it frustrating. What helped was that Rhonwyn and I clicked. Though at times we feel like pulling each others hair out (or just my beard), we do have a solid understanding when it comes to work.   

Presentation at Beaconhouse Sri Inai 
  Besides going to Bario, my main job was recruitment of youth, which has been the best part of the planning process. Besides using social media to recruit students, Rhonwyn and I went to schools, colleges and universities to present the project to potential applicants. It was always interesting observing youth from a presenters point of view as you notice those who are paying attention, you can see faces light up at the idea of going to Bario and you can tell when some don’t seem very bothered by it.

Things slowly picked up and soon enough, we received more applications then spots available.Screening applicants and conducting interviews was by far the most interesting aspect of student recruitment as we met so many different students, not much younger or older to us, who came from all over Malaysia with different backgrounds and upbringings but all of whom had similar aspirations, goals and had a desire for community outreach. These young people could have spent their holidays and semester breaks relaxing or studying but they chose to apply for this project voluntarily. It was incredibly refreshing meeting youth of Malaysia who were not only adventurous, but had a genuine passion to serve their community. This made selection all the more harder, but it had to be done.               

#projectmanagement (oh the joy)
The anticipation and the actual thought of 30 youth helping to improve the community of Bario makes all the work worthwhile. It pushes us and drives us to work harder to make this project a success. As Ms Chong once said to me, “This project is how big you want it to be”. Things may not go the way we want, but we are adaptable and no matter how we do it, I believe we can make a difference in Bario. 

- Daniel MOD - 

Wednesday 23 April 2014

How Did We Get WHEE! ?

Before WHEE! was named what it is today, there was a long and tedious process to find the perfect name for it. It had to be something memorable, yet something easy to remember.

And here is WHEE!’s story.

“You’re applying to Dana Belia, so what are you going to name your project?” said my then partner-in-crime in eHomemakers, Jin. Unfortunately, Jin was not really helping the process of naming the project, as we were constantly ‘at war’ in the office… throwing paper and wires (and responsibilities) at each other.  I took a big sigh… how was I supposed to answer a question that I was trying to find the answer to myself?


As I sat there looking at the words I listed out, Jin looked at the clock. It was nearly lunch-time.  “Subway for lunch?” he asked. And I answered “WHEE!”.

The first logo. 
One tuna sandwich later, ‘WHEE!’ could not leave my head. What a great name for a project that would be! It was youthful, and easy to remember. Now it was just a matter of figuring out what ‘WHEE!’ would stand for. During the application process, I must admit that I never had much ambition for this project. It would be a one-off project, and that would be the end of it; so using WHEE!’s main objective from the Dana Belia grant, it stood for ‘West (Malaysians) Helps East (Malaysians) in English’.

Right now as you read this, what WHEE! stood for then probably sounded really weird. I think so too, but in that moment, it was perfect. We would only need to search around West Malaysia for youth to participate in the project, and that was that. This would have been the end of the story… but it’s not.

Partners for the project started arriving, and one of them so happened to be Curtin University, Sarawak. There was no way WHEE! could be WEST Helps EAST anymore, as East Malaysians would now be joining in. So once again, it has to be renamed.

If you thought ‘West Helps East’ was weird, I renamed Project WHEE! to ‘ProjecTweb’. Just like the first one, it used the main objective from the Dana Belia grant, and it stood for ‘Project Teaching Women English in Bario’. At this point I was already tired with project naming, especially since this would have been a one-off project like I thought it would be. (If you search on Urban Dictionary, ‘tweb’ are apparently the strings that hold helium balloons).   

What on earth were we thinking...?
To cut a long story short, once Daniel joined the project, it was decided ProjecTweb was way too weird, and we switched back to Project WHEE!. With our combined forces, we came up with the poem that Project WHEE! stands for today. The high5 I gave him was probably one of the most satisfying ones I ever had in my life, because we really accomplished something, and I was more than proud of it.

My best friend and ex-intern in eHomemakers, Yasmin Shah, is the brain behind our logo. After Dana Belia approved our project, she took on the grueling task to come up with the design. I must say that I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It’s simple, but it’s recognizable and fun. (and I like blue!)

I never thought we would get such an overwhelming response for Project WHEE!. In fact, our final 30 applicants are from all over Malaysia, there is even talk now about Project WHEE! having a second life after this year, and there is also possibility of branching out to other sites and missions besides Bario. So much for ‘West Helps East in English’ and ‘Teaching Women English in Bario’!.

Project WHEE! is now going to be bigger and better than I ever expected. Somehow it makes me nervous but I look forward to the future and what’s in store.

Project WHEE! was put together by youth who all had the same mission; to help serve the community. So a big shout-out THANK YOU to Jin, Yasmin and of course, Daniel whom without these three, Project WHEE! would have never been where it is today!

We the youth.
Helping those in need.
Exceeding expectations.
Empowering others.


Tuesday 15 April 2014

The Start (And How It Started)

Hello! My name is Rhonwyn, and I’m the founder and 2014 youth coordinator of Project WHEE!.

Two years ago, I never thought that I would one day be the founder of a youth project. The thought of it seemed impossible as I was only an 18 year old after-SPM intern when I applied to Dana Belia. I never thought my idea would ever be considered, let alone I would win the Dana Belia grant itself!

An inside look of the day in the life of Rhonwyn.
This planner is my life and soul. 
The company I intern for, eHomemakers (eH) has had a project in Bario for almost 6 years, and as an intern I had the chance of a lifetime fly to Bario and assist in the project. The last leg of the eH Bario project was to teach the women English, as we are trying to get them to be community guides. The questions that were running through our minds were endless. Where could we possibly find people who would want to volunteer their time for Bario? I was then asked by the Executive Director of eH, Ms Chong Sheau Ching, to apply for the Dana Belia grant.

I sat at my desk picking at my brain for hours. How will this work? What will the project be called? Who will be the volunteers? When will it be? ..... So many questions were going through my head; my hair must have turned white. After finally completing the application form and defending my project in front of the Dana Belia selection committee, Project WHEE! was born, and my hair went back to its normal brunette colour.

As this is the first year of Project WHEE!, there are a lot of logistics to plan. I couldn’t possibly handle everything myself (and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to anyway). So along came my partner-in-crime Daniel, and ever since then it’s been utter chaos in our office. Accounting, reports, endless documents that Daniel and I edit over and over again (thank you Google Docs!), to endless meetings. It seems that everything we accomplish, another two things pop out that demand our attention! We’re constantly on the job and busy!

If you were to ask me what the best thing about being a project coordinator is so far, I would say that excluding Bario trips, it would have to be the interviewing process. Daniel and I have interviewed so many different youth similar to our age, each with his/her own special set of skills and talents. It was impossible to find two of a kind. Sitting at the interviewer’s side of the table, I can honestly say I have learned quite a bit about how to behave and what to say during an interview. There was something to learn from every youth that walked through our office door.

Interviewing applicants from Taylors Lakeside.
Although it’s all good fun, there is also an element of bad. That’s just how life works. No one said being the project coordinator was going to be an easy job, especially since this is the first year of Project WHEE!. Daniel and I have had long discussions about many different project concerns. I have had my share of sleepless nights thinking about the project. There are also times I felt like giving up, how maybe starting Project WHEE! was all a big mistake. I could have been in college now, with my biggest concern being mid-terms or finals, not having to worry about sponsors, accounts and schedules!

But then I take a deep breath. In every bad thing, there is also an element of good. Again, that’s just how life works. I think of the smiling faces of all the tepu-tepu (grandaunties/grandmothers) in Bario and the 30 youth who will be embarking on this journey. Both parties are completely different people in terms of age and upbringing, but both are so excited to meet one another.

I WANT this to be a successful project, I WANT to see strong relationships being built among the youth and the Kelabits. I WANT to do something for the mountainous community of Bario that won over my heart several years ago. All these thoughts are what keep me going during my lowest and most stressful times of project planning.

Working hardly, or hardly working?
We are less than a month away from bringing our first batch of youth to Bario in May, and I’m very excited. Finally Daniel and I’s work will be put to the test! Will everything we planned go accordingly?

Probably… Probably not.

But either way, each step of project coordination will and has been a huge learning process for me, and I’m still not done learning!