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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Thursday, 10 December 2015 12:21

A Blissful Ride to a Clean Island

Written by  Soon Fock Chuan, Klang / Translated by Chong Pei Fen

Being the first person to promote recycling on Pulau Ketam, Tan Sow Lang is undeterred by the stares of puzzled onlookers, and the dirt and messiness of recyclables to collect recyclables from around the island on her bicycle. [Photograph by Sam Pin Fook]

Being the first person to promote recycling on Pulau Ketam, Tan Sow Lang had braved the grime and clutter, and stares of puzzled onlookers, to collect recyclables from around the island on her bicycle.


 
With a hat to protect her from the blazing sun, Tan Sow Lang could always be seen cycling leisurely around Pulau Ketam like a backpacker, looking for recyclables. Born and raised on the island, she has witnessed how it prospered from a humble fishing village. The sunrise and nightfall, the low and high tides, and memories of her past intertwined with the present. It is this deep sense of belonging that spurred her on to embark on this “island tour”, which has always rewarded her with a full-load of recyclables.
 
Sow Lang signed up as a Tzu Chi donating member in 2001, and became a volunteer in 2008. In 2011, after participating in the annual Buddha Bathing Ceremony, she started to observe a vegetarian diet. She also extended an invitation to other islanders to join in the Ceremony and encouraged them to take one vegetarian meal a day; and the response was good. At the end of that year, she was certified as a Tzu Chi Commissioner. She also started to collect recyclables from around the island after seeing its deteriorating environment, but it was without any concrete plans and actions to take it further.
 
Once, while she was on a ferry to Klang, she came across a teacher with bags of recyclables in her hands. She felt embarrassed when she learnt that the teacher was taking the recyclables to a recycling centre in Klang as there was none on the island. It hit her then that immediate actions must be taken to advocate recycling, and someone must step forward to undertake the responsibility.
 
A simple mind unperturbed by gain or loss
 
Sow Lang shared, “I remember when I first volunteered in Tzu Chi, someone encouraged me to promote environmental protection on the island, but I felt that it was going to be tough. Besides, the islanders were used to littering everywhere. Such habit could not be fixed overnight, it requires persistent inculcation.”
 
Initially, the islanders could not understand why she should inconvenience herself with a thankless task; she appeared like a rubbish collector to them. They gave her funny looks and labelled her a “crazy nut” or “beggar”. Out of goodwill, some islanders advised her that it was impossible for her to clear all the rubbish on the island alone because while she was picking up rubbish, people were discarding theirs away.
 
Despite being misunderstood and rejected, Sow Lang was unperturbed and continued what she deemed was her duty steadfastly. What really concerned her were not the negative remarks or criticisms, but the increasing volume of rubbish scattered everywhere from land to the sea. Loads of rubbish would be caught in the mud when the tide ebbed, and these had to be scooped up and sorted out as quickly as possible, before the tide set in again and brought them back to the sea.
 
In the process, Sow Lang realized that the power of one was limited, and the joint efforts of other islanders were needed to promote the mission of environmental protection successfully. Thus, she began to invite her relatives and friends to join her in recycling, and shared with them the importance of environmental protection.
 
Faced with the challenges, Sow Lang said, “I only thought that I would just do what I could, and believed that so long as I persevered, someone would be touched and would lend their support one day.” With sheer determination and earnest aspiration, Sow Lang’s hard work finally paid off.
 
She discarded the islanders’ doubts with actions, and turned their approvals into motivation. To her, the true intention of environmental advocacy is to raise environmental awareness among the islanders so that everyone would work together to preserve the beauty and cleanliness of the island, rather than to collect a large amount of recyclables.
 
Setting an example with her own pair of hands
 
“Sir, can you please give me the lunch box after you have finished your meal?” Besides collecting recyclables around the island, Sow Lang would also keep an eye out for recyclables when she travels across the sea, for fear that they would be thrown out and pollute the sea. In addition to leading a life with environmental awareness, she has also gained wisdom and blessings along the way.
 
Touched and inspired by Sow Lang’s efforts, many islanders joined her in recycling activities, from collecting and sorting out recyclables to advocating environmental protection. This further strengthened her faith and determination to promote the mission on the island. Although it was not an easy task, the volunteers kept at their work with a firm belief of “whatever is right, just do it”.
 
The volunteers’ commitment and sincerity finally won recognition and positive response from the islanders. A kind soul offered to ferry the recyclables to the Port Klang jetty at no cost. Later, a donating member agreed to loan a long-vacant premises, which was formerly used by a power company, for volunteers to set up a recycling centre1 free of charge. At last, the volunteers’ wish to set up a recycling centre on the island was made possible. With everyone’s effort, it was established in October 2011, propelling the mission of environmental protection on the island to reach a new milestone.
 
Those four years, Sow Lang was touched and happy to see the islanders contributing their part, and some have even become volunteers. However, she was also worried about the increasing volume of rubbish. For that reason, volunteers started to look into the effectiveness of recycling and environmental advocacy from various aspects, and considered whether there was a need to set a long-term goal to ensure sustainability of the environmental protection mission.
 
Sow Lang said humbly, “Everyone is doing this for Pulau Ketam. The recycling statistics serve only as a reference. What is important is that the islanders gain some insight through their involvement in recycling activities and eventually make environmental protection part of their lives. This is especially important in view of the growing number of tourists. Undeniably, we still have a lot of room for improvement in environmental advocacy and education. We need the support from more islanders and visitors.”
 
It has always been the goal of Sow Lang, the volunteers and the islanders to put the educational recycling centre into its best use. Sow Lang revealed that since the team started its recycling initiatives, the volume of rubbish on the island has been reduced by 30%. This is the fruit of everyone’s labour, volunteers and islanders alike.
 
Every islander and tourist is a potential force for a cleaner island and a better world filled with kindness. It is Sow Lang’s hope that more people will come forward to support the environmental protection mission on Pulau Ketam, and work together to influence others into recycling and not to litter.
 
 
Sow Lang always feels contented when she rides her bicycle loaded with recyclables around the island. Looking up at the clear blue sky as the sunlight cascades on her face, she feels every inch of soil on her island home with all her heart, and continues to restore its pleasant environment with her own pair of hands. “Set no limits upon yourself”, that is Sow Lang’s expectation for herself.
 
1 The recycling centre was initially set up on the premises of an abandoned power company on free lease from a donating member. Later, as the ownership of the property changed hands, Tzu Chi Klang rented the premises from the new owner. To ensure sustainability of the centre, a group of philanthropists from Klang and Pulau Ketam then discussed and decided to buy the property from the new owner and donate it to Tzu Chi.
 
 
Four years on, Tan Sow Lang never grows weary of recycling. She hopes the recycling centre could inspire more islanders into the mission. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]   Apart from recycling, Tan Sow Lang is also good in cooking vegetarian dishes for the volunteers at recycling centre. [Photograph by Koh Poo Leng]

Four years on, Tan Sow Lang never grows weary of recycling. She hopes the recycling centre could inspire more islanders into the mission. [Photograph by Soh Teck Hing]
 
Apart from recycling, Tan Sow Lang is also good in cooking vegetarian dishes for the volunteers at recycling centre. [Photograph by Koh Poo Leng]
 
The recycling mission on Pulau Ketam began to flourish with the drive from Tan Sow Lang (centre), Chua Hock Boon (left) and Heng Bok Meng (right). [Photograph by Koh Poo Leng]   Tan Sow Lang is greatly motivated after seeing more residents joining in the ranks of recycling. [Photograph by Tee Kim Wooi]

The recycling mission on Pulau Ketam began to flourish with the drive from Tan Sow Lang (centre), Chua Hock Boon (left) and Heng Bok Meng (right). [Photograph by Koh Poo Leng]
 
Tan Sow Lang is greatly motivated after seeing more residents joining in the ranks of recycling. [Photograph by Tee Kim Wooi]