The Tapak Expo Cinta Sayang, Sungai Petani, was a buzz. Buses were pulling out
of the place towards many destinations in Kedah. Parents and children were
hugging each other. It was the 27th of December, 2008. Karishma, Teoh Winny,
Syazana, Ashley and Kirtana were also there, waiting to board their buses to the
Damai Park Resort in Merbok, Kedah. These five girls from Sekolah Menengah
Kebangsaan Convent Father Barre, Sungai Petani, were among the first batch of
trainees for the 2009 National Service Training Program which would end on 11
March 2009. Apprehensive as well as excited, the five friends were also grateful
that they were going to the same camp and the camp was only 20 minutes' drive
from their homes in Sungai Petani.
As soon as the bus left Sungai Petani, a
fascilitator handed out RM5.00 to each trainee as allowance for their breakfast
for the day. The trainees will be paid RM450.00 at the end of the three months,
with six meals a day prepared at the camp and activities from 7.00 a.m. to 10.00
p.m. They also have a rest period in the evening.
There was registration and division of the trainees into groups or
'companies' when they arrived at the camp nestled in the Bujang Valley amidst
lush jungles. The boys and girls were housed at different dormitories. Before
they went to leave their things in the dormitories, they had to buy locks for
their lockers. The trainees were given towels, uniforms, belts, shoes and
T-shirts. Each dormitory housed 28 trainees. There were nine bathrooms and
toilets at each dormitory.
Although homesickness was a common ailment among the trainees, the activities
they had to carry out each day made the trainees become more and more involved
in their day-to-day activities. There has been a lot of improvement in this area
since the program was implemented. Parents of trainees could visit them for a
few hours on Saturdays, handphones of trainees were returned on Thursdays and
collected back on Saturdays. There were many public phones in the area and calls
can be made on weekdays during their rest time. All these aspects have reduced a
lot of tension, homesickness and tears among the youths. Moreover, there was a
cooperative store which sold titbits and other necessities. Food was good at the
Damai Park Resort, the trainees were not complaining, or suffering from food
poisoning or diarrhea which occurred in some other camps. The fascilitators were
understanding disciplinarians with compassion. Despite all the negative reports
in the newspapers and by past trainees, Karishma and her friends found
themselves enjoying the programme.
The National Service Program, which was implemented in 2003, with a
three-month program, was aimed at bonding the youths of Malaysia together and
create a Malaysian nation as the problem of racial polarization was found to
pervade educational institutions in Malaysia. Besides developing racial unity
and national integration, the program is designed to increase patriotism among
the younger generation, produce positive attitude based on good values, boost
the spirit of volunteerism and create a new generation who are energetic,
vibrant and full of confidence.
All these objectives are to be achieved through modules on physical, nation
building, community service and character building. The physical module aims to
develop high endurance and strength in the area of mental, discipline,
self-confidence, teamwork, leadership and friendship through activities like
flying fox, abseiling, obstacle race, water sports, marching, unarmed combat and
exposure to handling of firearms. To create and instill the spirit of sharing
and serving the community is the objective of the community service program.
While the nation building module aims to develop the spirit of love and care for
the country, the character building module develops self-exploration,
self-esteem, leadership values and challenge management skill.
The youths were randomly selected out of 450,000 youths in one particular
year, through a computerized process. Conscripts are 18 years of age and picked
from the national database that includes all citizens registered with a
Malaysian identity card, whether born locally or overseas.
At the end of the 10-week stint, the trainees agreed unanimously that the
program developed an individual's confidence, improved social skills and
enhanced discipline. Most students agreed that they were glad to be selected and
Syazana said, 'I would recommend it to all Malaysians youths.' Karishma summed
it all, `Apart from making students realize the importance of our potential
contributions to the nation, the experience I gained from this training has
added value to my life.'