HOPE (Humanitarian Operations Experience) Exhibition is an annual event organized by the Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief (HADR) Research Centre of the National Defence University of Malaysia (NDUM). This year, the event was jointly organized with Humanitarian Care Malaysia (MyCARE) and Tzu Chi Foundation Malaysia, and was held in KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall in Kepong.
The event spanned three days from 12th to 14th October was filled with activities and talks by several key organizations in line with the objectives of the exhibition, which is to educate the Malaysian public of disaster management and humanitarian operations in the country.
As the morning progressed, Jing Si Hall was abuzz with sounds of people coming in from many walks of life to soak in the learnings of the day. We had volunteer workers, healthcare professionals and more importantly school and university students who came in bus loads, eager eyed and hungry for knowledge. It was indeed heart-warming to see and feel the energy of the attendees.
As the host, Tzu Chi usherers were already ready in their respective stations to meet and greet. Notwithstanding the number of visitors, the flow of people was kept in an orderly manner as they were guided to the Tzu Chi Exhibition Hall, up the ramps into the exhibition area on the second floor where 12 agencies set up booths to better connect with members of the public. In the Tzu Chi Exhibition Hall, students were reminded of our collective roles in climate change and how our actions all have consequences. Tzu Chi’s history, ethos, projects and humanitarian efforts captured the audiences’ attention through skilful storytelling from the state-of-the-art multimedia room and very carefully displayed exhibits.
Up the ramp, Tzu Chi volunteers guided the guests through a myriad of experiences covering both local and international relief work and touching on Tzu Chi’s four major missions of Charity, Medicine, Education, and Humanistic Culture. At the exhibition area, the visitors moved from one booth to another learning and absorbing the various programmes and efforts from various agencies and organizations on their respective approaches to disaster management and humanitarian relief in Malaysia. For many, adults alike, this was an eye opener as Malaysia is a fairly “safe” country, situated away from the ring of fire and one of the very few handful countries in the world that is least vulnerable to natural disasters. As a result, one is pleasantly surprised at the established disaster management and humanitarian landscape here in Malaysia.
United efforts by Malaysians
All talks were conducted in a private room which were packed with attendees of all shapes and sizes. The first talk for the day was by Zaidi Zainal Abidin of the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MET). Zaidi started with the history of the department. It was interesting to know that collection of data on weather in Malaysia started as far back as in 1893, long before independence. The speaker also spoke of the differences between natural and man-made disasters and also introduced the audience to the phone application by MET which gives information updates on daily weather forecast for states, districts, towns and tourist places, notifications on warning updates for strong wind and rough sea, heavy rain, thunderstorm, tropical cyclone and tsunami, seismological information, current and forecast radar images, satellite images and personalized favourite location for daily weather updates. The most startling chart that was shared was the incidence of “natural disasters” in the world which have clearly and steadily been on an upward climb in the last 50 years. The “natural” connotation might imply a more stable and flatter graph. However, progressive climb disturbingly begs the appropriateness of the label “natural” in the first place.
The next speaker, Ustaz Noorsyazly Rameli, was from MyCARE, one of the co-organizers. MyCARE is a Non-Profit Organization (NPO) registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) and the member of Southeast Asia Humanitarian Communities (SEAHUM). MyCARE’s humanitarian relief network covers Southeast Asia Archipelago including the Philippines, Cambodia, southern Thailand and Vietnam; war-torn countries in the Middle East such as Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq; the stateless and displaced Rohingya people, as well as disaster-stricken areas, regardless of racial and religious boundaries. It is also active in Malaysia in providing temporary shelters, rebuilding homes and provision of fresh water in the flood-stricken areas. Ustaz Noorsyazly shared about the organization’s humanitarian missions around the world and its core activities including advocacy, fundraising, humanitarian missions and training. Across the world, in eight years to May 2018, MyCARE has distributed RM104.9 million worth of food, education, production and health projects in 22 countries around the world. At the home front, its good work has attracted much attention from the local businesses with companies like Beacon Hospital ad Econsave (a local supermarket chain) lending their network for fund raising.
Next up was a demonstration by the Fire Department on how to put off a fire by using a fire extinguisher. The demonstration was held in the grounds near the entrance guard house of Jing Si Hall. Men, ladies and children had a chance to live their dream to become a fire fighter by donning the uniform and hosing down an actual fire.
Many attendees had made plans to stay the whole day and were feasted for lunch at the dining area with other Tzu Chi volunteers. This was a good platform to share vegetarianism and its impact to the world. Scientifically it has been proven that most of what we dub as “natural disasters”, are indeed natural though human contributions, through our consumption choices, increase their likelihood and intensity.
Immediately after lunch, the visitors once again congregate to attend the next talk by a Tzu Chi volunteer, Tan Soon Hock. The speaker started with showing pictures of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. He said that although he thought Malaysia was a very safe country by any measure, in December 2014, a great flood came to the East Coast in Malaysia and brought about much devastation and suffering. Soon Hock shared how over 2,000 volunteers were gathered from all main four Tzu Chi offices in Malaysia to go to several villages in the East Coast with the sole intention to help. Armed with supplies and short, medium and long-term plans for the effected victims, all volunteers commonly shared three things in their hearts, which are gratitude, respect and love. Although most of the residents in East Coast are Muslims, the care and help from the volunteers, who were mainly non-Muslims, were so sincere that racial and religious prejudice and suspicion were overcome.
Soon Hock also shared that when the heart is pure, money can be found on the streets as 5,000 volunteers all over Malaysia went out for two weeks in a row on an extensive donation drive which raised RM7 million for the victims of this East Coast flood. This is indeed truly a united effort by Malaysians to help Malaysians. The end result of this humanitarian relief is nothing but extraordinary. Houses were rebuilt, home and schools were cleaned and many benefitted from the cash they received as financial aid and from the cash-for-relief effort to buy the essentials they had that were swept away by the flood waters. Soon Hock told us that many victims took their cash and donated back to Tzu Chi creating future blessings for others. In 2015 when another great flood hit Malaysia, this time in Penang, 43 volunteers who were recipients of the Great Love in a small village, Kampung Manik Urai in Kelantan, wasted no time to go to Penang and to pay it forward.
The final event of the day involved a rescue drill by the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART). The demonstration involved “rescuing” a volunteer “victim” onto a stretcher and hoisting the stretcher via pulley ropes. In the demonstration, the stretcher was pulled up three storeys high. In spite the weather being slightly gloomy with a slight drizzle, the demonstration was a sounding success as everyone cheered the “rescue” team on.
Day 1 of HOPE ended with high spirts as attendees sound their interests to come back for the events and talks in Days 2 and 3.