Brandon volunteered with us for the Midnight Football camp held in Sumiran at the end of March. A final year student from Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak, he challenged himself to try something out of his comfort zone
—volunteering—to grow himself as a person and learn more about other people.
The Midnight Football camp is my first experience with volunteering. I stayed with the youths throughout the three-day camp at a nature retreat in Sumiran. As a volunteer, I helped out with facilitating and assisting with the programme wherever I could.
Midnight Football is a character-building programme that aims to empower less-advantaged youth through football and leadership training. This Midnight Football programme in Serian, Sarawak is funded by Yayasan Sime Darby.
In the Restaurant Challenge, the youths had to design, plan, and operate a restaurant in an hour’s time. I helped to man the “food supply store” and had the chance to interact with the participants. I was impressed by their creative sales techniques; they were very good at bargaining and getting the best prices as they had limited funds.
Besides, I enjoyed seeing how innovative the participants were in creating a sumptuous spread of mouth-watering dishes using limited resources, getting the chance to taste the dishes, and at the same time experiencing the hospitality provided by them. When I role-played as a customer at one of the restaurants, they provided me with very good service by fanning me while I was tasting their dishes.
I am not a football fan so I did not participate in the football training. While observing their training, I went into deep thought. I wondered about the outcome of their lives if they were able to be given opportunities to show their talent to the world as they are quick and dedicated learners. I am glad that these youths from the outskirts of Sarawak are getting the chance to be trained professionally by joining Midnight Football.
When night fell, participants were put to the test to overcome their fears in the Blind Trail activity. Making the situation even worse, participants had to navigate pitch-black terrain while blindfolded, relying on trust not only on their leader but also among themselves to make it through.
I remembered that one group almost fell down a steep slope, but luckily they were moving slowly and steadily and team members cooperated with each other. I found out that the participants were not afraid of the dark, and even made jokes that their village is darker than the forest. I felt sympathy for them as they are living in an environment where there is lack of electricity and are forced to study in dim candlelight.
Even though I am a volunteer, I am able to participate in the Obstacle Challenge that was held the following day with the rest of the participants where our strengths, stamina, and teamwork skills were put to the test. I suffer from a phobia of crossing rope bridges as I lost my balance and fell from a two-storey high bridge before.
However, I challenged my fear once again and took the first step on the rope. As expected, the bridge shook. I realised that the more nervous I was, the more vigorously the rope started to shake. Thus, I calmed myself down, looked straight ahead, and continued to cross the bridge. Eventually, I managed to overcome my fear and crossed the bridge.
At the slope climbing section, I was not able to climb up the slope as it was steep and slippery and my sneakers were covered with mud. After wiping off the mud, with the help of the participants, I was able to use a much drier surface to climb up. The circuit came to an end and we finished with the flying fox activity.
Next, we had a bamboo cooking activity in a bamboo forest. Once again, participants were required to work together in groups to produce dishes that were cooked using bamboo. I got to observe how resourceful the participants were in utilising their surrounding resources to ignite and maintain the fire throughout the whole cooking process. The situation worsened when there was a sudden downpour, soaking everything inside the forest.
Despite the heavy rain, participants handled this unexpected occurrence very well by protecting their fire pit with banana leaves. Finally, the dishes were ready. To my surprise, the dishes were aromatic and tasted absolutely delicious, enhanced with local native flavours. I kept in mind to keep the cleanliness of the forest by removing all non-degradable items to prevent fire hazards.
That night, I participated in the team huddle activity where participants and facilitators shared their down moments, lessons, and experience in the River of Life. One of the youths shared about losing his best friend in an accident and how he overcame his sorrow. His story touched my heart as I felt that life is not fair as what we wish for might not come true. However, we still need to stay positive and move ahead, overcoming any obstacles and most importantly, living our life to the fullest so that we won’t have regrets in old age. The sharing session ended with a joy and fun-filled songs by the campfire moment.
The following day started with a football competition. Although I did not observe the match, in my heart I was praying that all of them could perform their best during the competition, playing a fair and good game. Following the match, participants were asked to set up a Dream Board by sourcing for pictures of their idols or dream future in magazines and newspapers.
While assisting the participants, I got to interact with them, learning about their needs and giving them advice on designing their Dream Board. Most of the participants have great ambitions, such as joining the armed forces and becoming a professional football player just to name a few. However, there was one participant whose goal was to spend more time with his father who is busy earning a living for his family. His situation reflects the feeling of the young generation, where they prioritise family more than spoiling them with all sorts of materialistic items.
The camp ended with a group photo where I bade farewell to the youths. During the Midnight Football camp, I could feel the participants’ perseverance and passion towards achieving their goals, and I wish them all the best in their future.
Everyone can be a volunteer just by registering in any events that require volunteers. However, what is the main purpose of volunteering? I found the answer to this question in this camp. Volunteering is a way to feel at peace with myself, which gives me a sense of pride and identity, and helps me learn and share with other communities, creating a world where poverty and illiteracy are eliminated in society.
It was a splendid experience volunteering with Global Peace in the Midnight Football Camp. I discovered that it’s not about volunteering but about improving myself and getting to know about social issues that city dwellers like myself tend to be oblivious about. I learnt the importance of motivations and recognition in building self-confidence and paving the path to a brighter future. I feel more confident now to mingle with people from all walks of life. Never stop contributing to creating a better society.
Written by Brandon Khoo