THUMP Final Engagement : Farewells and a Mini Graduation Ceremony

On Sunday the 24th of August we had our last Food Ninja engagement day with the kids of PPR Kota Damansara. With heavy hearts we tried to make it a memorable day for the children and to leave them with a strong positive message. We have learned so much about one another over the several weekends, information and understanding that can hopefully be put to good use for any other interested group of people who wish to pursue similar activities in this particular PPR.

We had invited the children’s parents to attend the second half of this final engagement to attend the mini graduation ceremony. Prior to their arrival, we started the day with the usual “Go Bananas!”, a fond war cry loved by both the children and the volunteers.

Everyone’s favourite “Go Bananas!”

We continued with the workshop completion activity. For each engagement we gave out different exercise sheets for the children to reflect on at home, we wanted to make sure each of the children had a complete workbook that they could keep with them. We gave out hard cover pages and material so they could decorate and personalize each of their workbooks.


Workbook completion

Next up we had the fruit art activity to create art using fruit meant for the parents. We found that fruit art is also a great way to get kids excited about eating fruits. We prepared the fruits before-hand and allowed the children to pick as many different fruits as they wanted in their groups for their design. The design was a group effort and it got the children to design something together for their parents.

Fruit Art

We had a quick snack after this and waited for the parents to arrive. As most of the children are a family of five or over, it was understandable that most parents were tied up with all manner of things on a Sunday morning, we were lucky to get four parents and guardians to make it and be present for the event. A few of the children were cousins or shared a guardian and so those who attended represented more than one child each. After presenting their fruit art it didn’t take the children long at all to devour the fruit!

Fruit Art Presentation

The graduation ceremony began at around 11am. We started with a short presentation by Chris from the UNDP to explain the motive behind the project to the children and adults. Next, Charmaine from AIESEC Sunway gave a brief introduction on AIESEC and then Will from AIESEC UK gave an introduction of the five international EP’s. The interns prepared a short video montage of the project which we all watched together, the children loved seeing themselves on screen. We also selected a number of children to explain each engagement weekend through a short presentation. This was a way to show the parents what we have been doing with their children.

Summary Presentation by the children

We were also fortunate to have Sharen Lim, a UKM nutritionist graduate to give a short discussion on healthy living to the parents. It was lovely to see the parents interacting and sharing insights on getting their children to eat better. We then called each one of the children to receive their Food Ninja completion certificate, a button badge and ninja headband. After a long round of good byes and numerous group hugs it was time to say goodbye to the children. We ended with a final loud Go Banana’s and wished the children well.

Sharen, a nutritionist graduate giving a short talk on nutrition

Discussion session

We knew of course before starting the project, the risk of short term engagement and how difficult it would be to say goodbye. We hope we gave the children enough reminders of the length of the project to manage all parties expectations. We also hope that some of the messages we had shared stays on with the children. It has been an incredible adventure so far, for each and every one of us. We all started from a complete blank slate and finished with a room of 18 very happy children.

Food Ninja Mini Graduation Ceremony

You can also find out more about this project via AIESEC Sunway’s THUMP Webpage.

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.

Week 5 : Engagement 5, The Sickly See-Saw and The Amazing Ninja Challenge

We had our final Food Ninja weekend in week 5, on the 23rd and 24th of August. On the Saturday, for engagement 5 we wanted to share one final lesson with the children which was the consequences of eating too much salt and sugar.

Eating too much salt can cause hair loss and hypertension (an unhealthy heart) and eating too much sugar can give you bad teeth and diabetes. We tried to teach this lesson to the children as visually as possible, as it was new information and we wanted to leave a lasting impression.

Consequences of unhealthy eating presentation by Sam

We covered this lesson in the ‘Sickly See-Saw’ activity. First, Samanatha gave a short presentation about why eating too much salt and sugar has bad consequences using images and cartoons pictures the children can relate to. Then, Will and Sam led a mini science experiment with the children. The children were split into 4 different groups and each group were assigned different types of food to measure its sugar or salt content. We selected things that the children were familiar with and purchased frequently from the local food stalls. Two groups would measure the sugar content of Milo and the other of fruit cordial. While another two groups measured the salt content of Super Rings and Tiger Biscuits.

The Sickly See-Saw Activity

We gave each group a ‘See-Saw’ and a cup containing the same amount of sugar or salt found in their designated food. The children then had to add sugar or salt to balance the see-saw with the cup. In the end, the children had to take the balanced cup to a weighing scale to find out how much it weighed and then shared it on the board. This activity was very hands-on and the children could observe for themselves the amount of sugar and salt goes into a packet of some of their favorite food. The children were then asked to compare which types of food had more or less sugar and salt and we discussed which ones were considered healthier.
The Sickly See-Saw – measuring and balancing

Next up, we wanted to do a re-cap activity of all the things we had learned during the Food Ninja program. We decided to do an Amazing Food Ninja Challenge with the children, similar to the amazing race with different stations, tasks, and pieces of puzzle to collect. We broke the challenge down into four different station that was managed by the 5 EPs. We placed the stations in different parts of the PPR and gave each group a map to figure out just where the stations are. Each station would lead to the groups to another station based on a simple question. For example after completing a station, the station master would ask, ‘What does eating protein do for your body?’. The children have learned about the different nutrition and know that protein gives us muscles and would then have to look for the muscle station in the map. This was a way for us to keep the game interesting and organised while re-capping the use of maps with the children.

The muscle station

We had ‘Pass the Parcel’ station, where the children had to pass around the parcel until the music stopped. At each layer of the parcel the children had to act out the benefits of eating different types of nutrients. For example, if the parcel read ‘Healthy eyes’, they would have to act it out and then as a group decide which nutrient gives you healthy eyes. We stuck the nutrients options (Vitamin A, B, calcium, carbohydrate and protein onto a nearby tree for hints.

Pass the parcel – nutrient and benefit station

There was also a ‘pop the balloon’ station, where the children had to pop balloons filled with different caricatures of consequences of healthy and unhealthy eating. The children had to pop the balloons using anything but their feet and then take a picture of their caricature. They then had to discuss what causes the different consequences. This activity is based on the earlier ‘Sickly See-Saw’ experiment.

The children and their caricature at the ‘Pop the balloon’ station

Another station was a MyPlate re-cap where the children had to sort out a giant MyPlate and decide which food groups the food falls under. And the final station was a ‘Pin-the-tail’ like activity where the children took turns to be blindfolded and then had to paste their selected habit onto a healthy ninja and unhealthy monster. This was to re-cap the healthy and unhealthy lifestyle habits that we covered in engagement 4.

‘Pin the tail’ onto the healthy ninja or unhealthy monster

At east station we also distributed water to keep them hydrated and re-iterate the importance of drinking enough water. We also gave out bananas as a intermission in between the stations for the children to power up! If they completed the task at each station, the groups were a piece of puzzle, which they had to put together in the end to create a full picture. Needless to say there was a lot of running around that day but the children as usual didn’t show the slightest bit of fatigue! We wanted the children to show their initiative themselves so although each group was accompanied by an adult, they completed each station on their own and had to help each other out to complete the tasks.

Completed puzzle after the Amazing Ninja Challenge

You can also keep track of this project via AIESEC Sunway’s THUMP Webpage.

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.


Food Ninja Engagement 4

Collaborative map of PPR Kota Damansara

On Sunday, August 17th we had our 4th Food Ninja engagement day. After doing mapping and documentation on the previous day, the international interns compiled the children’s findings and pictures to create a map of PPR Kota Damansara of the healthy alternatives you can find in the area.

The first activity after an energizer game was the Map Puzzle. The completed map was divided into several sections and the children were asked to put the pieces back together in their own groups. One they had done this, they were given the pictures they had taken from the previous day to add to their piece of the map. After each group had completed their part of the puzzle, they put all the pieces together on the board to create a full map complete with pictures.

Completing the map puzzle


We had a group discussion about they types of food we had found in each stall and why they were chosen as a ‘healthier alternative’. The children could view a map they had created together and how it can be useful to other people.


The second part of the day was aimed to teach the children about healthy lifestyle habits. As we had talked a lot about what we should and shouldn’t eat, we also wanted to introduce healthy habits to have a complete a healthy lifestyle. Things such as exercise, drinking enough glasses of water and personal hygiene were some of the messages we tried to portray.


We started with a simple ‘Agree and Disagree’ game. Will from England asked the children a set of questions related to healthy lifestyle habits and asked the children to line up in the agree or disagree line. After each question we asked the children why they agreed or disagreed. This method of asking questions is something we picked up from our facilitator training workshop, as a way to do a verbal survey and one that involves movement as well to keep children interested.

Agree and Disagree – Learning Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Charades – Cutting your nails

We also had a game of charades where we got the children to act out the different healthy habits in their groups. After these two activities, the children had a better idea of what healthy lifestyle habits are. We then finished the day with a My Playe Relay race, to recap what we learned from the previous weekend about the MyPlate content and also to get the children to do simple exercises.

MyPlate Relay Race


Filling in the MyPlate to complete a round

Each child in each group are given two different pictures of food with an ‘action’ to accompany it. As the race starts the children have to take turns to get to the other side of the field and place their picture on the right section of the MyPlate. It was quite a sight to see them skip, jump, crawl and dance to the finish line! We even played the game twice because they had so much fun.

You can also keep track of this project via AIESEC Sunway’s THUMP Webpage.

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.

Food Ninja Engagement 3 : Spatial and Outdoor Mapping

A 3D Map of PPR Kota Damansara

On the third engagement day, we introduced the simple concept of mapping to the children through a series of exercises and conducted our very first mapping activity with the aim to learn about finding healthy alternatives when going to their nearby food stalls.

After a quick recap quiz of what we had learned from the previous weekend, we did a simple mapping game by asking the children to trace the outline of their hands and to write down their favorite activities on each of their fingers. We then asked the children to list out the places they play in the palm of the drawing of their hands. Based on these pieces of information we asked them to draw a line to connect the places they play with the activities. A simple ‘map’ was created that showed us and the children their common play area that can be used as reference for anyone unfamiliar to the housing area.

DSC_1171Play Area Hand Map

The next activity was a short lesson on maps. Ahmad from Egypt prepared slides of the map of the area surrounding PPR Kota Damansara and discussed what maps are used for. Besides giving us directions to places we want to go to, he highlighted that it also gives us information on all the things you can find in an area. We explained how maps are best created by those most familiar of an area to give us personal insights.



DSC_1180Collaborative mapping using the 3D Map

The next part of the lesson was to show the children an example of a spatial map. We asked them to identify the different blocks and shops in the area using recycled items such as cereal and tissue boxes. We then asked the children to pinpoint the shops they frequent to buy their snacks from. Based on their recommendations, we sent out groups of children to visit these particular shops with a ‘Ninja Quest’! The quest was a tool to make data collection fun. The children were asked to jot down and take pictures of their favorite snack and to then find a healthier alternative in the same shop. One of the checklists also included taking a group picture in front of their shop.

Ninja Quest Checklist



Each group set off with a camera and a set of frames to be used as a portable photo-booth, and each child was given their ‘Ninja Quest Checklist’. The constant rain that morning made the quest all the more challenging and exciting, luckily we had a good number of volunteers to make this possible. Two groups set out at a time with an adult and an umbrella per child while the rest of the groups stayed behind to have their healthy snack in the community hall.


One of the food stalls visited
in the area


Group picture – check!

Much needed healthy snack after the ‘Ninja Quest’!

After the quest the children gathered back in the community hall and waited for everyone to arrive. The children were then asked to list out on miniature flags what healthy alternative they had found and to explain their findings with the rest of the groups.

Sharing findings using the 3D Map

You can also keep track of this project via AIESEC Sunway’s THUMP Webpage.

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.


Food Ninja Engagement 1 & 2

The first weekend of the Food Ninja program in PPR Kota Damansara took place on the 9th and 10th of August. On Saturday, we had 30 children aged 8 – 12 join us for the first engagement activity. We anticipated a high number and prepared ourselves as best as we could for the crowd. Everything was done systematically, from entry to where they placed their shoes to registration. Based on our previous interactions we had learned that its best to have a system the children can follow for each and every engagement to keep things moving along easier.

Once the children had settled down, we started with an ice breaker. We separated the children into groups of 10 and played the name circle game, a simple but fun way to quickly get to know each others names and faces. We had a much harder time remembering their names which goes to show how sharp young minds can be!

The children and their postcards

The first food ninja activity of the day was ‘Around the World with Food’, to focus on carbohydrates and to introduce the children to the international interns. We wanted to emphasize foods that contain carbohydrate by talking about breakfast and foods we need to eat a lot of in order to have enough energy for the day. We played a short video that explained the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates and how complex carbohydrates gives you energy.

What do you have for breakfast?

We started with a short presentation by each of the interns on their country and breakfast. We decided to introduce ‘postcards’ as a teaching tool, on one side of the post card was a picture of one of the five different countries, on the other we left space for the children to write their name, age and to draw what they have for breakfast. We first got them to colour in the country side of the postcard and then to fill in the back of the postcard with help from the volunteers.

My Plate colouring

We also introduced the My Plate system, a children-friendly tool to talk about the different food groups and the portions needed on a daily basis and the different nutrients each food group provides. The children were first asked to color in different types of food to stick onto their very own My Plate and were then guided through what types of food fits into the different parts of the plate which includes a dairy section, fruit, vegetable, meat, nuts and beans and a grains section. Once they had completed their MyPlate we also gave a short introduction on the nutrients of different food groups using Sponge Bob cartoons to emphasize strong teeth in the dairy section and muscles for the meat and nuts section.

Finished My Plates – first page for the children’s ‘workbook’ that gets added to at each engagement


On the second engagement day  we started in a similar way, ice breaker – this time with a ‘Who am I?’ game. We realised grouping was an essential process in conducting the program, ensuring we have groups with a balance in age and gender. And to an extent race, as it was one of our aims to promote toleration between different races. Each group was designated a food group and in each group the children were given a sticker of a food type which they had to guess by asking the rest of the group yes or no questions. This was a fun way to learn about the variety found in the different food groups.

Incorporating a healthy snack for each engagement

‘Who Am I?’ guessing game

The objective of engagement 2 was to teach the children about the types of food we need to eat more of and less of on a daily basis. It was evident from the start of our engagements that the children had easy excess to unhealthy cheap junk food found in nearby stalls, we wanted to talk about to effects of eating such foods and to compare it to foods we should eat more of. We did a simple mapping exercise by getting the children to bring some food wrappers in for the second engagement day.

Eat more, Eat less performance by Will and Ahmad

Ninja Amy Wrapper slashing activity

We started by doing a short presentation of the effects of eating foods that are healthy and unhealthy by getting Will and Ahmad to act out what happened when they ate such foods. Will exemplified strength and energy by running around the room and lifting heavy objects while Ahmad acted slow, tired and weak in comparison. We then introduced Ninja Amy, who detests unhealthy foods and would slash unhealthy wrappers. Using a board labeled ‘eat more’ and ‘eat less’ we asked the children to line up with the wrappers and await the verdict of Ninja Amy of where they could place their wrappers.


Unhealthy monster collage

We ended the day with a collage activity, getting the children to take turns in creating an ‘unhealthy monster’ which would then be decorated with using the unhealthy food wrappers. We first did a quick drawing exercise by passing around pieces of paper for children to draw on to design a monster together. The idea was to ensure children did not feel insecure in drawing and to feel free to explore as much as they wanted to. The end results were pretty spectacular and scary monsters!


You can also keep track of this project via AIESEC Sunway’s THUMP Webpage.

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.


THUMP Week 3: Facilitator Training Workshop

This week, Chow Kit Kita conducted a 2-day facilitator training workshop, specifically for this project and to help us deal with some of the concerns we had encountered after executing the small-scale soft-launch activities. Fahmi Redza and Pik-Svonn, who both have years of experience working with different communities and who have also done numerous facilitator trainings ran an intensive and eye-opening workshop on being a facilitator and working with children.

Fahmi explaining the difference between a teacher and a facilitator

On day one, after an expectation management check, we started with the fundamental question; what the role of a facilitator is and how it defers to that of a teacher. Fahmi and Pik-Svonn used a range of methods to pass on their message, such as index cards, spatial surveys, games and verbal discussions. They also gave us some useful ideas for games to play as ice breakers, energisers and focus games.

The training was very hands-on. Each of us had to conduct a specific game after which we would have a discussion session to talk about what went wrong and how it could be improved. We accumulated invaluable tips after each and every game. Some of us were also given a choice of topics to lead a group discussion. What we didn’t know was that in each discussion a participant was given the role to distract the group, another extremely handy skill we picked: dealing with negative participants.

One of the many game we played

Day two of the workshop focused on understanding how to create fool-proof lesson plans. Using a card sorting method, Fahmi and Pik-Svonn did a run through of the activities we had done on the first day of the training. Through that we could see a pattern emerge: activity, method, objectives. Pik-Svonn pointed how many people make the mistake of focusing on the activity, and how crucial it is to always go back to the objectives.

Using index cards to understand how to create a lesson plan

The interns got a chance to pilot some the actual activities they plan to do with the children. For each activity, two of the interns played the role of the facilitator while the rest of us did our best efforts to simulate being the 8-12 year old participants. After each pilot, we were given feedback and tips for improvement. We learned how important running pilots are as so many things came up which we hadn’t anticipated, it was a good opportunity for us to iron out the kinks in the activities. In terms of timing as well, there is no guarantee of knowing how long an activity will take unless we test it out. All in all we gained so much from the facilitator training and would like to thank Chow Kit Kita for their time and effort for making it such a great workshop!

Chow Kit Kita Facilitator Training Workshop

After the workshop, the Food Ninja’s made another trip to Kota Damansara to distribute flyers after school. The playgrounds were bustling with children and teenagers, some of the more cheeky ones still had some ‘bunga api’ left over from Raya. Most of them were aware of the program which indicated success of our first launch but it was good to give them more clarification and to notify those who didn’t know. And of course, we wrapped up our trip with a game of football.


Flyer distribution and a game of football

The children seem really excited and it was nice that they could already recognize us through their acknowledgments. We are now doubling our scale for the first engagement in anticipation of a much higher number than expected, but thanks to our training and preparation, I think the Food Ninja’s can handle it.

Stay tuned next week for an update of our first official Food Ninja activity happening this weekend!


You can also keep track of this project via AIESEC Sunway’s THUMP Webpage as the project unfolds.

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.

THUMP First Site-Visit and Soft-Launch

It’s been nearly three weeks since the interns arrived and we are now prepared for the first official event which is the first engagement activity with the young residents of PPR Kota Damansara happening this Saturday and Sunday. We have made a lot of progress over the last two weeks, as project manager and for the project as a whole. We are currently preparing for our first engagement activity happening this weekend at PPR Kota Damansara. So far we have done a site-visit, numerous brainstorming sessions and even a facilitator training workshop to prepare for it.

Amy from China sharing her experiences of working with communities at the PPR site visit (Photo courtesy of Charmaine Wong)

On the 26th of July, the weekend before Raya, the team and I made a site-visit of PPR Kota Damansara, the first of many for the international interns during this trip. As a local, even I was taken aback on my first visit. The interns dealt with the experience well, even maintaining composure during the ongoing explosions of ‘bunga api’ throughout their visit marking the closeness of the Raya celebrations.

Presentation by Jeffrey from Friends of Kota Damansara

Jeffrey from Friends of Kota Damansara gave a brief presentation of the story behind his NGOs relationship to the PPR and of the ongoing efforts a collection of NGOs has been doing over the years. He shared some nice stories and some very real and harrowing stories that inevitably paint the full picture of the PPR and the living conditions of the residents. We were also given a tour by Ganesan, a young resident who will be helping us with logistics throughout the project. As it was a few days before Raya Jeffrey had some ‘kuih raya’ to distribute to some of the residents, on numerous accounts we were invited into their humble homes.


After visiting the PPR and meeting some of the young residents we would be working with, the team had a better idea of how to refine the activities and to make it more suitable for our target audience. In the brainstorming sessions we focused on creating a group identity related to the theme of the activities which focuses on a healthy food and lifestyle. We came up with the name ‘Food Ninja’ to identify the program with a banana ninja mascot to accompany it. As we hope to educate and engage with the children in an informal manner, it’s important to note from the very beginning of the project that we do not intend to create a ‘classroom setting’, but instead a fun and safe environment to play, learn and convey a positive message.

Brainstorming session at the PPR

On Sunday, the 3rd of August, we did a soft-launch with the young residents of the PPR. Our aim was to distribute and post up fliers and posters of the project to notify as many potential participants as possible. We also conducted some activities with the children, in the morning we had a banner painting session and some games after lunch. The interns designed the Food Ninja banner to be painted on beforehand to be used throughout the project as our official banner.

Banner Painting (Photo Courtesy of Charmaine Wong)
Toaster, Mixer, Elephant game (Photo courtesy of Charmaine Wong)

Musical Animals Game

Initially we just wanted to get the children interested in our project, but we ended up learning so much from doing this soft-launch. We experienced some kiddy tensions and experienced some group dynamics, relating to gender and race, things we would not have anticipated until we had experienced it first hand. These are some of the things we have taken into account in carrying out the Food Ninja project. We also realised how important having a thorough lesson plan is, especially with a big group of facilitators and in managing time.

Group photo with the Food Ninja Banner

You can also keep track of this project via AIESEC Sunway’s THUMP Webpage as the project unfolds.

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself


Cultural Mapping Workshop, Week 1 of THUMP

AIESEC Sunway team and international interns at the THUMP Cultural Mapping Workshop (Photo courtesy of Charmaine)

This week marks the start of THUMP, The Urban Mapper Project as we welcome the arrival of the foreign AIESEC Interns. There is Kharisma from Indoensia, Samanata from Nepal, Ahmed or as he prefers, Shimy from Egypt and Amy from China. The final member of the team, Will, is on his way from the UK at this very moment.

The local team met with Chris Choong and Sophie from the UN Staff Association last Friday to have a final run through of the project. It was an opportunity to also get to know the local EP buddies, students who will be accompanying the international interns’ through-out the project and play an important role of translating and mediating their transition. Sophie who is currently interning at UNDP shared some of her experiences in studying anthropology and how she may be able to assist us especially in the aspect of entering a ‘foreign landscape’ for a project and to not hold prior prejudices or judgement.

Ice-Breaking Session (Photo courtesy of Charmaine)
Yasmin Lane from #BetterCities conducting the THUMP Cultural Mapping Workshop

On the 23rd of July, we conducted the THUMP Cultural Mapping workshop at Sunway University. The workshop covered the fundamentals of cultural mapping, it’s processes and motivation as well as case study examples of groups in Malaysia that have conducted a mapping exercise as part of community-engagement activities.The idea was to give the students different perspectives of ways mapping can be used. For most of the interns, it was a new process all together. Samanata commented how she believes Cultural Mapping would be especially useful for where she comes from, Kathmandu, as there are significant cultural assets that can be mapped by the community.

The workshop also included doing a hands-on mapping exercise where the interns were asked to first draw pictures that symbolises their childhood. Next, they were asked to draw things that symbolises their current day lives or future hopes and were then asked to explain to their partner what the symbols meant, and to draw links if any of the first set of symbols was connected to the other. It was an enlightening experience to see how such a simple exercise could reveal so much about a person, from their childhood fears to their ambitions, mapped out for the group to see. A number of the interns had strong links to wanting to travel and explore the world, which could reveal what brought them to Malaysia for this project in the first place. The ‘memory map’ is an activity inspired by Arts Ed Penang who were kind enough to share many of their valuable resources with us.

Kharisma sharing her ‘memory map’

In the last half of the workshop, we focused on synchronising an internal timeline for the project. The local team and I have done the leg work of meeting relevant stakeholders, understanding the gaps and needs of the community and finalising engagement dates, now it’s time to fill those activities with comprehensive content. We decided that the theme of the project would, “Creating awareness of a healthy diet and lifestyle through colour and art”. Within that theme several activities had been explored, but first the team has decided it’s crucial to have a better understand of food and nutrition, so all activities carry an on-going theme throughout the project. As far as a first brain-storming session goes, the interns handled it really well. They were proactive in delegating tasks to complete before our next session.

Team brain-storming session

We plan on conducting a facilitator training sessions for the interns and Pik-Svonn from Chow Kit Kita has agreed to share some of resources with us. I’ll be meeting her tomorrow to find out more. And on Saturday the interns will be meeting with Jeffrey Phang of Friends of Kota Damansara at their very first site-visit of PPR Kota Damansara!

You can also keep track of this project via AIESEC Sunway’s THUMP Webpage as the project unfolds.

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.



Thump, The Urban Mapper Project : Week T-1

Panel freeze, text wrap, page breaks. I am happy to note that to some extent I have mastered the art of efficiently using Microsoft Excel. Okay, so maybe my days of project management are just beginning but I’ve definitely picked up a number of handy skills in preparation for the 6-week project #BetterCities is co-ordinating in PPR Kota Damansara.

This year, we have taken a closer look at the urban vulnerable groups in our city starting back in March when we had #BetterCities talk series on the influence of policy and design in social housing. In the process of organising the talk, through selecting the speakers and understanding the issues, we learned more about the People’s Housing Project (Projek Perumahan Rakyat or PPR). PPR is a housing scheme provided by the National Housing Department for low income households in Malaysia. PPR’s usually take the form of high rise flats between 5 to 18 floors situated in different parts of the city, some central and some on the outskirts. Each PPR has its own demographic, set of politics and stories.

We were approached by the UNDP sometime in April to assist in programming a project in a PPR with AIESEC. As a global youth network, AIESEC conducts summer community-engagement internship programs for students in different countries around the world. For this project we have partnered with AIESEC Sunway and will be working with selected interns from Indonesia, Nepal, England, China and Egypt.

#BetterCities has programmed ‘Thump, The Urban Mapper Project’ which is a mapping based activity centered on the issue of food and nutrition with children aged 8-10 in the PPR. The activities are mostly arts based which inadvertently tries to understand what kinds of nutrition sources the children are getting or lacking as well as health implications this may have, all while introducing a healthy lifestyle and diet. Over the next few weeks I’ll explain the activities in more depth as they take place. The project officially starts on the 21st of July and ends at the end of August 2014.

The AIESEC team at a Brown Bag Session at the UNDP explaining cultural mapping using LostGens’ Pudu Community Map as one of the examples.

Some of the early preparation involved meeting with different NGOs that work closely with PPR Kota Damansara to better understand the needs of the community and its networks. Friends of Kota Damansara (FoKD), Gempaknya My Community (Bumblebee) and Community Excel Service are some of the many NGOs that are doing a range of different ongoing good work in the PPR. We also met with LostGens’ and Arts-Ed from Penang, two groups with years of experience in community art projects and community mapping to exchange ideas.

Jeffrey from Friends of Kota Damansara giving the AIESEC team a tour of PPR Kota Damansara

The decision to map food and nutrition was made after meeting all the different stakeholders and after a series of observations. Other areas of interest that came up were issues such as hygiene, safety, social mobility and racial dynamics. Given the time, scale and context of this project however we felt that food and nutrition would be an interesting issue to creatively explore especially with children.

AIESEC team giving a geography lesson to the children of PPR Kota Damansara after their Sunday English class (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Phang)

Among some of the skills the interns will be picking up is filling in lesson plans for the activities, learning how to engage with the children and using English as a second language with the help of translators. I for one can’t wait to finally get started and meet the kids. I will be keeping track of the progress with a weekly blog post update, be sure to stay tuned for more!

Yasmin Lane is the research lead at #BetterCities. She graduated with a degree in International Relations and has since shifted her interest from the people and institutions that make up the city to learning new ways of shaping and improving the structures of the city itself.

Living carless in KL city

Our design intern, Lay Sheng responds to Jia-Ling’s recent article, “Unpacking the KIDEX Controversy” on his experiences living carless in Kuala Lumpur having lived in Singapore for six years.

Navigating through Kuala Lumpur’s traffic gridlock is like attending a massive funeral procession that moves forward in a slow crawl. It is a gathering of strangers who keep to themselves. Each one of them feels this lingering depression, simmering anger despite the air-conditioned interiors in our cars, and go through the occasional outburst of emotions in the form of a ‘honk’. The death is inevitable. Kuala Lumpur could not have survived the massive clogging of its artery.

KL Traffic(photo by Okui Lala)

We believe that owning a car empowers us. Sure, getting anywhere you want with such ease is the hallmark of freedom and adulthood. But the ownership of an automobile inevitably means we are constantly chained to it like a slave is to its owner. We are the slaves. We work manually to drive it, clean up the dirt accumulated in its system over the weekend, and we care obsessively about its health and safety. Correct me if I am wrong, but a driver’s mind is always pre-occupied with thoughts like I need to get my car parked under a shade, Is it safe to park here? Will my windscreen be damaged by other cars? This kind of preoccupation with the state of your car disengages us from our surroundings and shuts off your minds to the many delights of travelling that.

Navigating through Kuala Lumpur’s traffic gridlock is like attending a massive funeral procession that moves forward in a slow crawl.

Moreover, where we want to go is not a choice. In our city, it is dictated by big developers who built roads in a certain direction, shopping malls that are strategically placed to be reached easily. We will never be able to go to places only reachable on foot. Owning a car is buying into a way of life designed by the developers. Now, we purchase our goods from big retail parks located in the outskirts of town (think Johor Premium Outlets), buy houses in Shah Alam just to travel all the way to Kuala Lumpur for work and justify a way of life that punishes the minority of KLites who walk and cycle. Our freedom is confined to the choices made possible by the powerful elites within the developer circles. Our freedom is built on the misery of the cyclists and pedestrians.

Cars, cars everywhere

(photo by Okui Lala)

35% of Malaysia’s consumption of fossil fuel goes to powering its cars. All of us are indirectly murdering a third world family by continuing our unsustainable dependency on our automobiles. By contributing to global warming, we are arguably worsening the already deadly impact of typhoons and increasing the rate of desertification of arable land, denying farmers the ability to support their families. Just because the immediate impact of global warming does not affect the comfortable middle class amongst us, it does not mean we can absolve ourselves from all the responsibilities of protecting our more vulnerable brothers and sisters and the sins of having been part of such atrocious crimes against humanity.

Why do we believe so gullibly that ownership of a car would guarantee us freedom?

When I first returned from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, I remained in my house for a long time. It was partially due to the phobia of stepping out of the house and exposing myself to the discomforts of travelling around. During that period, the newspapers reported multiple murders in broad daylight and my parents kept cautioning me about being alone in the city. Crossing the road was a hazard because death could be just around the corner, the KTM was a hotbed of crimes like pickpocketing and robbery, Malaysian taxis are famous for over-charging its passengers and the public bus only stops once every hour outside my housing area. But the boredom of being at home finally forced me out of the compounds of my house. I adjusted slowly to the rhythms of life in Malaysia and found ways to adapt to the deplorable state of public transport in Malaysia. Walking became my main mode of getting around between places not served by public transport. While my cortisol levels must have gone up by leaps and bounds battling car drivers who mistreat walkers, I have also found sanctuaries within the city not accessible by car. Walking became much more than a means of travelling around the city, it became an experience itself.

Walking allows me to be immediately connected to my surroundings.

Through all the solitary walks, I became infinitely more aware of my own existence in a metropolis teeming with people like Kuala Lumpur. Strangers who walk are friendly to each other. A smile, a nod or a greeting to people we see everyday while going about our same routine, is what binds a community together. In our cars, the customary form of greeting is a ‘honk’, and one can never distinguish if it was meant to nudge other drivers or if it was a friendly ‘hi’ replaced by the piercing mechanical scream of a ‘honk’. The kinds of interactions that exist on the roads are devoid of emotions and language. It takes places between unfeeling, inorganic machines. Drivers on the road will never feel a sense of community as pedestrians on the streets do. On the road, each driver is an isolated being sheltered from the noise and heat outside in the air-conditioned interiors of their cars.

But eventually, taking public transport and walking under the scorching hot sun became intolerable. The initial novelty of travelling around a city I was not familiar with has slowly worn off. Commuting to work took more than an hour and the dread of waking up every morning got worse. I became increasingly disillusioned with taking public transport and slowly substituted my commute with private taxis. I can’t wait to get out of this city.

An all-encompassing solution to our traffic problems cannot of course rely solely on the improvement of our transport systems. On top of measures to improve our rail transit and public buses, the landscape architecture and urban design of KL should also be prioritized. The psychology of walking on the streets, the perceived danger of venturing out, and tackling the heat and noise pollution on the streets are just some of the areas we can begin to focus on. The government, no matter state or federal, cannot continue the trend of building more highways to solve congestions. It is time for the citizens to be more vocal about KIDEX.

Lay Sheng is an architect to be from KL. He understands the benefits of scale in cities and would like to see most cars removed from KL roads. He is an urban explorer who traipses around KL on the weekends to reconnect with his Malaysian roots as a newly minted critical thinking adult. He currently interns at #BetterCities.