31 March 2021

How one student club weathered the First Coronavirus Year

By Dr Christina Yin

“How relevant is conservation to you?”

It is January 2020, and five university students are sitting on a panel being moderated by a sixth student before an audience comprising representatives from a range of organisations including corporations, nongovernmental organisations and the United Nations Development Programme.

The students represent Swinburne clubs and societies such as the Dance, Debaters’ and Green Clubs as well as the creative writing community and they are speaking up, telling the older generation what conservation and the environment mean to them. This forum, Voices of the Youth for Conservation has been brought together in the wake of Greta Thunberg speaking up to persuade lawmakers and leaders to take action to prevent further environmental degradation and irreversible climate change.

The following month, the Swinburne Sarawak Green Club is once again working in full swing at the 15th Swinburne Sarawak Inter-School Debating Championship, hosting a Green Club booth, Green Club Kahoot quizzes and encouraging secondary school students from around the country and region to write their thoughts, hopes and dreams on the Tree of Life in between debate rounds over three days.

Then comes the shutdown. The government issues the Movement Control Order and the campus is closed to staff and students. All classes are converted from face-to-face to online and everyone is forced to stay at home. The Coronavirus Year has started in Kuching and life will never be the same.

But the Swinburne Sarawak Green Club does not succumb to the apathy and lethargy that grip many along with real fear and anxiety. The next exciting series of events planned in conjunction with the university’s 20th anniversary, Eco Nights, can no longer be held in person. But the club’s executive committee, led by President Elwin Chan Kok Wei, works out how events can continue.

Over the next few months, the club organizes Earth Hour Instagram and Twitter competitions, monthly online Kahoot quizzes, and three talks covering a range of conservation issues from community gardening, beach clean-ups and living sustainably to orang-utan conservation and World Clean-up Day.

To do this, the Swinburne Sarawak Green Club collaborates with other clubs and societies such as the Leo Club of Swinburne Sarawak and the Swinburne Sustainability Society at the Melbourne campus, and works with conservation organisations such as the Kuching Beach Cleaners, Sarawak Eco-Warriors, and the Sarawak Forestry Corporation.

In addition, the Club also collects old electronic gadgets for recycling and donates Paplets (notebooks made from paper used on one side) to SK Pelaman Sidunuk where students are happy to be given the simple resource to practice their writing and teachers are able to use them for their own notes.

Life must go on during the First Coronavirus Year; I call it the First Coronavirus Year because we are in our second year, now and though the vaccine is in sight, there are many variants of the virus emerging in different parts of the world. This virus is resilient and adaptable and so must we be if we are to survive what looks like an increasingly apocalyptic world.

How can we pick up the mantel that the Swinburne Sarawak Green Club has shown us? A Student Club kept going despite the bleak world that emerged in the pandemic. This club’s motto is Conservation Starts at Home and the executive committee members practiced this and more. They persevered even as they worked to adapt to online lectures and tutorials, virtual meetings with team members and trying to find quiet space at home to continue their studies.

If life was hard for adults in the First Year of the Coronavirus, let’s give some thought to the team of students who kept going through the early dark days of the pandemic all the way throughout the year and now, in the first quarter of the Second Year of the Coronavirus. The students’ optimism has been and continues to be buoyed by their excellent team spirit, supporting each other through the ups and downs, encouraging each other through scraggly hair days (no haircuts) and being separated in different states.

They can no longer go on field trips or on regular beach clean-ups, meet in-person to create Paplets for needy communities but try to work on what they can at home. They’re working on new projects for the year and so must we all. True, we must worry about bringing home the bread (or rice) and meeting our KPIs or supervisors’ expectations, but I think we can strive to keep our spirits up and to focus on what we can do, rather than what we can’t.

We can’t put our lives on hold because of a virus. So, I’ll ask myself this question: What can I do while I live in the era of the pandemic?

Be a good teacher even if I still can only meet my students online.
Encourage my students to be more than just be receptacles of knowledge and information; help them to think critically and ask questions.
Provide my students opportunities to interact with each other outside the virtual classroom.
Help my students to improve their soft skills and to understand the need for conservation through the Debaters’ and Green clubs and the creative writing community.
Strive to improve my own knowledge and skills.
Care for others and have great empathy.
I won’t let a virus get me down.

Dr Christina Yin is a senior lecturer in the School of Foundation Studies at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. She can be reached via email at cyin@swinburne.edu.my.