Society Sustainability

Cultivating Green Leadership and Entrepreneurship

  • The objective of the Sunway SILK programme is to allow beneficiaries to consider agriculture, through urban farming, as a non-conventional career pathway beyond school gates.

Society Sustainability
5 -min read

Farming once seemed daunting to teenagers Adam Bin Nevean and Muhammad Azhar Bin Sazali.

However, this changed when the two students of SMK Bandar Sunway took part in the Sunway Seeding Inspiration and Leadership Via Knowledge (Sunway SILK) urban farming project in August 2019.

One of the things Adam and Azhar enjoyed about the programme was the study trip to SEEDS Malaysia in Klang to learn about plant care and sustainable living as well as the training by Science Bridge Academy on non-conventional farming methods using micro:bit technology to monitor soil quality.

Assigned as group leaders, Adam and Azhar were tasked with managing their vegetable garden beds and the students under their care, as well as ensuring the garden’s cleanliness and safety is maintained.

“I’m now more confident in myself. The programme involved us interacting with others and doing presentations. Our mentors have inspired us to develop ourselves in whatever fields we are interested in,” said Azhar

With modern farming techniques and technology, Azhar now sees agriculture as a viable way of earning a living.

“This programme has changed my mindset towards agriculture. Agriculture involves hard work, but it is a very important field. I am thinking of getting involved in farming work at school or outside of school. I aspire to run my own farm in the future,” said Adam.

How Sunway SILK Took Root

The idea for Sunway SILK came about when Sunway came to know of a big parcel of unused land behind SMK Bandar Sunway, which is one of its adopted schools.

The proposal for an urban farming project was well-received by strategic partner and NGO Selangor Youth Community (SAY) but there was a hitch in the plans – Jabatan Pertanian Selangor (JPS) found that the soil lacked minerals and was unsuitable for growing vegetables.

“JPS suggested that we build planter boxes and put in proper soil. We had Sunway Paving Solutions donating about 1,800 pieces of pavers to build planter boxes while Tajul Green donated gardening equipment such as wheelbarrows, metal hoes, rakes, and gardening gloves,” said Vijaya Rani Vimalarajah, manager of CSR and events at Sunway’s group brand marketing & communications department.

A collaborative effort between Sunway and SAY, Sunway SILK involved students of SMK Bandar Sunway, teachers, and volunteers from Sunway, SAY and JPS learning about urban farming and managing the vegetable garden for nine months.

The programme featured workshops organised by SEEDS Malaysia and Science Bridge Academy.

Candid shot of students at Sunway SILK Programme

Vijaya Rani Vimalarajah, manager of CSR, and events at Sunway Group Brand Marketing & Communications.

“When we started this project, it was a bit tough to get the students to open up and to gain their trust in the first two weeks. As time went by, we grew closer with them and started creating small chat groups that included the volunteers as their ‘big brothers and sisters’,” said Rani, who was one of the Sunway SILK volunteers.

Inspiring Youths Through Mentorship

“Sunway SILK is more than just farming – it was to motivate youths that there are other career opportunities even if they do not do well in school. We also mentor and coach them to be responsible adults when they grow up, to be responsible for their own growth and development,” said Rani.

Sunway SILK volunteer Eleanor Choong, Sunway XFarms chief operating officer, echoed Rani’s sentiment, saying that the mentorship aspect of the programme was as important as learning technical farming skills.

Close-up shot of Sunway spokesperson

Eleanor Choong, chief operating officer of Sunway XFarms.

“It was also important for us to instil values and characteristics such as perseverance, kindness, humility, courage, and curiosity in the students. Through the programme, these students from B40 communities who did not do so well in class were taught that they can create their own non-stereotyped future with the right attitude, discipline, and commitment,” said Choong.

Working closely with the students, Sunway SILK volunteer Anwar Tawe, who is an agriculture officer at JPS, has grown fond of them. “The students have shown great interest and commitment; some have leadership traits. The agricultural approach of the programme was able to pique their interest in the agricultural sector, as well as to attend school more enthusiastically,” said Anwar.

Group shot of students at SMK Bandar Sunway

Fruits of Volunteering

Being part of Sunway SILK allowed SAY corporate communications executive Shawati Binti Abdul Galip to develop new friendships with other volunteers and the students.

A close-up shot of SAY employee

Shawati Binti Abdul Galip, corporate communications executive of SAY.

“Coming from the B40 group, the students are rarely committed to school attendance-wise. Seeing positive feedback from the school and their improved attendance due to the programme, I looked forward to continue volunteering and seeing their smiles,” she said, adding that Sunway SILK has inspired her to be more involved in social work in future.

For Choong, volunteering with Sunway SILK allowed her to see the impact of urban farming from a B40 perspective, informing her management decisions at Sunway XFarms.

“Viewing things from multiple lenses provides a clear perspective on what kind of impact we want to create through a new venture. We do not just want to sell pesticide-free produce at premium prices to purely T20 groups. Our goal is to look at how we can build and bring farms close to urban communities where we provide not only safe and fresh food, but most importantly, make it affordable for the masses. Only then can we say that we are improving our nation’s food security,” she said.

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This article first appeared in Berita Sunway Issue 74

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