Volunteerism and the Relay for Life

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    Ms Batik shares with us the amazing spirit of volunteerism on display at the Relay for Life for cancer relief. Catch the action at the Youth Park in Penang on 5-6 June. 

     

    Have you heard about the Relay for Life? Well for those who have not, Relay for Life (Relay or RFL) is a volunteer-driven cancer fund-raising event originating in the United States in 1985. The event has since spread worldwide – Malaysia being the 18th country outside the USA to have the Relay, initially through the efforts of the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) Penang and now nationally by the NCSM Kuala Lumpur. The main objectives of the Relay are to raise money for cancer research and cancer patients, to spread cancer awareness, to celebrate the lives of survivors, to remember those who lost their lives to cancer, and to unite a community in the fight against cancer. In Penang and elsewhere around the world, the Relay is an overnight event where teams of people camp out and take turns walking or running around a track. Each team is asked to have a representative on the track at all times during the event. Food, games, entertainment and fun for 16 hours!

    This year, Penang celebrates its sixth RFL event (and KL has just finished its fourth). Since 2005 the RFL Penang committee, made up of volunteers, have committed their time and energy to ensure the success of the event. What is interesting is that the entire event is organised by a group of ordinary people with an amazing commitment to the RFL.

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    The volunteers in the committee have taken on tremendous roles for the event – organising the logistics, the luminaria ceremony, food stalls, games, registering participants, getting sponsors, pushing publicity, producing information, designing material and much more – working between four to five months from the launch of the campaign to the event itself every year.

    There are many working committees, one of which is the volunteer mobile squad. The volunteer mobile squad takes the RFL to the public in Penang a couple of months prior to the event. It consists of RFL committee members working with young people including teacher trainees and college students and really anyone else who wants to come along.

    Over the years these volunteers have spent hundreds of hours on their feet, talking to people, signing them up for the relay, listening to stories from members of the public who have lost their loved ones to cancer, hand pumping hundreds of purple balloons when the electric balloon pumps go on strike (oh, that was a day to remember!), leafleting the public, picking up RFL leaflets which have been discarded, wearing the purple RFL T-shirts and RFL badges, explaining the exhibition in different languages and relaying the key messages of cancer. These people have given up their weekend afternoons or evenings on many occasions to help spread the word about RFL in Penang. They have come after classes, in between their work assignments and on their days off. Many of them have told their juniors in college about the event (hence we have had a steady supply of enthusiastic volunteers every year) and others come back to join the RFL as participants the following year.

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    The volunteer mobile squad have taken the RFL campaign over the last six years to various factories, shopping malls, colleges, the youth park, the botanical gardens and this year onto the Penang Ferry (thank you Penang Port Commission). What a hoot that was! The team went back and forth over the North Channel for more than four hours distributing balloons and information on cancer and the RFL. On the Relay day itself, at least 200 volunteers will be hard at work ensuring the event’s success.

    It has been amazing to watch these young volunteers grow in confidence and gain an understanding of commitment and working with people over a short space of time. It is a blessing to see young people believe in and work towards a cause for which there is no monetary value or great publicity for them though you can see some of them in the pictures on the website. They work hard and they have fun. While some may lament the lack of volunteerism in the country, the RFL Penang committee have been truly fortunate to keep having such a fantastic bunch of people to work with. All the RFL Penang committee did was to provide these young people with a focus and an opportunity to contribute.

    So if you missed the RFL in Kuala Lumpur, worry not – you can catch the action at the RFL in Penang this weekend (5- 6 June) at the Youth Park beginning at 5.30pm on Saturday and ending at 10.00am on Sunday. Come on over and be part of this fantastic community event organised for the sixth year running by ordinary people almost all (99 per cent) of whom are volunteers. If you are not from Penang, come and experience the joy and energy of the Relay and after that, do start the Relay in your own state so that Relay For Life will soon be a national event.

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