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The ever-cheerful Wong Kum Sang at Bishan Park

The ever-cheerful Wong Kum Sang at Bishan Park

“Volunteering is a two-way traffic, we provide a service but also learn from it,” said 69 year-old Wong Kum Sang who has been volunteering as a nature guide since 1996, at the popular Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which was known as Sungei Buloh Nature Park back then.

As someone who believes that learning never stops, Kum Sang feels that his role as a volunteer guide is not merely to facilitate but also to create a safe space for learning. “My role is neutral,” he shared, “I am not here to educate or teach, but to point out what we see and spur the learning process on.”

Kum Sang, who is 69 years old and one of the oldest nature guides in SBWR, conducts tours once a month. His tours participants include people from all walks of life, from teenagers to the elderly, to foreign visitors and nature communities. However, his all-time-favourite participants are the little ones from nursery schools or kindergartens. “With them, I do a lot of story-telling and they get very excited. I create characters and plots. The stories come to life when they see plants or animals that relate to the characters in my stories,” shared Kum Sang.

An avid learner himself, Kum Sang spends a huge part of his time reading on a variety of subjects. Over the years, he has found that the more he conducts tours, the more he wants to read about newly discovered biodiversity and places. Kum Sang has since gone from conducting nature walks to heritage walks and now he does tours at Fort Canning, which offers a combination of heritage and nature explorations.

“When I volunteer in a new place, I learn more,” said Kum Sang. This desire to learn motivates him to read more, talk to other volunteers, and learn from his tour participants. He said, “I have learned a lot from the participants, especially to the interest groups and societies – they’re very knowledgeable!”

On one of his tours, Kum Sang came across the Bakau tree, which belongs to the mangrove family. He learned from his participants that the stem of the tree could be made into charcoal. This fired up his interest in the Bakau tree and Kum Sang decided to delve deeper into the heritage, properties, and characteristics of the tree – even traveling to Malaysia to visit charcoal factories to enhance his learning experience.

Kum Sang spends a lot of his free time walking around Singapore’s parks and nature reserves to keep himself up-to-date. He said, “Although I’ve walked the grounds of Sungei Buloh for over 20 years, the landscape has been constantly changing and evolving, and that is one of the reasons why there is so much beauty in Singapore.”

With so much on his plate, one can only wonder how Kum Sang finds the time to do anything else. Therefore, it is it was surprising to learn that Kum Sang also helps with conservation efforts. He brings groups of students to do coastal clean-ups and salvage mangroves at Sungei Buloh.

Kum Sang certainly leads a fulfilling and exciting life and he does not plan on slowing down. He summed it up: “There is so much we can do, it’s really about what we want to do and when we’re going to do it.”

Article by Miss Carrie Liauw, Tabula Rasa Pte Ltd