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Historic moment as pupils from two Malaysian schools join in Youth Strike for Climate

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Anil Netto reports on a new wave of environmental awareness sweeping among the youth of southern Penang.

A wave of environmental consciousness is sweeping across young people in southern Penang Island.

Pupils from two schools in Malaysia created history this morning by becoming the first Malaysian schoolchildren to participate in the Youth Strike for Climate global campaign, which is taking places in a series of Friday protests around the world.

The Sungai Ara Tamil primary school organised a “postcard-making competition against climate change” this morning with over 100 pupils participating. Five winners of the postcard competition were awarded prizes and lots of small consolation prizes too.

Half way through the event, heads turned when another hundred pupils from the nearby Al-Itqan primary and secondary schools, accompanied by teachers, trooped in.

They had come to join in the youth climate event bearing the theme “Climate Strike for Better Future” in a rare but welcome show of multi-ethnic unity of purpose.

At first the pupils from the two schools, seated on the floor, chanted slogans in separate groups in the open-air hall.

The Tamil school pupils were joined by pupils from the Al-Itqan School nearby

But then they came together and enthusiastically chanted, “Climate justice!” “Selamatkan bumi kita!”, “Save our planet!” and “No climate change!” As they moved together as one group, rain began to patter against the zinc roofing like showers of blessing.

History is made in Penang

The Tamil school principal, Sangga Sinnayah, the enthusiastic driving force behind the project, said his school had worked hard to instil environmental awareness among the pupils with a range of green initiatives. (That is really another story.) He said teachers and pupils were concerned as they themselves could feel the weather getting hotter these days.

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So Penang folks can take credit for being the first state in the country to have its schools participate in the Youth Strike for Climate global protest.

But the irony is that the coast off southern Penang Island is the site of a highly controversial land reclamation project spanning 4,500 acres. The reclamation site covers major fishing waters where 3,000 licensed fishermen cast their nets while a few thousand more unregistered fishermen and fishing enthusiasts will also be hit.

Southern Penang Island will also be affected by the six-lane Pan Island Link Highway, which will fly over – and degrade – the Sungai Ara Linear Park and worsen air and noise pollution.

The park in Sungai Ara is the pride of the local community, and its visitors are alarmed by the plan for the highway. The Sungai Ara River, which flows through the park, boasts the cleanest river water in the country. But if the adults have their way, the river will have to be straightened, and ugly pillars will sprout by the banks to support the overhead highway, marring the visual impact of the park. Fumes and noise from passing vehicles will disrupt the serenity of the park.

Balik Pulau, a short distance away, is also no longer the tranquil oasis it once was, as it has not been spared ‘development’ of the concrete-and-asphalt variety. The pace of this sort of ‘development’ is expected to quicken in the months ahead.

It makes you wonder what this new generation of young nature-lovers in southern Penang Island will make of the ecologically damaging plans cooked up by a small group of adults – and left behind as their legacy.

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