An interview with our Friend of Water, Mr Fariz Mhd
If you need to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, a stroll along the tranquil and clean Kallang Riverside Park may just be what you need. As you enjoy the quiet and scenic view along the river, you might be surprised to find groups of students walking along the riverbanks, laughing and teasing each other, as they happily pick up litter.
Armed with their gloves, tongs and trash bags, the students can often be seen listening intently to various anecdotes dished out by Fariz, a member of Waterways Watch Society (WWS). Fariz started out as a volunteer in 2006. Four years ago, Fariz joined WWS as a full-time employee. His days are now spent educating students of all ages on the importance of water. Let’s catch up with Fariz to hear his personal stories on what motivates him in his environmental journey!
What inspired you to dedicate your time and effort for the water cause?
I was from Singapore Management University. The school made it compulsory for us to complete 80 hours of community service before we could graduate. To fulfil this requirement, I signed up to be a facilitator for Camp Enviro-Awareness that was organised by WWS. Although I already had a keen interest in environmental conservation, it never occurred to me that my true calling was to be a full-time environmental advocate. As I reflect back on what has nudged me to follow this path, I recall that it was having the privilege to meet some teachers who made me question my priorities in life. This incident strongly shaped my views. I remember asking myself whether I was willing to walk the road less travelled so that I could follow my heart and do the right thing. I started to realise how much I enjoy sharing our environmental history with children, the future leaders of Singapore.
I decided to have a chat with Mr Eugene Heng, Chairman of WWS. During our conversation, I could sense how much passion Eugene has for the water cause. I was drawn to WWS’s mission to bring people together to love our waters and to inspire stewardship for our environment. I felt inspired to do my part and dedicate myself to this meaningful cause.
What do you think are the reasons for WWS’s success, especially in conveying water messages to participants through camps and learning trails?
First and foremost, I sincerely believe in breaking up our audience into small groups. Only then can we reach out to them effectively. In a smaller group setting, facilitators are able to observe and assess each participant to see how much they have internalised the messages conveyed during our activities. The bigger the group size, the harder it is for a facilitator to check back and ensure that the messages are well understood. This is especially the case at large events that bring together hundreds or thousands of people. During such events, it’s impossible to be able to even speak to everyone, let alone meaningfully engage them. Thus, we always ensure small groups in all of WWS’s activities, from our biking trails to the Movement 364 initiative.
In addition, I would say that our three core principles drive our success – Interconnection, Sustainability and Ownership. First, we know that our efforts have to be holistic and broad-based because problems and solutions to water and environmental issues are inter-related. Second, when we plan our activities, we make sure that they are consistent with long-term water and environmental goals that bring benefit to future generations. Third, we believe in giving everyone a personal stake in water and environmental issues so that we will be committed to improving our situation.
On a more personal level, however, it is really about having passion for what you do and committing to your students wholeheartedly.
What is the biggest challenge that you frequently face?
The lack of manpower is perhaps one of the major challenges that my colleagues and I have to deal with at WWS. To ensure that everything can run smoothly, we need people who can stay with us to learn the ropes. However, we are quite a lean organisation. As is the case with most NGOs, we have a rather high turnover rate. Finding people who can do a good job and can commit fully is a significant problem. As there are definitely various daily operations that we need support and help with, we really appreciate all our ad-hoc volunteers.
Any last words?
As mentioned just now, I got my epiphany when I attended Camp Enviro-Awareness for the first time. I participated in a game that made me question my choices and standards. This pushed me to look inward and think deeply. It dawned on me that I have to do the right thing, even if it is not the most popular or obvious choice. Eight years have passed since then but I am still grateful for that period of quiet reflection because it had allowed me to take a defining step in my life.
I urge you to take time out of your schedule to just sit and reflect. Think about what truly matters to you. What are you passionate about? Are you giving your very best to what you care about the most? Be brave. Take the plunge. I hope that, like me, you will find the courage to be the best ‘you’ that you can be.
By Friends of Water
Friends of Water aims to recognize, inspire and encourage community stewardship of Singapore’s water resources.
A little effort from the heart goes a long way when everyone plays a part.