Monday February 4, 2013
A passion for artifacts
SHIPWRECK antiques are things that Karen Loh is not only familiar with, they have become her life’s pursuit. Her interest in these artifacts and wreckage has led her to an unexpected path in volunteer work.
Noting that the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur had a gallery that featured shipwreck artifacts, Loh decided to get involved in some way.
“I wanted to share my knowledge about shipwrecks and artifacts, and decided to become a museum volunteer. As soon as I became a trainee volunteer, the museum closed the shipwreck antiques gallery!” says Loh, 43. Today, she is president of the museum volunteers under the Department of Museums Malaysia.
Loh’s interest in shipwreck anti-ques grew into a passion over time.
“In 2006, a French woman, together with a few Malaysians, approached Janet Tee, the then deputy director of the National Museum, to start a museum volunteers group,” says Loh, a director with Nanhai Marine Archaeology, a company which specialises in the search for historical shipwrecks, underwater excavations and research into the ships and cargo.
The group started with just 15 members; Loh joined in 2008 under the second batch of volunteers.
“Today we have 180 volunteers – half are Malaysians and the rest are expats from Canada, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Switzerland and Britain,” she says.
“The Malaysian volunteers are made up of retired civil servants, history teachers and college students, while homemakers make up the majority of the expat volunteers. Besides making good use of their free time, these expats get to learn more about Malaysia,” Loh explains.
She adds that they hold “coffee mornings” in English, French and Japanese to create awareness of museum volunteers and to rope in new ones.
Volunteers are also recruited through advertisements in international schools and clubs, the local media and radio, as well as their blog and Facebook page.
“There is more awareness now compared to the early days, and we are happy that more Malaysians are stepping up. When we started, I was one of only two Malaysian volunteers!” Loh points out.
Museum volunteers are not confined to giving guided tours, says Loh. “A volunteer can be involved in library duties, secretarial work, proof-reading, translation work, or even research and conservation, which has a new team that we started last year.”
Those who work full-time but would like to get involved, can also work from home.
On her own volunteering experience, Loh recalls handling a group of 350 low-performing students a year ago. They came for a tour under the Educational, Welfare and Research Foundation which was set up to improve the social, educational and economic welfare of marginalised Indians, particularly students from poor homes.
The students were introduced to the history of Malacca through a creative presentation and participated through worksheets to answer questions.
Loh dressed up as Hang Li Po, the fourth wife of Malaccan Sultan Mansur Shah, while other volunteers came as Hang Jebat and other popular historical figures.
“We were expecting a challenging bunch but to our surprise, they were very attentive and interested. I felt a big sense of accomplishment to see such positive response,” says Loh. “The joy on the children’s faces was really rewarding to see and I just got sucked into the spirit of volunteerism. If anyone is thinking of joining as a volunteer, please come and see us!”