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Striking up a group Print E-mail
Saturday, 30 January 2010 13:40

Welcome to the world of Facebook, where the number of hobbyist groups is astounding, and their creators even more so.

louisa@thestar.com.my

When news of 15-year-old American student Tess Chapin’s being grounded for five weeks broke out in The New York Times several weeks ago, people were flabbergasted.

It wasn’t because Chapin’s sentence far outweighed her mistake for missing her 11.30pm curfew.

Matthias Gelber with little Husna, whose family supports his tree planting activities with their own group on Facebook called Green Hopes Eco Warriors.

It was because she had, with the help of Facebook, started a “teenage rebellion, electronic style — peaceful, organised and, apparently, contagious.”

Her group, “1,000 to get Tess ungrounded”, gathered enough support within just a few days of its start-up. Though it did not help Chapin’s campaign by any measure (her parents are sticking by their plan), it did propel this once-little known teenager to international infamy. Stranger still, people actually felt for her.

Now, a burgeoning number of people (and not to mention businesses) are taking their causes and obsessions to Facebook, where there are no rules (prompting various websites to generate their own list of “Facebook Etiquette’) and no boundaries (nine-year-olds to 90-year-olds are welcome).

This mushrooming of Facebook groups has evidently caught on even in Malaysia, where a simple search yields an astonishing stream of results from the serious (Malaysia Travel Network, Social Singles Society) to the not so serious (Malaysians Against Nasty Cabbies, Ramly Burger Appreciation Society) and the downright hilarious (Petition to Import Men to Malaysia, Why Malaysian Chinese Drama Sucks?).

While the virtues (and pitfalls) of Facebook have been trumpeted to death, many still do not know that it is also the ultimate place to take your passions further.

As enthusiasts begin to snub conventional forums in favour of Facebook, a myriad of hobbyist groups have started appearing on the site. Devotees band together from all over the world, discussing everything from wine to cameras (posting up videos and pictures to emphasise their point) with a sprinkle of light banter and mindless musings in between.

Although it’s somewhat difficult to find a group that remains active (with weekly postings and events) months after their formation, they are out there, like jewels in the rough.

That said, we are on a quest to find some of the more interesting Facebook groups created by locals for locals. Here is a list of the top five, certified as 100% original and credible by us.

Eco Warriors

Some things have the power to leave an impression on you forever: a stranger you met, a country you visited, a book you just read. For 42-year-old Matthias Gelber, it was an obscure German town where he grew up.

“Lippe was this little kampung with 500 inhabitants,” says the eco entrepreneur who has been living in Kuala Lumpur since 2005 under the Malaysia My Second Home programme.

“It was a town surrounded by nature. We’ll get snow for four months every year, and it was beautiful. But thanks to global warming, we hardly ever get snow anymore, and even if we do, it’s only for a couple of days. I could see the damage global warming was doing to it, and I knew I had to do something.’’

Eco Warriors — busy, busy, busy.

Since then, Gelber has tirelessly campaigned for the environment by changing the way he lived. He gets around on public transport and promotes the use of green technology. He also made a pledge to plant 1,000,000 trees to make up for his carbon footprint.

All his efforts were documented on YouTube, earning him the title of “Greenest Person on The Planet’’ from the Canadian environmental organisation 3rd Whale.

But these achievements weren’t quite enough for the go-getting Gelber, who wanted to get others to walk the talk.

In November 2008, he created a Facebook group with a mission to “deliver fast and comprehensive positive environmental change in Malaysia, because Copenhagen has shown that there’s only so much governments can do.” It has amassed over 3,000 members since, although this figure is rising by the day.

“One of our members has managed to organise a simultaneous planting of 85,000 trees in the Raja Musa Peat Swamp near Kuala Selangor,” he says. “We’ve also managed to recruit 10,000 volunteers to plant trees on World Forest Day.”

Aside from tree planting activities, the group also conducts recycling campaigns in condominiums, awareness programmes through educational trips to nearby rainforests and swamps as well as environmental symposiums. Their next big project? Garden makeovers for children’s homes.

“We’ll be visiting Bandar Harapan Children’s Home in Ara Damansara, KL, to turn the garden into a sustainable organic farm so that the children can learn how to grow and cultivate their own vegetables.”

But perhaps Gelber’s biggest claim to fame is that he is interested in the outcome, rather than financial or political gains.

“That’s the problem with most NGOs these days,” he says. “They’re too obsessed with being visible. I just want to get things done.”

Scubaholics Anonymous

“Alcoholic, shopaholic . . . we’re just as hardcore as the other ‘holics’,” jokes founder of the group Mohan Thanabalan, 35.

“That’s why I came up with the name. I have to scuba dive at least once a month. Ever since I was certified in 2004, I’ve been an incurable addict.”

It all started when he was a young kid.

“My uncles were certified divers. Each time I went to visit them, I would put on their tanks and flippers and waddle around their house. I thought it was the coolest thing.”

Today, Mohan, who has a day job as a marketing supervisor, says everyone (colleagues included) knows that his motto is “dive now, work later”.

Diving buddies (L-R) Peh Khaik Kew, Benjamin Choong and Mohan Thanabalan.

Even before Facebook was a faint glimmer of an idea in someone’s head, the enterprising lad had begun organising diving trips to the islands of Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia for his friends — all for a fee.

“More and more people started joining us because solo dives are no fun,” he says. “Then I created the Facebook group in early 2008 to expand our network of divers.”

To date, the group has over 350 members, 50 of whom are active and have accompanied him during recent diving trips to Mabul and Sipadan off the coast of Sabah, as well as Komodo Island in Indonesia. They’ve also had a gathering called the “Wild Teh Tarik Party” recently, to share and reminisce about diving trips in 2009. Next on their list: three days in Padang, Indonesia.

Non-divers, however, are always welcome to join the group.

“I’ve planned certification trips through Facebook for people who want to learn how to dive. Some are terrified, but seeing the thrill on their faces makes it worth my while. Of course, the most basic requirement is that you need to be a good swimmer,” he says.

To many, Mohan is already living his dream. But he has more long-term plans up his sleeve.

“I plan to take Scubaholics Anonymous international someday and get foreign scuba divers to explore the islands in Malaysia. After all, I’ve dived in many countries but Sipadan remains my favourite stop because of its sheer beauty,” he says.

“I’d also like to open my own scuba centre and resort one day so I can do it 24/7.”

Volunteer for Volunteers (V4V)

Always wanted to volunteer but don’t know how? The same predicament drove political science student Kim Manta-Khaira, 22 to start a group on Facebook aimed at “making the world a better place.”

Here’s how it works: V4V serves as a medium for volunteers, as well as NGOs and other establishments that are in dire need of volunteers like old folk’s homes, orphanages and even understaffed and under-appreciated charity gigs or theatre troupes. Prior experience is optional.

“My dad told me that no man is an island,” says Kim, whose parents are both lawyers.

“They have always encouraged my siblings and I to get involved since we were little. Today, my sisters regularly help out with NGOs, my brother works for human rights group Suaram, and I’ve been contributing to different causes, like participating in the international coastal clean-up day or becoming a facilitator for a youth conference, in between my studies. I suppose activism runs in our family.”

The idea was so simple that it’s a wonder why no other group like this existed earlier. Not surprisingly, it took off when the group was founded some time in 2008, but membership numbers (230 to date) and wall postings have stagnated since last year. Kim has since then moved on to bigger things.

“I’m currently doing something else for my university. It’s called the Green Team, and we also have a Facebook group. We’re in the midst of collecting shoes for Africa. Somebody else is handling V4V now. Many people have joined V4V but I’m not sure if anything is being done,” she says.

However, no one can deny that a group like V4V is still, by all means, necessary. All it takes is a little nudge for the group to get going once more.

As Kim puts it: “Perhaps I’ll form another group once I’ve gained more experience in social work. What matters most are, after all, concrete outcomes. And if V4V does that, then I can’t be happier.”

o The Weekender team also has its own Facebook group. Be their fan at www.facebook.com/starweekender



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