Be on time, never complain, don’t expect anything in return and always wear a smile.

This is 78-year-old Jaswant Singh Inder Singh’s advice to his fellow Kuala Lumpur 2017 volunteers.

The retired Malaysian Railways employee is a veteran when it comes to volunteering – he was a volunteer at the 2001 SEA Games (the last time Malaysia played host) and the 1998 Commonwealth Games. He has also volunteered eight times at the Ironman 70.3 race in Langkawi.

So, of course he signed up to volunteer at the 29th edition of the SEA Games – or Kuala Lumpur 2017/KL2017 – and is just waiting to find out what exactly his duties will be during the games.

“Volunteering is in my blood. I enjoy it and it is my contribution to the nation. I will keep on volunteering for as long as I can,” says the spirited father of six and grandfather of nine.

Jaswant takes his “job” very seriously because he knows, from experience, how big a role volunteers play in making sure the event runs smoothly.

“Our responsibility is great and everyone’s eyes will be on us. Everyone will also come to us when they face problems. We have to be professional in discharging our duties. We have to be patient, polite and tactful when dealing with people whether they are spectators, officials or athletes.

“And, even if we are tired or annoyed or upset, we still have to smile because it’ll affect the impression the many foreigners at the games have of our country. These are the qualities needed in a volunteer and it’s a great responsibility because, really, all eyes will be on us,” says Jaswant, drawing on his experience of volunteering at sporting events.

KL2017 secretariat senior executive officer Mohd Saiful Nizam Mohd Anuar couldn’t agree more.

Volunteers, he stresses, are integral to making sure KL2017 runs smoothly even before the event begins on Aug 19. They will be greeting foreign athletes at the airport and taking part in pre-game events. Volunteers are also often the first people spectators meet at KL2017, and the ones everyone goes to for help or information.

Their other key task is crowd control, certainly not an easy task in such a large event.

Volunteers

Some of the volunteers with Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Khairy Jamaluddin, and Rimau, the mascot for the 29th Sea Games. Photo: MASOC KL 2017

“They are truly the backbone of the event. Their role is crucial and it isn’t something we take lightly, and we welcome seasoned volunteers like Jaswant who is really an inspiration to me,” says Mohd Saiful.

The secretariat has received some 50,000 applications for the 13,000 volunteer spots available – 9,000 for the SEA Games starting on Aug 19, and another 4,000 for the Asean Para Games which officially begins on Sept 17.

A wonderful opportunity

First-time volunteers Abdul Aziz Ahmad, 24 and Kweh Ting En, 21, haven’t quite gotten over being chosen to be part of the KL2017.

“I’m really excited. I applied for a spot after my friend showed me an advertisement online. This was sometime in March and I was really hoping to be chosen. But it was only in May that I found out I was selected. I was so thrilled and called my friend immediately. This is huge!

“To be part of an event this big on our home ground … it is an opportunity of a lifetime,” says Abdul Aziz, a medical laboratory technician at the Institute of Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur.

Based on his background and profession, Abdul Aziz has already been assigned a role: He will be on the medical committee and will assist in any medical-related issues that crop up during KL2017.

“I’m excited but as the event draws nearer, I am starting to feel a little nervous too. After all, I can’t predict what’s going to happen and I hope I will be able to cope with whatever crops up,” he says.

Volunteers for KL2017 have to undergo two types of training to prepare them for their roles at the event.

Coincidentally, Aug 19 – the first day of the SEA Games – is also Abdul Aziz’s birthday and he can’t think of a better way to celebrate it!

Kweh, a former state runner and keen badminton player, was motivated to volunteer as it gives her the opportunity to not only watch the sporting events but also meet national and international athletes.

“I really want to meet them. I’m a sports lover and I especially love badminton and hope I get a chance to meet the players. Of course, being part of the SEA Games is like an opportunity of a lifetime. It will be a learning experience, definitely,” says the accounting student.

Kweh was initially assigned to be a volunteer for judo but she has appealed to the secretariat to reassign her to a sport she is more interested in: her first choice is, of course, badminton.

“They were very accommodating and have agreed to consider my appeal and I’m waiting for news on my new assignment,” she says.

Perhaps the most excited of them all is 17-year-old Alia Balqis Anuar, who is among the youngest volunteers. Although she has her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination at the end of the year, Alia was adamant to be part of KL2017.

“I can’t believe I was chosen. And I can’t wait for KL2017 to begin. I like trying new things and getting chosen to do this .. the feeling is indescribable. I’m really excited,” says Alia, whose parents were initially concerned about the disruption to her school attendance but are now supportive of her decision to volunteer. “They think the experience will be good for me. But I have to study hard, of course.”

At 17, Alia Balqis Anuar is among the youngest of the volunteers for KL2017.

Aziz, Kweh and Alia have been attending training, which has opened their eyes to the scope of their roles and they are determined not to disappoint.

“We have learnt so much already. We were taught how to respond to situations that might occur during the games. For example, if the crowd gets rowdy, we know how to handle it. Or if there is a medical emergency or one of the spectators is ill and needs medical attention, we know what to do. We were given many situations like that and the training was very practical and relevant, not only for the Games but even in our daily lives,” says Kweh.

All volunteers have to go through a general training programme where they are briefed on the history of the SEA Games, the countries participating and the sporting events taking place. They were also briefed about the event venues and the services that would be available.

After the general training, they would be assigned to the different committees (medical support, transportation, arrival and departure of athletes) and sports events scheduled – there are 11 committees, and 38 sporting events. There will be 16 sporting events at the Asean Para Games.

“They underwent general training which took place over a weekend. After the general training, they will have to undergo specific training based on their assigned roles,” explains Mohd Saiful, adding that training takes place at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s campus in Bangi, Selangor.