An Ecological Immersion Programme

“Come closer, I’ll show you…”

An Ecological Immersion Programme Organised by the Archdiocesan Office for Human Development, Kuala Lumpur

27 May 2018. On a bright Saturday morning, a group of 23 parishioners including on a stroller gathered at the Rimba Ilmu, Univeristy of Malaya getting ready to take part in the ‘ecological immersion’ programme.

“What is ecology? What is environment?” began Benjamin Ong as he introduced the participants to the nature walk. Benjamin is a research assistant at Rimba Ilmu and the founder and leader of The Rimba Project.

The objectives and learning outcomes are:

1. Participants will be able to see tropical plants up-close—many of these are rainforest species and may be difficult to encounter in the wild.
2. Learn about the diversity of tropical plants and animals, the threats they face, and what can be done to protect them.
3. See nature in action: Rimba Ilmu is a work in progress, a forest that has been regenerating and growing over the last 50 years on a former rubber plantation site.

The guided, narrated walking tour of Rimba Ilmu provides an opportunity to explore and experience the tropical rainforest with its plants and animals in an easily accessible location.

This Rimba Ilmu Nature Walk was organized as part of the ongoing 3-year Lenten Campaign theme of “Caring for Our Common Home”. This Walk lasted approximately 2½ hours which included visits to the Rare Plants and Orchids Conservatory and the Rain Forest and Its Environment exhibition.

The programme ended at the air-conditioned exhibition hall. Benjamin Ong showed a video on ‘Bats’ to illustrate a specific species and their life to help us appreciate creation. There was also an interactive dialog led by Fr. Bernard Arputhasamy, SJ, Director of the Archdiocesan Office for Human Development, Kuala Lumpur.

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Learning about home of termites at work Medium

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Fr Bernard reminded everyone about this year's Lent theme, “Caring for our Common Home.” “What did we see? Touch? Smell? Perhaps even taste? Did we hear the sounds in the forest?”

An interactive discussion followed with some responses including: seeing a millipede curl to protect itself, seeing fish in the crystal clear running stream and touching/playing with the fresh water, touching and smelling the different leaves and herbs, tasting wild fruit (at one’s own risk!), seeing a mangosteen tree (the first time for some!), listening to the sound of birds and smelling the dry leaves on the ground, seeing the frogs and tadpoles in the pond, spiders spinning its web…they all have their purpose and are interconnected.

“Come closer, I’ll show you…” repeated Benjamin earlier. He showed and explained the little mound of sand—the home of termites seen actively at ‘work’. “This is the cycle of life: we take wood from the forest and termites take the wood back from us!”

One of the highlights was the "shower" some had, thanks to the sprinklers that was turned on (timer) just as we entered the Rare Plants and Orchids Conservatory. It was refreshing, fun to stop, to touch and feel and dance with creation.

How can we show our appreciation, that we are thankful, for all that we have experienced today during the learning walk?” We see and hear of plastics, tin cans, rubbish in the stomachs of fish in the sea. Where did these come from? Let us then reduce the use of plastics in our homes and communities and churches.

Fr Bernard asked a soul-searching question: “Now that we have done this, how do we change our lives? How can we show our appreciation? Some responses were: Don't waste food, water. Don't throw rubbish such that they block drains and cause floods.

The ecological immersion echoes the words of Pope Francis, “This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience…Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (LS#49)

 By Professor Chris Kwan Hoong Ng/Fr Bernard Arputhasamy SJ


In many cities, high land use competition creates shortages of green space, which are important to healthy living environments. Yet older universities are often among the most land-rich of urban actors, having been founded on the outskirts of cities that then sprawled beyond them. In tandem with their educational capacity and mission, this uniquely positions such institutions to preserve urban green spaces and provide urban-dwellers with access to and experience of nature, and the benefits this brings.

Rimba Ilmu, Malay for “Forest of Knowledge,” is a botanical garden established in University of Malaya (UM) in 1974 to foster biodiversity conservation, nature education and tropical plant research. Situated between Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, Rimba Ilmu was set up in an attractive site (the Bukit Arang forest reserve complex) with hills, valleys and natural running streams. It houses over 1,600 species of plants on 150 acres, constituting an important green lung for the metropolitan area and a facility for nature-related education.

An oasis of tranquillity in the midst of a bustling city, Rimba Ilmu is deliberately modelled after a rainforest garden concept rather than the formal flower gardens of Europe and the West. Visitors are often surprised by how forest-like Rimba Ilmu is. A crown jewel of the University, Rimba Ilmu facilitates research and teaching at the University for biology, medical and built-environment students. It also supports the wellbeing of urban residents through provision of, and access to, green space.

Key features of Rimba Ilmu include: (1) plant collections, including medicinal plants, palms, citrus & citroids, ferns, bamboos and timber trees; (2) The Rain Forest and Its Environment, a permanent exhibition centre highlighting the importance and biodiversity of the rainforest, as well as the consequences of deforestation; (3) the Herbarium, a research and education facility with 74,000 specimens—dried plant materials that are stored systematically for taxonomical and conservation-related studies; (4) the Rare Plants and Orchids Conservatory, with over 200 living species of wild orchids and other rare plants under pressure from habitat destruction.