If You Want To Bend Bamboo, Start At The Shoots.

Two massive pipes cuts across the green backdrop of a residential area, like fallen timber covered in chrome. I look up to catch a glimpse of the iconic quartz ridge of Bukit Tabur, barely visible under the early morning glow of cobalt blue. The GPS was supposed to bring me to a river, not a sewage pipeline.

I drove down another smaller road, this time into a kampung and sure enough, there was a small, clear stream. Just as I parked my car, a few cars stopped behind me. The muhibah gang has arrived. They were here for an open classroom program to better understand about the rivers of Kuala Lumpur and conversation efforts with about 40 students from three primary schools around Melawati, and 45 volunteers from Standard Chartered Bank.

Leading the charge was Dr. Dilipen, president of the Society of Eco Greater Melawati, who starts his speech with a much needed explantion, "This is where it begins. Raw water is channeled down to the treatment plant in Bukit Nanas and then distributed to the city."

The 'sewage' pipes I met earlier was in fact the intravenous line keeping the city alive. Dive to the bottom of the reservoir and you will find a masjid, a school and about thirty houses around it. This is the original Kampung Klang Gate, submerged when the Klang Gate Dam was constructed in 1957. The villagers all relocated to the Kampung Klang Gate Baru(New Klang Gate Village), as it still stands today.

In 2005, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak, then the Deputy Prime Minister, visited the Klang Gate Dam Recreational Park and declared it as a State Heritage Park, permanently preserving the reservoir and the surrounding area.

"Every year, when the water level is too high, especially during the rainy season, the siren will ring six times and they will open the dam. This small river will rise up and everything here will be washed away." Explains Sarip, pointing at the little dams and ponds made with stones. He is part of Persatuan Taman Rekreasi Kampung Taman Warisan, tasked with safeguarding the entire area.

"People have told me to dam the river with concrete structures but I said no. Everything must be 100% natural. If every year the stone dam is washed away then it's okay. I'll do it again. As long as the place is preserved."

From kampung to bandar, the Klang River changes drastically. It is here that the stream quickly turns into sludge, polluted by rubbish and sewage from residential areas, restaurants, schools, industries, in Melawati and beyond. Bandar. The sweet sour word for progress, modernity, and inevitable destruction and exploitation.

"We can't expect the government to be doing everything. If you want to see change, it has to start from you. Instead of expecting someone to clean up after you, why don't you just stop littering?" explains the clearly frustrated Dr. Dilipen.

The government has numerous initiatives to clean the river and make things better. But for things to work, the stakeholders must also be involved. The communities must be educated to change their habits and to appreciate the river more. So they set up a small fund for community engagement activities."

"We really wanted to contribute to their society by being involved with the community and this was just perfect. Especially interacting with the kids, who are so enthusiastic and inquisitive." says Kumar Shailesh, an executive from Standard Chartered Bank.

Somehow they(Standard Chatered) got in touch with us and said they wanted to help. So we came up with four activities the kids can do together with the adults. Our priority really is the kids. We need to start them young." Added Dr. Dilipen.

Each volunteer was paired with a child for a morning of river activities; river monitoring, river cleaning, tree planting and fish catching. The program is designed to instil, within both children and adults, an understanding of the components of a river and how they can play a part in keeping a river healthy.

A boy stood alone on a mound overlooking the stream, with his fist stuck to his eye, pretending it was a telescope.

"I'm looking for fish. My father said if the water is clear, you can see fishes." he explained.

I asked him if he has ever played in a river. He shook his head and shared a little secret, "No…my father will beat me if I go to the river", laughing as he ran back to his team.

This is life in the bandar, where the river is dirty and dangerous, a forbidden area. Unfortunately this is how things have always been for many who call Kuala Lumpur home, and they see no way out. There is a huge mental disconnect between having a picnic by the river at a recreational park and discarding waste directly into that same river just a few kilometres downstream, turning it into a putrid, disfigured mess.

Dr. Dilipen understands the problem all too well. "You can't change things overnight, but if you start with the children, hopefully they will also change their parents. Malaysians, when they go overseas, they won't do all this you know, throwing rubbish into rivers, littering. But somehow when they come back, they have no problem doing it."

"Our society runs a lot of programs, talks, workshops, but the main challenge is always a lack of volunteers. We are at least thirty years behind, in terms of public awareness and enforcement when it comes to the our rivers. But at least we're working on it, you know, better late than never."

Just as we wrapped up the activities, it started raining. We quickly huddled up in the bamboo hut where lunch was being served. At the corner of my eye, I spotted the telescope-boy standing alone under the very light rain. He took his hat off, closed his eyes and just stood there with his arms wide open. I walked up to him and asked him what he was doing, to which he replied very casually, "I just really like the rain. It's beautiful."