Posted on 26 May 2015 - 08:40pm
NOTHING is more satisfying than an idea that is translated into reality, especially a rather abstract one as a form of social innovation. This was the case last week in the coastal city of Tongyeong when the word Sejahtera came to life not only in South Korea but also the Asia-Pacific region.
It was in conjunction with a unique occasion to commemorate the official opening of the Sejahtera Centre and Sejahtera Forest as part of the United Nations University-Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies recognised Regional Centre of Expertise on Education (RCE) for Sustainable Development at Tongyeong in the southern tip of South Korea.
RCE Tongyeong is among more than 120 RCEs around the world, of which three are in Malaysia involving Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), and more recently University of Malaya and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
Indeed it was at USM that the idea of Sejahtera first emerged in early 2000 as an impetus to ignite transformational mindset changes in embracing the concept of sustainable development through education. This was before sustainable development was fashionable in an educational setting, before the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).
The embodiment of Sejahtera goes beyond the conventional three Ps of Planet, People and Profit. Instead Sejahtera has at least 10 dimensions that could be summed up by the acronym Spices: spiritual, physical, intellectual, cultural, cognitive emotional, ecological, environmental, economics, and societal as a platform for holistic learning and living. Not only must each aspect be in balance in itself, but each must be in balance with all the rest to achieve an overall state of well-being that is lasting (sustainable) over generations.
The last point is pertinent because it implies that “sustainability” is not a new concept that comes about in the 80s following the well-acknowledged Brundlant Report, formally known as the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Arguably, “sustainability” is an “ancient” concept in many indigenous traditions that has been overtaken and lost in the drive for modern “unsustainable” development. The result is that development becomes purely a physical venture and no longer focuses on building “collaborative relationships” between humans, the community, the environment and also the “creator” as an enduring lifestyle. In so doing, the fine state of balance is severely offset with a hefty price tag for future generations.
The Sejahtera Centre at RCE Tongyeong thus is a new landmark given its vision of “co-existence” which is aligned to the idea of “collaborative relationships” in the context of Spices. This is apt as the centre is “specifically designed for learning self-sustaining lifestyle and sharing for a sustainable future.” It is a purpose built centre – the first of its kind, as part of a project agreed by partners in the Asia-Pacific to serve as an RCE hub. As of last year, 15 countries and 23 cities in the region have joined the initiative with an investment costing US$20 million (RM72.58 million) on a 200,000 sq m ecopark supported by the Ministry of Environment, Korea. Alongside are impressive facilities like an aquatic centre, wetlands, vegetable garden and a rice field, all co-existing in a natural relationship making up what is collectively called the Sejahtera Forest.
The forest is particularly meaningful not only because it is next to a national park, more so because it is also the “living laboratory” that embellishes “the unique traditional culture of the Asia-Pacific region with the emphasis on coexistence.”
There is no doubt that this bold initiative of “collaborative relationship” rooted in the deeper meaning and philosophy of Sejahtera will enlighten future generations. It will also help to reclaim the traditional wisdom and cultural values that have gone astray.
South Korea has demonstrated this well with the concept of “saemul undong” (akin to gotong-royong) fostered through centres like the Korea Saemul Undong Center at Gangnam-gu. The concept realised in 1970 by the then president, Park Chung-Hee – a contemporary of Malaysia’s father of development, Tun Abdul Razak, who was also an advocate of gotong-royong – has been credited as one of the key concepts that spurred South Korea ahead.
It is not surprising that Sejahtera will take South Korea yet to another level on the path of sustainable development. For this, RCE Tongyeong and the mayor of Tongyeong, Kim Dong-jin, in particular must be congratulated for showing visionary leadership that is discerning enough to be inspired by Sejahtera in paving the way.
Malaysia in this respect should remain thankful for giving Sejahtera a new lease of life on an international platform, and turning it into reality.