By Zheng Juncen
A nature lover’s romance with the NTU Community Herb Garden began with a simple suggestion from a friend to visit the grounds. Photo editor Zheng Juncen speaks to the volunteer who spends her free time holding tours and promoting charity awareness
Stephany Olivia speaks little Mandarin, but once a month, she acts as a tour guide for a group of 10 to 20 elderly Chinese visitors, telling them about the 300-odd medicinal herbs that grow in the NTU Community Herb Garden.
The herb garden is located near the school’s Jalan Bahar entrance.
Stephany, 25, was once the Nature Guiding Director in Earthlink — NTU’s environmental club — and had to organise nature-themed guided tours around Singapore for fellow members of the society.
When a friend made a recommendation to check out the herb garden for a potential tour spot two years ago, Stephany found herself touched by how the garden gives out free herbs to cancer patients and decided to volunteer there.
She has been with them ever since, spending between six to eight hours there each weekend.
The herbs grown at the garden are said to have cancer curing properties. Although not scientifically proven, these herbs have been mentioned on Chinese newspapers and reports for their healing properties.
The herb garden founder, NTU research assistant Mr Ng Kim Chuan, keeps track of the progress of patients who have taken his herbs, so as to better control their dosage.
For Stephany, a final-year School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences student, a typical day volunteering at the Herb Garden usually starts with answering queries from the public and scheduling visits from different organisations.
Once in a while, she also posts informational videos about the garden onto the NTU Community Herb Garden Facebook page.
During group visits, Stephany provides explanations to visitors about the different species of medicinal herbs grown in there.
These visits happen once a month on average. Occasionally, Stephany also does gardening.
One of the biggest challenges Stephany faces is her difficulty conversing fluently with visitors, who are mostly Mandarin-speaking senior citizens, and Mr Ng.
“The funny thing is I don’t know if Uncle (Ng) knows my name because he often addresses me as ‘that Indonesian girl’ in Mandarin,” she said.
But despite that, the two still work well together.
Stephany also started taking Mandarin classes two years ago to communicate better with visitors.
Ultimately, she hopes to apply her knowledge of these herbs to a career in the biochemical industry.
But her biggest takeaway has been meeting people from different walks of life on these tours.
She said: “By learning about their various stories and experiences, I gained different perspectives about life, and I can better appreciate life and the people around me.
“This experience has taught me to be a better person.”