Travelling from the airport into the centre of Kuala Lumpur I commented on the lush vegetation bordering the road, and was recommended to go and see world’s oldest and largest Chengal tree, thought to be 1,300 years old with a diameter of 16.75 meters at the base. It sounded impressive, but I doubted I'd get the chance with the packed schedule I'd been given.
It was indeed non-stop. Having first presented to the staff at the British Council (one of the delivery partners of II in Malaysia) I went to the Malaysian Olympic Council. Here there was a formal celebration of the work achieved by the programme in Malaysia. The dignitaries first made their speeches then hundreds of children demonstrated some of the games they had been enjoying using the Youth Sport Trust 'TOPS’ packs – specialist training resources for teachers and coaches to teach high quality, accessible PE and sports.
Meeting some of the children who will benefit from the II programme.
II in Malaysia has had a particular focus on inclusivity and this was evident as children both with and without disabilities enjoyed a game of the Paralympic sport Boccia.
Perhaps most significantly, the Malaysian Director General of Education announced that his department intended to build on work so far with a new initiative that aims to offer sporting opportunities to every young person in Malaysia.
News like this was music to our ears as, whilst the work of II is undoubtedly making an impact, it is the desire of a host nation's government to build on the programme which is critical if sport is going to make a lasting impression.
The highlight of the visit for me came when we visited a school in Ipoh, three hours from the capital. If I thought the first group of children I'd met were enthusiastic then the 300 or so I met here were off the scale!
Children from several local schools, with a variety of abilities and disabilities, had congregated and were playing numerous games with limitless energy. I vainly tried to join in without much success as nine year-olds ran rings around me. (Note to self: do some training before I make another visit like this!) Their delight in playing was infectious with staff, students and guest visitors all joining in.
My visit to Malaysia felt all too brief but I feel privileged to have seen how London 2012's international legacy programme is making a difference to the lives of young people there, over 54,000 having already taken part.
So what did I learn about Malaysia and its people? Well the most striking thing was their kindness and generosity. Not just to me but to everyone involved in II; and it is with this generous nature that they have embraced the concept of enhancing the lives of young people through sport and physical education.
Is it too much to hope that this programme will fundamentally change the way people in Malaysia view sport and physical education? I think not, if the Department of Education follow through on their promise to build on the work already done.
And what about how some people view disability? This may be a process which takes longer, but from seeds such as those planted by International Inspiration mighty Chengal trees grow.
International Inspiration is the ground-breaking international legacy programme of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games which aims to 'reach young people all around the world and connect them to the inspiration power of The Games so they are inspired to choose sport'.