NGOs play a big role in being the glue for society
Non-governmental organisations (NGO) working with communities have found that bringing people together to work towards a goal is the best way to build unity.
One organisation that has inherently united people of various races and professions to serve the community is Rotary International – the world’s oldest community service organisations.
Some 3,000 Rotarians in Malaysia have taken on countless humanitarian projects to improve the well-being of local and international communities.
Rotary District 3300 Malaysia Governor Siti Subaidah attributed Rotary’s motto, “Service Above Self” as well as its non-partisan and non-sectarian stance for drawing people from various backgrounds to serve the community as one.
“All the projects Rotarians undertake forge unity and respect for one another,” she said.
Rotary Club of Bandar Utama vice-president K.G. Tan said when people practise moderation and accept one another’s differences, they could achieve unity in diversity.
A significant programme that had brought communities together is the annual Rotary Youth Leadership Award (Ryla) programme.
Siti recalled that three years ago, children of policemen were invited to a five-day Ryla programme held at the Police Training Centre (Pulapol).
One police officer’s child said she enjoyed the camaraderie among Malaysians at the programme despite just having met one another.
Siti said such events were important as youths played an important part in instilling unity and removing wrong perceptions.
Rotary Club of Bandar Utama president-elect Ong Hock Siew cited another example of a Ryla programme about four years ago where a group of youths helped some destitute and elderly people by cleaning their homes.
“The youths learned that together, they could achieve much in solving issues and it opened their eyes to the need for peace, harmony and understanding,” he said.
In good and bad times
Taiwan Buddhist Tsu-Chi Foundation Malaysia deputy chief executive officer Sio Kee Hong said its disaster relief work in Kuala Krau in Temerloh, Pahang, in January brought various communities together.
More than 2,000 volunteers went to Kuala Krau to assist the flood victims.
The volunteers then worked together to create awareness on recycling and strengthened relationships forged during the flood.
“Recycling is a good platform for people to meet, and talk to one another while sorting out the collected items over three hours once a week.
“This is a good way to remove racial barriers,” said Sio.
He said fostering unity was not a one-off effort but a continuous one that should come from the heart.
Starting with the young
Malaysian Care’s Bumblebee mobile community resource centre has done a good deal to ensure there is no racial barrier among children.
Launched two years ago, the Bumblebee one-tonne truck carries books, magazines, toys and game sets to seven different communities in Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur, as well as to the orang asli community in Chenderiang, Perak.
At location, children can go on board the truck to read books or bring toys and game sets down to a community hall or concourse area to play.
“It is a carved-out ‘space’ in the community for the community and is intended to be a safe place for continuous learning, sharing, relationship-building and collaboration towards building a better future,” said Malaysian Care community staff Joshua Hor.
Two of their initiatives he is particularly pleased with involve Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, and Kapar in Klang.
“Months of constant encouragement changed their negative attitude and now the children there no longer stereotype each other based on race,” he said.
“Seeing the transformation brings much hope and joy. Small positive acts over time will make Malaysia stronger,” he said.
Jumble Station (JS) founder Mary Anne Tan said JS, which opened its doors in 2007, was set up to empower poor single parents of all races and faiths to be financially independent.
The co-founders chose to set up their second-hand shop in a low-cost apartment area with a multi-racial population.
Tan hopes the shop and its activities will encourage people to look beyond race and religion and work together towards the betterment of the nation.
Youths uniting youths
An advocacy group that has been uniting youths from various backgrounds is the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR).
Its chief executive officer Long Seh Lih said unity must be shown through action.
“A sign that unity has been achieved is when people of different races and faiths are able to discuss with one another in a respectful manner without being too emotional,” she said.
MCCHR project officer Khairil Zafir said the centre unite youths by creating the space for them to share information and thoughts with others through chat-groups.
Siti Khadijah Anwarul Haq, 21, an intern at MCCHR, represents her generation who takes an interest in her country’s future and she is also getting other youths, regardless of their background, to be involved in national issues.
A mind for unity
Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) deputy chairman Zaid Kamaruddin said the movement worked towards national unity, social inclusiveness, education reforms and indigenous rights.
He said a different mindset was needed, one that was inclusive and embraced all Malaysians.