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Ten years ago, we were writing stories to disprove the presumption that young people were apathetic. That was the prevailing sentiment at the time, that young Malaysians were too “tidak apa”. Funnily enough, young people today are often being talked down for being too idealistic, for being “clicktivists”, for being too easily “triggered” by social justice causes.
Thankfully, that hasn’t stopped a veritable army of young Malaysian women from championing social causes and becoming the changemakers of their generation. These three amazing young women represent the best of their generation.
Heidy QuahRefuge for the Refugees
Heidy Quah is barely in her mid-20s, but she has already touched thousands of lives through her NGO, Refuge For The Refugees (RFTR).
When she was 18, she decided to work with some refugees while waiting for college to start, and it changed her life. She realised these people had left their countries in pursuit of a better life, but lacked access to basic amenities like education here in Malaysia.
“No one should be robbed of basic access to human rights, like education and job opportunities,” she said.
Determined to tackle this issue, she set up RFTR, an organisation that helps raise awareness about the situation refugees are in, as well as provide education for them.
They started off with just one school. Today, RFTR is running 10 schools in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, each educating about 70 to 150 refugee students.
“Education is a vital right of every child. With the right education, these kids can and will go very far in life,” said Quah, 22, who’s currently studying for a degree in accounting and finance herself.
On top of managing the schools here in Malaysia and concentrating on her own studies, Quah is busy expanding RFTR’s reach. She’s currently in Myanmar, working with 25 people who will each set up a school.
“Myanmar is a country that’s close to my heart,” she said. “The doors are closed to refugees trying to get into the United States, so many of them have been forced to return to Myanmar. The education system there is still really bad, which is why we’re there to help.”
Her good work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In June, Quah will be heading to Britain as the only Malaysian receiving the 2017 Queen’s Young Leader Award.
Established in 2015, the award recognises and celebrates young community leaders aged 18 to 29 from Commonwealth countries, who are using their skills to transform lives and communities.
Quah is understandably excited. After all, she’ll be receiving an award from Queen Elizabeth II herself. But it’s not the glory she’s excited about. Rather, she’s looking forward to the opportunity to network.
“I’m hoping going to Britain will expand our network, so we can work with more countries across Asean and the Commonwealth,” she said.
With her hard work and determination, RFTR looks set to transform the world.
Amelia TanThe 100% Project
Education and the greater good has always been on 30-year-old Amelia Tan’s mind. She has raised over RM500,000 for 56 school projects across the country through her education crowdfunding platform, The 100% Project, which she co-founded in 2015.
Tan’s work has already impacted 15,000 students, simply by helping passionate, deserving teachers raise funds from the public to run special programmes and projects. They’ve helped teachers build new classrooms, buy computers, invest in robotics equipment, support orang asli students and so much more.
But her favourite project so far was one proposed by Nik Azri, a young teacher posted to the remote Pulau Bum Bum in Sabah.
He arrived to an empty classroom, having been assigned to a “slow learners” class which had been given almost zero attention. Determined to help his students, he uploaded a proposal to The 100% Project website (100percentproject.org) for a brand new programme called Akademi IQ, asking for funding.
“He managed to raise RM8,500 in less than a month!” said Tan. “Sometimes I’m in disbelief knowing that without the platform, teachers like Nik wouldn’t be able to get much-needed funds, or to have their stories told to the public. In Nik’s case, the money came from Malaysians here and abroad and that was amazing to see.”
No surprise, then, that The 100% Project was recognised as Malaysia’s Best Social Enterprise at the Asean Rice Bowl Startup Awards 2016, and was a finalist for the Best Start Up – Social Impact for Asia Pacific category in Talent Unleashed, a regional competition recognising those driving innovation through technology.
Despite the early successes, Tan’s not stopping anytime soon.
“Everytime I visit a school it humbles me,” she said. “There’s so much more to be done in Malaysia, but I’m so grateful to see teachers championing education. We want more people to hear their stories and to continue helping us empower them.”
Mastura RashidThe Nasi Lemak Project, Sting Garden Theatre and Edu Rangers
Five years ago, Mastura Rashid, 27, co-founded The Nasi Lemak Project (TNLP) as an initiative to feed and educate the homeless and urban poor. But when she realised that giving handouts weren’t a long-term solution, she decided to tackle the problem at its core.
Today, TNLP is a social enterprise that empowers urban poor families by providing a platform for them to sell nasi lemak – allowing them to double their usual monthly income.
They also provide training and financial advice for a year so the families learn to manage and sustain their own businesses. Currently, TNLP has impacted over 60 families and is looking into franchising the brand.
Mastura and a team of volunteers have also been giving free tuition classes to urban poor children since she was in college. But they weren’t getting results especially with the English classes, and Mastura realised she had to find another way to get them to learn. She hit upon an idea: to use acting — which all the kids loved — to get them to practise the language.
To do that, she co-founded the Sting Garden Theatre, a platform which allows the children to pursue acting. The catch? They had to do it in Engish.
It was a huge success. Fifteen children aged seven to 13 in the current batch will be staging their first show this month.
Mastura is also busy preparing the syllabus for teaching urban poor children through the Edu Rangers programme, which will officially start in April.
Despite her young age, Mastura believes she will still be doing all this for many years to come. “I enjoy my work because it is fun, but mostly because the fact that I’m impacting people makes me happy,” she said.
“It’s inspiring to see the urban poor being empowered to have their own businesses, and to have underprivileged children performing in English.”
She is also inspired by her team of volunteers and the people she works with for her various projects.
“I get to work with young and creative people. There is a lot of diversity, and they keep me going.”
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