IMMUNISING children in rural Mongolia, improving classroom facilities for poor children in Myanmar, and saving chimpanzees from extinction in Tanzania. All over the world, young people are making things happen and getting their views on issues heard.
Yet, next to these impressive philanthropic projects, how can simple actions like cleaning up your school backyard and organising Canteen Day to raise money for the school hall compare?
This is where many young people make the mistake, says Lilac Ong, Maxis’ head of Prepaid Services. They always think that to make changes in the community, they have to make grand gestures; when it is more significant to start small, from their own home and school.
“Actually, it means more if you can start from within your community, because you live there and what you do will touch your family and friends,” she says.
Whether you want to change the way students are treated in school or save the local zoo, the key is to think of the goal and the benefits.
Hence, to challenge all students to give back to the community, Hotlink has launched A Nationwide Student Community Service Competition.
Open to secondary schools nationwide, the competition requires each team to come up with a community or school project.
Says Ong: “In Malaysia, our achievement is based on our school exam results. Where do they encourage you to be a park ranger or think about the environment, be a wildlife scientist, or study insects? Or work with an NGO (non-governmental organisation) to care for the disabled or the aged? Those activities are not for personal excellence but are motivated by compassion, something many of our young are not too familiar with.”
Community projects, regardless of their size, teach young people compassion and social responsibility, and as a youth-oriented service, Hotlink sees this competition as an effective way to nurture good values.
Hotlink wants to link students with their communities, she adds, by getting them to look beyond themselves and their own cliques to make a difference for their friends, schools and communities at large.
The connection, Ong says, can even be a simple, informal sharing of skills, “like this lady in Kelantan who is trying to preserve a dying form of traditional music before it disappears. Young people today don’t know it so what she did was to learn it and then share it with some youth as a way to keep the art alive.”
Thus, to start, students would need to look around them and do some background research as well as soul-searching to discover how they can make a difference. Projects would, however, need to be aligned with their passions and interests too; not only to make them more pertinent but also because the winners would be required to actually implement their projects.
“They would need to ask themselves: Will it make the world a better place? Will it save the world? Who will it benefit? How can we do it? So it’s a reality check; how practical are you? We are saying that ideas are great but we are also looking at how you will implement them,” she advises.
Once conceptualised, students would need to budget up to RM10,000 for their project and write a proposal to explain its background, details and the implementation process.
Along with the knowledge that they are doing something good, the winners will also receive a RM5,000 reward for their team and school.
No stranger to youth activities, Hotlink has long supported technology and education programmes in the country. Under the “Bridging Maxis and Communities” programme, which includes this competition, various charitable and environmental projects have been implemented.
“We have worked in universities and colleges where we tried to provide entertainment for college students. But this is the first time we will be working with schools. With younger students it’s a bit different, so we selected the project carefully,” Ong says.
Being sympathetic, Hotlink didn’t want to inflict more stress on students, so a non test-based activity was selected.
“Usually, when we think about student programmes, they are very much talent-based, brain cell-based or one-to-one challenges like Talent Quest, Chess Olympiad or even academic awards such as the Best Science Student Award. What we are trying to do is something that would benefit the local community,” Ong explains.
By making time for community service, she says, students’ eyes will be opened to the real world and they will realise there is more to life than their immediate surroundings.
For the community service competition, five areas have been identified: academic, learning disabilities, social, environment and safety.
Ong explains that the topics picked are aligned to the areas where help is needed and youth can contribute. More importantly, she says, although the possibilities are boundless, students need to consider project viability and balance the goal with what can actually be achieved. Thus, not only must they generate a great idea, they also have to ensure it is a practical, relevant and beneficial one.
“There is no limit. If students in KL want to save the orang utan in Borneo, they can, but in the competition they will need to ensure the budget is enough for them to actually implement the project,” Ong says.
The main aim is to instil some degree of independence and creativity in students, which will empower them to devise their own community projects in the future.
Ong says: “Planning and implementation are left to the students. Eventually we’d like them to believe they can make a difference, no matter how small. Some of the best projects in the world begin like this – it starts under a special programme but when the school gets behind it, it grows independently.”
And hopefully, she adds, when their respective projects succeed, the winning schools will decide next year that they will no longer need support from Hotlink and continue on their own.
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