Making a difference

We’re a team: Mohd Zulikhwan (middle, in grey t-shirt) is all smiles as he poses  with the project’s organising committee members in Kuala Nerang.

We’re a team: Mohd Zulikhwan (middle, in grey t-shirt) is all smiles as he poses with the project’s organising committee members in Kuala Nerang.

I HAVE always wanted to contribute to society.

Since many opportunities have been made possible to me, I feel it is my calling to give back in any way I can.

When I first joined Projek Kalsom in 2012, I thought it was going to be like any other volunteering programme. Little did I know that it was a turning point in my life.

I always tell people that they need to come and experience the project themselves; I can say that this is a motivational camp for the less fortunate students, but trust me, it’s more than that.

The objective of Projek Kalsom is a grand one, which is to eradicate education inequities in Malaysia.

Sometimes, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, that we often become paralysed by the uphill task that we face. But I have always believed that small changes lead to big differences.

It must not be forgotten that Projek Kalsom, in essence, was inspired by a single newspaper article back in the early 1990’s which highlighted the plight and struggles of Ummi Kelthom, a single mother of six.

That article drove a handful of students to initiate a community project which has become the mammoth project it is today.

The project has always been a student-based project – by students and for students.

The burning ideals of our youth are captured and translated into an empowering mechanism, as each facilitator acts as a role model for the participants. Whatever gaps of knowledge that would normally have been deprived to the participants are filled. Slowly but surely, the inequity gaps are narrowed.

Each year, the programme modules are tailor-made and designed by different people to cater to different environments and target groups. This is to maintain the dynamics of the programme.

During my first year with Projek Kalsom, I was a facilitator in Miri, Sarawak. It was challenging, as we had students from both extremes – those who had a string of As and could speak perfect English, to those who had a poor command of both English and Malay.

Some were from very wealthy families, while some were orphans, and others from problematic backgrounds.

The challenge was not just trying to communicate with them, but also making them feel that they were very much part of the project.

We also cannot be too hard on the children and make them feel intimidated.

This is why we emphasise the need for volunteers to listen to the students, and treat them as friends and not just participants.

The welfare of the students has always been our priority, and we want to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

I myself was initially intimidated by the volunteers, as many of them were high achievers in their own fields. However, I soon bonded with them as we had a mission to focus on.

Some of our volunteers have since graduated and have jobs now but they have come back as Kalsom Alumni.

I was the module manager during my second year with Projek Kalsom, in Kuantan, Pahang.

Since we design our modules to cater to the needs of the students, we had to raise the bar of the programme as most of the children could speak English well. We had to push them to broaden their horizons, while making sure their dreams were still realistic.

This is my third year with the project, and as director, I need to make sure everything falls in place, especially since all volunteers and committee members are based in different universities and countries.

Video conferencing, Skype calls and Facebook messages are essential in making sure we plan things well to make full use of our three-week programme in Malaysia.

I am very lucky to be blessed with such dedicated and committed organising members as well as volunteers.

The biggest challenge now is to ensure Projek Kalsom continues to be relevant to everyone while remaining true to its founding values and ethos. It has come to a point that we need to increase our scale as well as depth.

We also want to think of ways to inspire students even though we are miles away from Malaysia. In conjunction with our 20th anniversary, we devised a more sustainable year-long monitoring plan called Kalsom Harapan.

We will also run a workshop for students here in January, which will focus on academics. It will be conducted by Malaysian university students studying in Australia.

Besides bringing in new partners, as well as introducing new initiatives, I hope in a few years to come, Projek Kalsom and volunteerism will be in the hearts of students.

I really hope that Projek Kalsom will run as a social enterprise entity one day. My vision is to make sure everyone understands the “Kalsom” spirit – that drive to inspire people to make a difference in society.

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* The writer, a medical student is director of Projek Kalsom.

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