Positive vibes of moderation and harmony

(Back row, third to sixth from left) Navaratnam, Yeoh, Goh and Asli special projects senior adviser Datuk Jean Wong, are all smiles as they pose with the winners.

NOTICING the lack of patriotism among her peers, Rashmira Thiagarajan felt that it was a topic that should be tackled head on.

“We should identify as Malaysians first before anything else.

“My essay focused on moderation as an identity that Malaysians need to adopt. I notice that among my peers, patriotism has become ‘old-fashioned’.

“This is what I tried tackling in my essay by stating that patriotism is still (alive),” said the first year Advance Tertiary College, Penang student.

The 20-year-old clinched one of the two top prizes in the Asli-Star Merdeka Essay Writing Competition 2017.

She was the first prize winner among college and university students under Category B of the competition.

Category A winner (secondary school students) Tan Tai Lon, said he focused on food as a factor of unity.

“Back when humans lived a nomadic lifestyle, it was food that brought us together, subsequently forming agrarian societies.

“So I thought, if it could work back then, why wouldn’t it work today?” said the 17-year-old SMJK Chung Ling, Penang student.

Open to all Malaysians aged between 16 and 22, the competition is jointly organised by The Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (Asli) and Star Media Group, with support from Sunway University.

Their entries beat 28 others from various secondary schools, colleges and universities.

A total of 16 students were crowned as winners of the competition, eight from each category.

Themed “Promoting National Unity and Moderation”, the competition aims to encourage youth to write about the progress Malaysia has made in its 60 years of independence.

Asli Centre for Public Studies chairman Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam said he was impressed with the standards of the essays produced.

“You can be proud because you have all done well,” he said at the prize-giving ceremony.

Navaratnam however felt students did not allow themselves to be “honestly expressive”.

“I rarely came across any concern about polarisation, religious bigotry, equality, meritocracy,” he added.

Star Media Group editor-in-chief Datuk Leanne Goh said she was glad to see students participating in the competition not just for its prizes.

“It is encouraging to see that you want to contribute your ideas.”

Sharing similar sentiments as Navaratnam, Goh said if students wish to apply for scholarships, they must step out of the “restricted and play safe” mode.

“The reality is, there’s so much more we can do and need to do to get the country to the right path,” she added.

Asli chief executive officer Tan Sri Michael Yeoh feels the competition is useful as it helps students think about the importance of national unity.

“Star Media Group has been in the forefront in their efforts to promote moderation as a way of life in Malaysia.

“Without unity and moderation, we won’t have peace, prosperity and stability,” he added.

Yeoh commended the students’ efforts, saying the essays were interesting, with good ideas and suggestions on how to further promote unity and moderation.

The first, second and third prize winners in Category A received RM1,500, RM1,000 and RM500 respectively.

They are Tan Tai Lon, Shajeedth Suresh Naidu and Daryl Choo Chia Ler.

Winners for Category B received RM3,000, RM2,000 and RM1,000 for first, second and third places respectively.

Rashmira Thiagarajan won the first prize while Khoo Sher Rynn and Alvan Ong Zhi Xian took the second and third prize respectively.

Five consolation prizes of RM200 each for both categories were also awarded to participants.

They were Abilash Jayaraj Menon, Isabel Andrew, Hwang Hsien Hui, Nathanael Wong and Thasarathakumar Palanisamy (Category A) while those from

Category B included Alison Liew, Dinesh Ooi Shin Hai, Goh Yong Jian, Noel Wong and Tay Jenn Lin.

Entries were evaluated by a panel of judges from Sunway University and Asli.

* See our pullout next week for more winning essays

By Tan Tai Lon, Penang
First Prize Winner, Category A
Asli-Star Merdeka Essay Writing Competition 2017.

Unity is a fire. It is a spirit that burns with pride, and soars valiantly against the starkness of the dark. Flames, however, are not always invincible. They fade. They flicker. And sometimes, when that stray autumn breeze blows a bit too strongly, they grow dim. So the question begs, how are we, as an entire generation, supposed to sustain this spirit with the fuel it requires? The answer, if we look into the flames, is nestled warmly in the hearth.

Food, is the quintessential element of a Malaysian lifestyle. For us, it signifies the best times of day, and is essentially the soul of each culture within the nation. Hence, starting from the cornerstone of any country, the national curriculum should first be adjusted to accommodate the framework of this concept of food. Step by steadfast step, the elements of cuisine as an agent of unity could slowly be introduced to students by first linking it to the subjects that they are already familiar with.

For example, employing the field of Sejarah, students will begin to discover that throughout mankind’s evolution, food has played a fundamental role that is often overlooked. After all, as the most basic necessity of life, it has shaped entire civilisations by uniting individuals for a common cause, which started out as survival. Building upon the foundations, it was economic growth led by food that led to historic events such as the colonialization of our country, and its ability to unite that brought about our independence.

With that established, students are given the opportunity to share with the rest of the class the aspects of food that have influenced their lives and shaped their upbringing. This not only ushers in an intimate sense of belonging and togetherness among classmates, but also fosters indispensable life skills such as interpersonal communication that attribute towards the development of a capable, united generation. This way, the most happy and genuine memories of food can be felt by the entire class. In addition, students can also draw inspiration from the personal stories of successful individuals who have embraced Malaysian food culture and strove for its advancement. One such example is popular local celebrity Chef Wan, who was once quoted in an interview in The Star newspaper saying, “God brings food in the world to unite people and for us to be happy and healthy.”

Peering into every aspect of school life, schools should also be promoting the idea of unity through food in the place where food is primarily found, the school canteen. Here, a diverse array of food should be available to all students that allow for freedom of choice and the showcasing of the entire spectrum of flavours offered by Malaysian cuisine. Of course, there is no cafeteria on earth capable of serving the entirety of our country’s culinary depth at the same time, and hence these places can opt for seasonal offerings that vary with the times of the year as well as the many Malaysian holidays and traditions that students hold so dear. This can be implemented with ease as most local dishes do not require an abundance of time and ingredients to make, but are instead made quickly and simply, with a slight sprinkling of a local element: love.

Furthermore, schools have the option to organise programs aimed at nurturing relationships between students regardless of their beliefs or ethnic groups. The frontrunner of this are activities that allow people of different cultures to cook together in different pairs or groups. Setting a stage for the immediate exchange of cultural values and habits, students can enjoy brief glimpses into the traditional culinary methods of others and start observing the lifestyles of others away from home. They will then start to understand and respect each other to lay the groundwork for the single most importance thing in building unity in our multiracial country: racial harmony. In doing so, unity is embraced wholeheartedly, and yet each culture can freely maintain their own individual practices and promote them further.

As we take the next stride into our imminent future as a community, food as a vector for unity is a foreign approach for sure. However, it is one that can finally channel our similarities together as a nation and celebrate our various discrepancies; for it is perhaps not our resemblances that makes us Malaysian, but the shared differences that we share that are the true key towards unravelling the bonds that hold us apart, and placing final piece to the puzzle that is the united Malaysian will. And in doing so, may we follow in the footsteps of our forefathers, and collectively ignite the burning passion within our hearts; for there is no fire that burns more brightly than a Malaysian spirit, and none more powerful than a Malaysian stove.

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