"Small lamb" – that’s how social activist Syed Azmi Alhabshi signs off on his social media posts, which frequently go viral.
Despite the humble nickname he has given himself, Syed Azmi can often feel like a force of nature, going out on his own and using his social media presence to help protect at-risk children and support low-income communities.
And now, Syed Azmi will be lending that same influence and determination to the #StandTogether Kindness Movement, a campaign founded by R.AGE and SP Setia to create a kinder, more empathetic Malaysia, starting in schools.
“I first heard about this campaign from Lisa Surihani (who is a #StandTogether Celebrity Ambassador and Unicef Special Representative). She really believes in the cause, and using kindness to prevent bullying,” he said, while filming a powerful video with the R.AGE team.
To him, the nationwide campaign – which focuses on empowering students to be kinder and more empathetic – has created more impact than any other “anti-bullying” campaign could.
“The ripple effect is much bigger. Children in schools are now trying so hard to show what they care about, and with such limited resources. They’re working together with the right values, like respect, tolerance, and kindness.
“And you won’t even see the real effects of it immediately, but the change will definitely be there. But even if you change just one person, that is more than success to me,” he added.
Syed Azmi had never planned on being a social activist. He was working in a rural town in Muar, Johor, when he was alerted to several cases of people needing urgent help.
But because there weren’t enough NGOs around to provide assistance, he decided to leave his full-time job behind, and start solving those problems himself.
“The way to solve a problem is to actually go (to where the people are) and solve the problem. But to do that, you need to have the knowledge, experience and network.
“So that was the pivotal moment when I thought: 'enough of hearing complaints – it's time for me to be that do-gooder’ myself,” he said.
However, he immediately discovered a fresh challenge in his newfound activism, especially when it came to changing people’s mindsets.
He famously received criticism and death threats from netizens when he organised an event called “I Want To Touch A Dog” five years ago, which explored the issue of whether Muslims were allowed to interact with dogs.
“It was a difficult time for me and my family, and because of that I didn’t know who to trust, or if my family members would look at me the same again.
“So I took the number one tool that I had, besides believing in God, which was to be kind and not judgemental,” he shared.
“That was the turning point where I believed that if we are kind, people will listen. It takes time, but that’s the challenge.”
Although Syed Azmi has spent years working hard for those in need, he shares that he frequently receives kindness from people around him too.
“When I first started out, I didn’t expect people to give me money and all that, but a lot of them gave me back in kind.
“One of the best things is that whenever I feel really tired and I need to go save a child somewhere, I write about it on social media, and people come forward and offer to be my driver!” he added.
Syed Azmi will join a host of other #StandTogether Celebrity Ambassadors – including Lisa Surihani, Arwind Kumar, Harith Iskander, Ismail Izzani, JinnyBoy, Nik Qistina, and Chef Wan – in supporting schools and students who want to join the Kindness Movement.
In previous years, the Celebrity Ambassadors would visit some of the participating students at their schools, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they will be speaking to the students on Zoom instead.
Aside from Syed Azmi, new Celebrity Ambassadors this year will include national gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi and model/host/activist Deborah Henry.
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