TO four young people, the answer of what unites Malaysians is simple – sports and food.
“Malaysians from all walks of life gathering in front of Putrajaya’s Palace of Justice to watch the recent Olympics badminton games and the shared emotions of joy, sadness, and pride, was certainly something to cherish,” elaborated Khairul Aiman Khairulanwar.
“Natural disasters too,” added Fanitsyara Kam Phon.
There was sudden silence in agreement.
As Malaysia celebrates her 59th National Day and 53rd Malaysia Day, I had the opportunity to speak with four young Malaysians and asked each of them their views on National Day, unity and the future of the nation.
Fanitsyara Kam Phon (Fanit), 22, biotechnology undergraduate, University Malaya (UM)
She’s also the president of UM’s student’s representative council – the first female president in UM’s history.
And if you’re wondering about her name … “it’s a question I get asked often,” she said.
“My parents are of Thai descent. My father is a policeman with the Royal Malaysian Police Force, having served since 1986, while my mother is an officer with a statutory organisation. At home we speak Bahasa Malaysia, English and Thai,” she said.
As a child growing up, Fanit was raised in three different states as her parents’ jobs required them to move around. By age 13 was she was able to settle down in Taiping, Perak, having enrolled in a boarding school. Later on she proceeded to the Malacca Matriculation College and thereafter, to her current destination, UM.
“I would not have made it this far without the support of my friends who were always very encouraging, especially when I had to be away from my family,” she said.
“And I’m glad to say that my friends are of different races and religions. We sleep, eat, go to class, play sports and more together. No problem at all”.
I asked what what was the greatest challenge facing Malaysia.
Fanit responded: “Our continued independence is the result of harmonious interracial and inter-religious relations. The challenge is when some politicians use sensitive racial issues to gain support.
“On the other hand, the media too plays a vital role to promote unity. If they are biased towards a certain race, it won’t make us any better”.
How do you believe you are promoting the spirit of National Day and unity?, I asked further.
“As a student representative, my tagline is #UnityInDiversity. I believe I’m playing my part by respecting everyone regardless of their belief and culture. I also value and cherish everyone’s talent, and love working in groups with diverse backgrounds,” she said.
Muhamad Anas Misbahudin, 23, Bachelor’s of Computer Science (Network Security) graduate, Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA), Terengganu
Anas, who hails from Selangor, is a popular figure among students and was recently voted as Malaysia’s Tokoh Siswa (Student Icon).
He was the National Student Consultative Council President (MPPK) and has represented Malaysia locally and internationally in volunteerism programmes.
“To me, National Day means living in a country that is able to discuss the potential of our country, to stand united and together regardless of religion and race, and move forward for a better nation,” said Anas.
“In my opinion, the challenge we face is racial polarisation. Love and tolerance between Malaysians should be maintained for the future of Malaysia”.
I asked him how he believes he is promoting the spirit of National Day and unity?
Anas replied: “By spreading the love. We must always work together to contribute to the community. Volunteerism is therefore a good medium to unite Malaysians in the spirit of love and social responsibility. I have participated in a few projects for the homeless in Penang where we give them food and distribute clothes.
When we do good for others, our differences don’t matter”.
Ry-Ann Jyn, 23, Bachelor of Commerce graduate, University of Melbourne
A former cheerleading squad captain for SMK Damansara Jaya, Ry-Ann is an active community engagement advocate and has done work on issues such as human trafficking, poverty, and indigenous rights.
In 2014, she received the Peter McPhee Student Award from Melbourne University for her community leadership and is currently the Chairperson of the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Summit 2016 with the National University of Singapore.
“National Day is about being able to reflect. It’s when we are able to implicitly measure our performance as a country – how far we have and have not come,” she shared.
What about the challenges we face, I asked.
“At times I feel that racism is prevalent in our country. Hence, what we need is visionary leadership, from the bottom up. What I mean is that we need leaders who know that doing the right thing may be inconvenient but do it for the greater good.
“And this must happen at all levels. We lead ourselves, our house, our families. Everyone can and should be a leader,” she said.
Added Ry-Ann: “On a personal level, I’m a grassroots person who runs and coordinates youth projects. I do my best to be aware of the racial representation of my youth group, and I like to challenge youth and put them in very intense planning or project execution where they must work together intensely.
“When people are all in and able to shine, we reduce biasness and see each person for who they are and not their skin colour”.
Khairul Aiman Khairulanwar, 22, political science undergraduate, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)
The eldest of four siblings, Aiman was previously a Parlimen Mahasiswa (Students’ Parliament) participant.
A jovial young man, he frequents Parliament often to volunteer and assist officers to do research.
“National Day means living free and enjoying life without being afraid.
“The greatest challenge facing Malaysians’ unity is the frequent usage of racial politics as this leads to a more segregated community.
“I believe that we need to me more kind to each other. Respect and tolerance is key in the context of diverse values that makes Malaysia unique,” he said.
To the question of whether Malaysia could achieve full unity by the time she turns 100, I received mixed responses.
Here’s what they said:
“Yes. If all Malaysians are committed in promoting unity, we can achieve it before 100 years. It must start now”.
“No, not by the time we are 100 years old”.
“Yes, if we really understand how unity will transform Malaysia into a better nation”.
“I hope so. As long as all of us can get rid of the ‘pendatang’ sentiment, we’ll be all right. It’s a long way to go. Everyone needs to accept the fact that we share this country and all of us love it”.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own
Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.