Em­pow­er­ing stu­dents in their unique­ness


FOR this free­lancer and startup founder, a typ­i­cal day would con­sist of work­ing at home, the li­brary or any­where with an In­ter­net con­nec­tion. Work also in­volves get­ting in­vi­ta­tions for talks, post­ing up­dates on so­cial me­dia, writ­ing con­tent mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als and de­vel­op­ing the Speak Up! Project, a so­cial en­ter­prise that fo­cuses on cre­at­ing a strong foun­da­tion of in­ner con­fi­dence by ap­ply­ing es­sen­tial soft skills such as pub­lic speak­ing and de­bat­ing in English.

Born in Ke­lan­tan and brought up in Perlis, 27-year-old Muham­mad Ai­man Azlan, or better known as Ai­man Azlan, loves mo­ti­vat­ing the youth — some­thing he has been pas­sion­ate about since young.

He didn’t have an in­tern­ship ex­pe­ri­ence when he stud­ied in Canada for four years other than giv­ing a mo­ti­va­tional speech dur­ing his sec­ond year at the uni­ver­sity.

“I sim­ply wanted to prove to my­self that I can do mo­ti­va­tional speak­ing via YouTube.

“My so­cial me­dia pres­ence started with the first YouTube vlog I made in 2011. I didn’t want the fame to be empty and mean­ing­less, so I de­cided to use YouTube to share my thoughts about things that I care about, most of them re­lated to the youth.

“In my first vlog, I talked about the power of ‘The Peo­ple’ and how it af­fected me in my ef­fort to post this vlog. Af­ter it was widely shared around the world, my name be­came well-known. Funny thing is, I didn’t have any big dream to change the world or any­thing.

“I tried to be gen­uine in my online pres­ence. I don’t shy away from show­ing my true per­son­alit ity online, whether be in writ­ten or video form. I think that made it eas­ier for peo­ple to con­nect with me and be in tune with the things I share.”

His videos slowly be­gan to at­tract fol­low­ers, up to a point where stu­dents at a Malaysian uni­ver­sity in­vited him to give a talk af­ter he grad­u­ated.

“I was scep­ti­cal a rs , but I de­cided to give it a shot and soon re­alised that I have a knack for pub­lic speak­ing,” said Ai­man, adding that it led him to his cur­rent job as a moand ti­va­tional speaker founder of Speak Up! Project.

His In­sta­gram and Twit­ter ac­count — @ aimana­zlan90 — have gained 27.3k and 70.6k fol­low­ers, re­spec­tively.

If you still have some­thing to give, then give. It is un­likely to have ab­so­lutely

noth­ing. Ai­man said it was a long jour­ney of dis­cov­ery be­fore he re­alised that study­ing hu­man be­hav­iour was what he loved do­ing the most and was one of the best de­ci­sions he had made.

As it was the uni­ver­sity re­quire­ment to take up a dou­ble ma­jor, he chose to study Bi­ol­ogy.

He said his defin­ing mo­ment was when he stepped foot on Cana­dian soil.

“I learned a lot about my­self and about my po­ten­tial. The jour­ney to dis­cover my call­ing is long and at some point, still on­go­ing, but I would say that my time in Canada was when I dis­cov­ered so much about my life and what I want to do with it,” he added.

From his first year all the way to his fi­nal year, he was ac­tive with the Mus­lim Stu­dents As­so­ci­avol­un­teer tion (MSA).

He started off as a dur­ing his first year and was at­tracted by the pos­i­tive at­mos­phere sur­round­ing MSA mem­bers and events.

“From my sec­ond year on­wards, I joined the club as part of the core team — as their event co­or­di­na­tor — and I even­tu­ally be­came the sen­grad­u­at­ing ior ad­vi­sor in my year.

“I was exposed to the is­sues not normy mally heard in day-to-day in­ter­acpeo­ple, tions with per­haps be­cause these is­sues are sen­si­tive in na­ture. So anonymity might have en­cour­aged eo­ple to open up and reach out for help,” he said.

Upon re­ceiv­ing his Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence (Hon­ours) in Bi­ol­ogy and Psy­chol­ogy, from the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto, Canada in 2013, Ai­man re­turned to Malaysia.

“I wasted no time and started work­ing as a freemo­ti­va­tional lance speaker. I went from schools to col­leges, univer­si­ties and or­gan­i­sa­tions to give talks on the chal­lenges ced by our youth,” he ded. Ai­man started Speak Up! Project in 2015, un­der Ai­man Azlan Acad­emy, but soon re­alised that he wants peo­ple to fo­cus on the cause and not his name, so he changed it to sim­ply the Speak Up! Project.

“The idea for the project came from my five-year ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a mo­ti­va­tional speaker trav­el­ling around Malaysia and be­yond.

“Based on that, I found that most youths I met have sim­i­lar prob­lems. What I have iden­ti­fied as a ma­jor is­sue is the lack of self-con­fi­dence — es­pe­cially when it comes to English speak­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in gen­eral.

“As a mo­ti­va­tional speaker, I come to trig­ger a change in the au­di­ence and then I re­turn home. Although that could be enough in some cases, it wasn’t enough for me.

“I wanted to com­mit to some­thing more longterm in its im­pact. So I cou­pled my mo­ti­va­tional ses­sion with train­ing, through the Speak Up! Project.

“In the be­gin­ning, it was a solo ef­fort. Now, I have in­vited a friend to join the cause. The two of us ba­si­cally run the show to­gether with the help of vol­un­teers we re­cruited on a pro­gramme-by-pro­gramme ba­sis,” he added.

The main aim of the Speak Up! Project is to pro­vide a pos­i­tive space for the youth to build sus­tain­able con­fi­dence, through its sig­na­ture three-step soft skills de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme.

Un­der the project, there are three im­por­tant steps — Master Your Thoughts, which fo­cuses on the mind; Master Your Words, on how to control emo­tions to covey ideas and mes­sages; and Master Your Stage, where par­tic­i­pants step out of their com­fort zones and take the cen­tre stage.

“We or­gan­ise the pro­grammes our­selves, fo­cus­ing in the north­ern re­gion be­cause there aren’t such many ini­tia­tives around here,” he said.

“More stu­dents should have a se­cure self-con­fi­dence and be able to in­ter­act with them­selves and oth­ers in a pos­i­tive and ma­ture way.

“They should be able to ar­tic­u­late and ex­press their thoughts and ideas in a way that brings peo­ple closer and not break them apart.

“In say­ing all this, I do hope that our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem can con­trib­ute by em­pow­er­ing stu­dents in their unique­ness and by per­son­al­is­ing ed­u­ca­tion to fit their strengths.

“I just hope that our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem doesn’t put all stu­dents in a box and treat them as if they are all the same.

“If we do that, then it is likely that we will end up alien­at­ing many stu­dents, think­ing that they are some­how ‘de­fec­tive’ be­cause they can’t ex­cel in the sys­tem.

“In re­al­ity, these stu­dents are in­tel­li­gent, maybe not the type of in­tel­li­gence cel­e­brated by the sys­tem. The self-con­fi­dence of a student could be crushed by the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that should el­e­vate it,” said Ai­man.

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