Tiny he­roes

They may be small, but Malaysia’s youth ad­vo­cates – some as young as seven – are mak­ing a big im­pact.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Sto­ries by LIM MAY LEE and SAMANTHA CHOW fb.com/thes­tarRAGE

WHEN she was four, Leah Choy taught her­self to bake through YouTube. Im­pres­sive? Well, wait un­til you hear why she did it.

Choy was bak­ing for a cause – to raise funds for her younger sis­ter Adele, who was born with cere­bral palsy.

She man­aged to raise US$ 6,000 ( RM24,000) for Adele, who re­quires half- yearly vis­its to the In­sti­tute for the Achieve­ment of Hu­man Po­ten­tial in Philadel­phia for treat­ment. It costs RM50,000 per trip.

“I de­cided to sell cup­cakes and cakes be­cause peo­ple love to have par­ties and peo­ple love to eat!” she said charm­ingly.

Choy is one of a grow­ing num­ber of child ad­vo­cates and ac­tivists – none old enough to drive or vote, but still do­ing their bit to make a dif­fer­ence in so­ci­ety.

“Malaysia is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a new wave of youth ad­vo­cacy,” said WOMEN: girls pro­gramme di­rec­tor Abby Latif.

“A lot of peo­ple are start­ing to pay at­ten­tion, and many or­gan­i­sa­tions now recog­nise child par­tic­i­pa­tion.”

Be­sides rais­ing funds for her sis­ter, Choy has ex­tended her work to help oth­ers in need as well.

To date, she has raised funds for causes in­clud­ing the Ro­hingya boat peo­ple as well as food aid foun­da­tions. She has baked around 15,000 cup­cakes in the past year, rais­ing close to RM30,000.

Still only seven, she’s now also a so­cial me­dia whizz, us­ing Face­book and In­sta­gram to pro­mote her bak­ing busi­ness, with the help of her mother Tay Mei Yean.

So­cial me­dia has played an im­por­tant part in giv­ing youth ad­vo­cacy a boost, said Unicef Malaysia com­mu­ni­ca­tion spe­cial­ist In­dra Ku­mari Nad­cha­tram.

“Tech­nol­ogy has opened up a new bor­der­less world to chil­dren and youth ad­vo­cates.

“Through the net­works avail­able on­line, they learn what their peers are in­volved in around the world,” said In­dra.

On top of in­spir­ing ad­vo­cacy through so­cial me­dia, Choy has even started giv­ing talks and work­shops. She re­cently went to In­done­sia to teach dis­abled chil­dren to bake and dec­o­rate cup­cakes, and was given the op­por­tu­nity to speak at the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the Asean Work- Life Bal­ance Con­fer­ence.

“Leah has al­ways been our big­gest mo­ti­va­tor,” said Tay, burst­ing with pride. “There’s no such thing as ‘ let’s give up’ in her dic­tionary.”

Of course, Choy isn’t the only Malaysian kid out there mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. R. AGE caught up with a whole bunch of th­ese ex­tra­or­di­nary young­sters to find out how they’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

Youth power

It isn’t easy for chil­dren to be­come in­flu­en­tial ad­vo­cates in Malaysia. The un­spo­ken con­sen­sus, said In­dra, is that chil­dren should be seen and not heard.

“It’s a tra­di­tional at­ti­tude, but we need to shift from that kind of think­ing,” she said.

“Chil­dren should see them­selves as agents of change. For that to hap­pen, we need to pro­vide chil­dren with the op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­trib­ute their views on is­sues that af­fect them.”

That’s what or­gan­i­sa­tions like WOMEN: girls are work­ing on. In an ef­fort to ac­knowl­edge and sup­port pas­sion­ate youth, they cre­ated the Young Change­mak­ers ( YC) award, which is now open for nom­i­na­tions.

Youth ad­vo­cacy is im­por­tant be­cause peer in­flu­ence works, said Abby, who co­or­di­nates the YC pro­gramme.

She has run 15 work­shops and met 2,500 stu­dents so far this year in her quest to find new change­mak­ers, and she’s psyched over the prospect of meet­ing in­spi­ra­tional kids who can in­spire oth­ers in turn.

“Peer in­flu­ence is very im­por­tant be­cause youth ad­vo­cates can re­late with oth­ers their age, through the lan­guage they use or the ref­er­ences they make,” she said.

In the past ten years, op­por­tu­ni­ties for the youth to make a dif­fer­ence have in­creased.

Chil­dren and young peo­ple now have a place in re­search, na­tional con­sul­ta­tions and in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences, said In­dra.

Youth rep­re­sen­ta­tives are also fre­quently in­vited by Unicef to give their per­spec­tives on what chil­dren are fac­ing on the ground.

“Chil­dren get in­spired by is­sues that di­rectly af­fect them,” she said.

“By giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to be youth rep­re­sen­ta­tives, we can help them see the con­nec­tion of their ac­tions to the progress of their so­ci­eties.”

Dig­i­tal safety ad­vo­cate Cathryn Anila, 16, is one ex­am­ple of a young per­son who is giv­ing the youth a voice and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in their lives.

She has at­tended Asean- level con­fer­ences and fo­rums as a youth rep­re­sen­ta­tive to dis­cuss the is­sues faced by chil­dren on­line and given her rec­om­men­da­tions for a safer dig­i­tal world.

Most re­cently, she at­tended the Work­shop on Cre­at­ing a Child Friendly Asean con­fer­ence in Manila, one of only five youth rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the re­gion. Ev­ery

other par­tic­i­pant was an adult, but it didn’t faze the deter­mined Cathryn.

“I chose to ad­vo­cate dig­i­tal safety be­cause it’s still very new. It hasn’t been prop­erly ad­dressed, but chil­dren are ex­posed to the dig­i­tal world ev­ery day,” said the SMK Tengku Am­puan Rahimah stu­dent, who dreams of one day join­ing Unicef or the United Na­tions as a child rights ac­tivist.

Elo­quent and pas­sion­ate, Cathryn is the per­fect ad­vo­cate. But she very nearly didn’t go down the ad­vo­cacy path. It’s thanks to her mother that she is who she is now.

Four years ago, her mother, Mari­ammah Subramaniam, heard about an ad­vo­cacy work­shop train­ing child fa­cil­i­ta­tors for an up­com­ing Chil­dren for Change fo­rum co- or­gan­ised by child out­reach ser­vice Child­line Malaysia and Unicef.

Ex­cited, she im­me­di­ately asked Cathryn to give it a go. Cathryn was keen, but she al­most gave up on the day of the work­shop be­cause she had to wake up early.

“She was lazy!” said her mum with a laugh. “I let her de­cide, but I told her that de­ci­sions can’t be made if we don’t know ex­actly what it en­tails.

“That em­pow­ered her to make her own choices. Af­ter the work­shop, there was no turn­ing back.”

It was in­deed full speed ahead for Cathryn, who took the lessons she learnt from her mother and used it to help em­power chil­dren to stay safe.

“It’s the re­spon­si­bil­ity of chil­dren them­selves to stay safe on­line, and to do that, they need aware­ness,” she said.

To help them learn about the im­por­tance of stay­ing safe on­line, she posts dig­i­tal safety in­for­ma­tion on her Face­book ac­count and has been in­vited to give talks at schools.

Cathryn is one of the best ex­am­ples of how ex­pos­ing young peo­ple to pub­lic de­ci­sion- mak­ing process- es gives them im­por­tant op­por­tu­ni­ties for civic ed­u­ca­tion and strength­ens their sense of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, said In­dra.

“Time and time again we have seen that the best ad­vo­cates for chil­dren – those who are best in­formed about chil­dren’s is­sues - are chil­dren them­selves,” she said.

Get­ting on- ground

While some young change- mak­ers take the pol­icy route, oth­ers make their changes at the grass­roots level.

Fir­daus Ah­mad Farouk, 15, for ex­am­ple, has been vol­un­teer­ing at the Feed­ing The Needy soup kitchen since he was 12.

They set up on Jalan Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man once a week, and serve food to about 600 peo­ple, most of whom are chil­dren.

“Vol­un­teer­ing here has changed my per­spec­tive of home­less peo­ple,” said the Asia Pa­cific Smart School stu­dent, who goes there with his mother and sib­lings. “They’re not that dif­fer­ent from us, they’ve just had a harder time in their lives.”

He cred­its his mother for his in­ter­est in vol­un­teerism.

“She’s my in­spi­ra­tion,” he said. “She taught me a lot about char­ity work.”

Now he still has school com­mit­ments, but when Fir­daus is older, he hopes to open a cen­tre for home­less peo­ple, where they can find jobs that fit their tal­ents and hope­fully restart their lives.

An­other young star, who in­spired a small- town com­mu­nity into caring for the en­vi­ron­ment, is Loh Shi Ya, 13.

Two years ago, Loh ap­proached her teacher, Ka Kai Fong, ask­ing if there was some­thing she could do to help the en­vi­ron­ment. His an­swer was sim­ple: “You tell me.”

Chal­lenge is­sued, he waited to see what she would do.

Loh soon re­turned with a pro­posal – to form a Re­cy­cling Club.

And form a club she did, on top of ral­ly­ing the en­tire school into col­lect­ing re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als.

They man­aged to col­lect about 10 tonnes of ma­te­rial in 10 months, a stag­ger­ing amount by any stan­dards, but even more so be­cause the school, SJK ( C) Chi Chih, only has 33 stu­dents.

“I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been able to achieve so much with­out the sup­port of my teacher, Mr Ka,” she said.

Loh headed the club for two years be­fore mov­ing on to sec­ondary school. In that time, her school won the Na­tional Re­cy­cling Com­pe­ti­tion two years in a row.

“Shi Ya led all the projects, we teach­ers only ad­vised,” said Ka proudly.

The com­mu­nity of Pon­tian, Jo­hor, is a close- knit one, and once they no­ticed the ef­fort Loh was putting into her re­cy­cling project, they sup­ported the club by sup­ply­ing re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als and funds.

Now in Form One, Loh is no longer the pres­i­dent of the Re­cy­cling Club, but has plans to use so­cial me­dia to con­tinue ad­vo­cat­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity.

Back at her old school, her legacy con­tin­ues. Stu­dents still col­lect re­cy­clables and the school hopes to win the Na­tional Re­cy­cling Com­pe­ti­tion a third time.

“This is her legacy,” said Ka. “Through her work, she has changed the mind­sets of the stu­dents, teach­ers and even the com­mu­nity.”

— Photo: NORAFIFI EH­SAN/ The Star

Leah Choy, seven, learnt how to bake to raise funds for her sis­ter, who has cere­bral palsy. Now, she raises funds for var­i­ous causes in­clud­ing the dis­abled and the Ro­hingya boat peo­ple.

— Photos: Hand­out

Fir­daus ( sec­ond from right) vol­un­teers at the Feed­ing the Needy soup kitchen, feed­ing around 600 home­less peo­ple a night.

With en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Loh lead­ing the way, the en­tire SJK ( C) Chi Chih ral­lied to­gether to col­lect a to­tal of 10 tonnes of re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als within 10 months.

( Top) Loh has been recog­nised as a Young Change­maker for her re­cy­cling ef­forts.

( Be­low) Cathryn’s dream is to join Unicef or the United Na­tions as a child’s rights ac­tivist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.