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8 Student-Led Initiatives That Are Changing Lives

Women For Refugees

It’s been a long-standing history within Malaysian university campuses where student-led initiatives are birthed and social causes are championed. School halls and lecture rooms are conducive places where passionate youth gather to talk about social issues, how they can change the world and new ideas concocted.

According to a study that reviews student-led initiatives in Malaysian campuses, students are defined as change agents when they actively take up the responsibility to induce positive change in the community around them based on their knowledge and skillsets acquired in higher education[1].

Apart from the continuous exposure to progressive ideas, universities are social grounds for students to gain networks and form alliances with like-minded peers. Organized initiatives easily take form with the support in funding, approval, and mentoring from school management[1]. Of course, the seemingly unlimited passion and energy that is synonymous with students make them the perfect change initiators.

We want to highlight some student-led initiatives that started from a small group into movements that have ripple-effect impacts on the communities they serve. From championing mental health to tackling education in B40, here are 8 student-led initiatives that are changing lives!

#1: Connect.ED

Source: Courtesy of Connect.ED

Connect.ED was founded by a group of university students taking part in the McKinsey Youth Leadership Academy programme in October 2020. Connect.ED sees the widening gap between online learning and B40 students who face trouble accessing the internet. In 2020, 36.9% of students reported difficulty following lessons from home due to the lack of electronic devices[2]

Connect.ED aims to bridge the digital divide by channeling digital devices to the much needed B40 students in Malaysia. As of 7th November, Connect.ED successfully connected 107 laptops and tablets to B40 students spread across 5 schools. 

We obtain these devices from individual and corporate donors, and refurbish them using funds raised from our fundraising campaigns. – Connect.ED

Connect.ED kept in touch with the benefiting students by running digital upskilling workshops such as Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Canva (graphic design). They are in the middle of #FundraiseForDigital campaign, aiming to obtain RM10,000 to provide 25 laptops to 25 students by the end of this November 2021. If you wish to contribute second hand devices, or monetary donation, check them out here.

#2: Belia di Bawah Bayu

Source: Belia di Bawah Bayu

Belia di Bawah Bayu (BdBB) came to realise the lack of youth organization in Sabah that addresses state-specific issues, specifically the lack of access to education among stateless children in Sabah. A report estimated around 30,000 Sabahan children were born undocumented[3], hence deprived fair access to schooling opportunity.

Apart from infographics and webinars, BdBB organised ‘DUN Belia Sabah’, a simulation of Sabah state legislative assembly that gathers 30 youths from all over Sabah to propose and debate policies for providing education access for stateless children.

This (positive response from DUN Belia Sabah) indicates that there are youths who are interested in policy-making and nation building. – Belia di Bawah Bayu.

BdBB also worked closely with Undi Sabah in web-based show ‘Cincau Chat’ to facilitate discourse of societal issues and youth’s aspiration on building a better Sabah. Check them out here as they prepare for the next cycle of DUN Belia Sabah in 1st quarter of 2022.

#3: We Share, We Care

Source: We Share We Care

We Share We Care (WSWC) is a community outreach program that grew out of the University Peer Group from Multimedia University in Cyberjaya (MMU). WSWC aimed at improving STEM education among B40 children aged 10 to 15 years old. Online learning introduced a second hurdle to the education of STEM topics. Where labs and practicals are taken for granted during face-to-face learning, it is especially a barrier for B40 primary school students to access them when studying at home.

With the support from Khind Starfish Foundation, WSWC organized workshops to educate children on the wonders of science and technology. ‘Magic in Science’ workshops are conducted with experiment kits hand-delivered to B40 children at home. The ‘Coding for Kids’ module aims to teach children about block-based coding using Scratch. Check them out here to follow their regular project updates.

#4: Unmask Your Wounds

Source: The Star

Unmask Your Wounds (UYW) is a digital campaign that stems from the final year project of a group of Taylor’s University students. The campaign was launched on 10th October 2020 in conjunction with World Mental Health Day with the aim to shed light upon the mental health of differently-abled people. National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 found that close to 30% of people with disability suffer from mental health problems[5].

Mental health is often seen as invisible wounds or wounds that are often plastered – hence the name of our campaign, ‘Unmask Your Wounds’. – King Lim, cofounder that suffers from achondroplasia[6].

To lend a voice to this much overlooked issue, UYW hosted weekly podcasts and Instagram Live to talk to people from the differently-abled community, caregivers and professionals from the mental health field. The campaign created a network of caregivers where mental health is discussed openly. Though the final year project is over, UYW will continue to create content and collaboration to encourage empathy and compassion towards the differently-abled. Give them a follow here.

#5 Kau OK Tak

Source: Kau OK Tak via Malaysiakini

Kau OK Tak (KOT) started off as a campaign that speaks to secondary school students with the aim to break the stigma surrounding counseling. Schools are supposed to be the safe refuge for children to explore and learn. Yet the public is thoroughly horrified when the 17-years-old Ain calls out her teacher’s lewd jokes on Tik Tok[7].

KOT took the matter to their hands by hosting an open mic session to facilitate discourse on misconception and toxic culture surrounding mental health in secondary school[8]. Following that, KOT released a joint press statement calling for reform in the school counselling system to better protect the emotional and mental well-being of fellow teenagers[9]. KOT is also active in promoting a safe and inclusive school environment, free from emotional abuse and bullying. Follow their work here.

Oftentimes we are too quick to intervene, and say okay maybe this is what  you need. Sometimes victims of bullying just need a safe space to share their stories and tell us what they need. So in Kau OK Tak, we’ve been trying to do that, to cultivate that support system so they are able to fall back on an alliance. – Cynthia, founding member of KOT[10].

#6: Women For Refugees

Source: The Malaysian Insight, courtesy of Women For Refugees

Women For Refugees (WFR) is formed by two law students upon realising a particular refugee community in Selayang in dire need for English and Malay language education in order to earn a basic living. According to UNHCR Malaysia, there are a total of 179,510 recorded asylum-seekers currently residing in Malaysia[11]

With a particular focus on gender based issues in marginalized communities, WFR aims to empower and upskill refugee communities through educational classes, humanitarian aid, medical support and financial building programs.

We want to equip them with the necessary skills so that they can sustain themselves … and contribute back to the community. – Arissa, co-founder of WFR[12].

To date, WFR fundraised close to RM50,000 which resulted in food aid distributions to 4 communities within Selayang totaling up to 600 families, assisting over 100 cases requiring urgent financial aid for medical expenses.

Through learning and working with refugee communities during the pandemic, we learnt that the refugee crisis is far more technical and nuanced – correlating issues such as the lack of an agreed upon legislation acknowledging refugee status and rights in Malaysia, lack of basic rights to education, employment and healthcare, often squalid living conditions, and even cultural barriers. – Davina, Women For Refugees.

WFR is currently working on a new program called The ‘Karama’ Initiative that aims to train and upskill refugee women within the Selayang district in employable skills and leadership training. Check them out here where they also regularly spotlight unique issues faced by the refugee community.

#7: Kakak Services

Source: Courtesy of Kakak Services

Kakak Services (Kakak) was started as a social enterprise idea in 2019 by 6 youths from Axiata Young CEO Development Programme. Its aim is to empower refugees by providing them job opportunities as domestic helpers as a means to gain sustainable income. As the pandemic rages on, Kakak found its calling in providing food relief and monetary aid for struggling refugee families under its Health Equity Initiatives.

COVID-19 pandemic has increased the stigma against refugees, but there are also good-hearted Malaysians who empathise the situation of refugee and are willing to help. – Shenn Kuan, co-founder of Kakak Services during an interview with Astro Awani[13].

Kakak continues to serve the refugee community in various ways, which include providing hygiene products for women, fundraising to cover medical bills, and transportation to hospitals, milk powder for infants. To date, Kakak has contributed over RM86,000 worth of humanitarian aid impacting countless families.

The majority of these refugees that we provide to have lost jobs, are single parents, or breadwinners with a family to feed. – Shenn Kuan

In tackling access to education, Kakak awarded scholarships to 6 refugee children to attend school. They are on the lookout for monthly donors to contribute RM250 monthly to support more refugee children to receive their education. Check out their good work here.

#8: Bulan Sisters

Source: Bulan Sisters

Globally, 1 in 4 women between the age of 13 to 35 finds it difficult to manage their period, with 47% of them having trouble accessing menstrual supplies[14]. Though menstruation is a natural biological function, sanitary products are not deemed as a basic necessity. It is precisely this conundrum that prompted a group of students to create Bulan Sisters (BS).

BS aims to raise awareness about period poverty and destigmatize periods as a natural function. The greater mission is to contribute to gender equality where girls will not miss schools because of the lack of access to hygiene products. BS creates content regularly to debunk menstruation myths and advocate for greater awareness of period poverty. Through Bulan Movement workshops, BS bridged the knowledge gap by educating young menstruators from Sabah’s indigenous communities and Girl Guides of Kuala Lumpur on menstrual hygiene practices, menstrual disorders, as well as period biology.

Recently, BS collaborated with Pink Flag and Hunger Hurts to fundraised around RM11,000 to put together 120 menstrual hygiene kits which consist of 3-months worth of organic cotton-based sanitary pads, menstrual heating patches for cramps, and soap. The kits were distributed to women in need in Ulu Yam Orang Asli Village, Sai Pandian orphanage, and some B40 individuals. Support Bulan Sisters as they continue phase 2 of fundraise to prepare 200 more menstrual hygiene kits for different beneficiaries.

Do you know of any other student-led initiatives or movements that have created waves of positive impact in Malaysia? Drop us a line and let us know!

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Zeeda Fatimah Mohamad et al. (2021). Students as change agents for campus sustainability in Malaysian universities. Emerald Insight. Link.
  2. Chan. (2020). Almost 40pct of students can’t study at home as they lack electronic devices. New Straits Times. Link.
  3. Daily Express. (2017). More than 1.3mil non-M’sians in Sabah: Don. Daily Express Online. Link.
  4. Lim. J. (2021). Equipping needy for e-learning. The Star. Link.
  5. Noor Ani Ahmad et al. (2017). Prevalence and determinants of disability among adults in Malaysia: results from the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2015. BMC Public Health. Link.
  6. The Star. (2020). Healing ‘wounds’ of the differently-abled. The Star. Link.
  7.  Malaysiakini. (2021). Teen claims teacher made rape jokes in class, Maszlee calls for probe. Malaysiakini. Link.
  8. Lee, A. (2021). Youths call out school teachers, victim-blaming and harassment. Malaysiakini. Link.
  9. Kau OK Tak. (2021). Joint Press Statement: Calling for Improved Counselling. Medium. Link.
  10. Kau OK Tak. (2021, June 17). Pushing for action against bullying [Audio]. Instagram. Link.
  11. UNHCR. (2021). Figures at a Glance in Malaysia. UNHCR. Link.
  12. Ng, E. (2020). Malaysia group teaches refugee women how to read and write. ABC News. Link.
  13. Indramalar, S. (2021). What is period poverty and why we must end it. The Star. Link.
  14. Astro Awani. (2020, May 21). Realiti Rakyat: Perkhidmatan pembantu rumah, peluang untuk pelarian [Video]. Astro Awani. Link.

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