How A Muay Thai Academy In KL Is Transforming The Lives Of Troubled Youths In Malaysia
"My target is to help underprivileged kids and youths, especially those expelled from school. I want them to know that it is not the end of the world yet."
27-year-old Imran Harith is a man on a mission. He wants to transform the lives of troubled youths in the country through Muay Thai.
It all started back in 2014, when Imran was visiting a village in Chalong, Thailand, to learn the art of Muay Thai and accompany a friend for a match.
"When I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by a group of kids - they picked up my bags, were so polite and efficient. I was curious, 'Who are these children, how are they so disciplined?'," explained Imran, when speaking at a humanitarian conference in September.
It was only after he arrived at the Muay Thai training centre that he realised who those children were. He was told that they are mostly victims of human trafficking, domestic, and sexual violence. Imran was shocked.
Imran soon realised that the Muay Thai training centre there is helping those children rebuild their lives
Not only does the centre provide the children with basic education, but it also strives to teach the boys important values in life - respect, discipline, self-confidence, resilience, leadership, and care - all of which are the pillars of Muay Thai.
"The kids were taught the true meaning of respect, honour, and discipline. Seeing how the boys rose from their dark pasts, I decided to do the same here (Malaysia)," explained Imran.
He came back home, partnered with Dragon Muay Thai in Jalan Alor and kick-started Discover Muay Thai, a social business initiative for undeserved and underprivileged youths by helping them shed their inhibitions, fears, and develop mental and physical strength through Muay Thai.
"At the gym, they do not only train to be athletes but they also stay and work there, learning how to cook and engage with the public."
Under Discover Muay Thai, selected youths from marginalised communities across Malaysia will undergo an intensive four-month development programme, which starts daily with an early morning 10km jog to KLCC from Jalan Alor, where the Muay Thai academy is located at.
The boys will then have to go for English and life skills classes at the academy, where they will be taught the basics of communication and reading. Their afternoons and evenings will be filled with Muay Thai trainings, team building activities, and working in the gym.
In their free time, the participants will be sent as volunteers to different kinds of social enterprises and NGOs as a way for them to give back to the community and develop other skills that may be useful in the future.
Most of the participants have gone through very difficult and painful situations in the past due to a number of reasons.
Unable to find a safe place, most of the boys turned to drugs, alcohol, and gangs.
Co-founder Sanul John says these problems stem from negative energy and family problems.
"Most of these kids come from broken families. If you ask me, all of them lack love. This is unhealthy for youths who need a great deal of care, attention, and love from their loved ones. These people are the future of our country," he said, in a video on the programme.
Meanwhile, Imran explained that as teenagers, most of these boys feel the need to belong and when they don't have a proper support system, they either end up in gangs or commit immoral activities.
What Discover Muay Thai provides is an alternative to the gang life. It is a brotherhood. The boys get to meet other people like them while rediscovering their potential and abilities, forming lasting friendships and learning to value human relationships.
Discover Muay Thai has transformed the lives of the boys.
Five of the past participants are now certified Muay Thai trainers, and two of them - Chen Wee and Faizal - have gained international recognition.
"One of our students, Shahmi from Kayu Ara, Selangor, is the only child. He had dropped out of school three times due to disciplinary problems but he is now a certified trainer and is working at a Celebrity Fitness centre and provides for his family," said Imran, during an interview with Bernama recently.
Prior to joining the Discover Muay Thai programme, most of the boys were dropouts, and some were even illiterates with criminal records and little hope of a bright future.
After graduating from the academy, most of the participants say that their self-worth and self-confidence have improved a great deal, and most importantly, they have learned to respect and value their lives
"Bit by bit, it (the programme) changed me. After this transformation, I felt like four months wasn't enough, I wanted more. But the duration is set at four months.
"So, I think I'm ready to face the outside world and be a new person. I will work hard, make money, and hopefully be able to help people the way Abang Imran, Sanul, and Azri helped me," said one of the participants, Rahmat Rinaldo B. Ramli.
As for 21-year-old Wanshahmirizal Wanjesmi, his childhood dream of becoming a policeman might just come true. From starting to smoke at the age of 13 to experimenting with drugs at 15, Shahmi's teen years were rocky to say the least.
He finished high school and was only able to work in the lorry business with his father due to his poor results in school. Right when it seemed like his dreams would never come true, Shahmi received a message that said he made it into the Discover Muay Thai training programme.
"My life has changed, I am not who I used to be, I am different, I am new, and I have changed for the better, and this was made possible by Discover Muay Thai Academy."
With renewed confidence and a fresh set of skills, Shahmi is ready to take on the challenges in life in order for him to realise the dream of becoming a policeman.
The details and progress updates on the participants were obtained from Discover Muay Thai's official blog.
Kudos to the Discover Muay Thai team and all the participants for proving that anything is possible with determination and passion!