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7 Simple, Powerful Initiatives By Young Malaysians That Are Transforming Local Communities

"Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change."

Cover image via SAYS

1. Lex Low has a skin condition but it was out of this predicament that led him to start the #heavenonearth initiative with his friends

A barber by profession, 29-year-old Lex Low has been taking his skills to the streets for over a year now.

“Due to my psoriasis condition, my doctor insisted that I stay away from chemical products and had even advised me to leave the industry," Low said.

With 13 years in the hairdressing profession, it is the only thing he knows well and he finds it tough to deal with this curveball thrown at him.

“I thought about what I could do with my skills instead of giving it up. Then I thought about how I could touch lives and impact society.”

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Through the #heavenonearth initiative, Low and his team of volunteers distribute food to the homeless on the streets. Low also puts his skills to good use as he offers to cut their hair.

Low and his team of volunteers

Image via Lex Low Instagram

Beyond street-feeding, lending a sympathetic ear and keeping people neat, Low is out there to empower the homeless with his skills

Image via The Star Online

“I’m offering to teach them how to cut hair."

“This is my dream, to see them go from being homeless to having a permanent roof over their head and a stable job."

“Once they’ve acquired the skill, I plan to employ some of them. Maybe one day, they can run a barbershop.”

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Connect with Lex Low here.

2. Like Low, 25-year-old Mastura M. Rashid also has a vision to get the homeless off the streets through her social enterprise, The Nasi Lemak Project

Mastura Mohd Rashid (right)

Image via The Malaysian Insider

Through her social enterprise, started in 2013 and which she calls The Nasi Lemak Project, she and her volunteers visit the homeless with homemade nasi lemak and sit with them while they eat.

“The food we give out is a communication tool, and this is what people should be doing."

“Giving food alone does not do anything for the people.”

“To change them, you need to befriend them,” she said.

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Although challenges such as the lack of funds to sustain the her social enterprise can be rather discouraging, Mastura is determined to continue helping the homeless and also the needy children in the kampungs

With help from other organisations and from her own income, Mastura continues to work hard, believing that she can one day change the state of the homeless in the city.

She said the setbacks encountered only made her work harder. She is now trying to secure help from corporations to fund her project. At the end of it all, she hopes to set up a cafe run by the homeless.

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3. Age should never limit us to do the things we think is right - that is what 18-year-old Aidille Iman taught us

Aidille Iman (left) with the staffs at the Oppo store in Low Yat Plaza.

Image via The Malaysian Insider

When social media was being flooded by racist messages as a result of the Low Yat brawl, Aidille wasn't happy.

“I was sad. My adopted brother is a Chinese convert,” Adille said.

“We eat and live together in peace. I didn’t like what was happening nor do I support it,” he said.

So, he did what he could to inject some positivity back into reality - he went to Low Yat to sing Michael Jackson's 'We Are The World' with the shopkeepers.

Although things didn't went as smoothly as he thought it would, Aidille's simple gesture brought warmth to the hearts of Malaysians in the little that he did

He said that his first encounter with staff at the Oppo store was “awkward and icy” at first, but he they came around in the end.

Aidille moved on to other stores to spread his own brand of goodwill and he said he received a positive response.

“But they were too busy attending to customers to come and sing the song with me."

“I was quite disappointed about that. I really wanted to make a video of all the races singing together,” he said.

“Still, I feel I have accomplished my mission.”

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4. Racial and political tension can be overwhelming, so Lydia May Wong led her team to inspire Malaysians with hope and optimism through the #JomKawan project by Volunteers Unite

Lydia (in blue kebaya) and her team

Image via Lydia May Wong Facebook

The idea of #JomKawan (colloquial Malay for Let’s Be Friends) project is to ease racial, social and political tensions by bringing Malaysians together, regardless of their race, religion or political inclinations, around a shared belief.

The first activity under this project was simple - let people feeling about Malaysia through simple things. A group of volunteers went went to the Kuala Lumpur Sentral railway station with a mat, packets of nasi lemak, a congkak board and marbles, a piece of black cloth that bore multi-coloured handprints and the words JomKawan, and a handwritten sign that asked “What do you love about Malaysia?”.

They randomly approached people, inviting them to take a load off and spend a few minutes on the mat for a chat. They asked what it was about the country that Malaysians treasured most.

If there was one thing we can learn from Lydia, it is to see the good in all Malaysians

“We were pleasantly surprised with some of the answers and the beautiful display of patriotism within our community,” Wong wrote in her Facebook timeline.

The mat became a meeting point for folks of various races and ages. Some people took a bit more time to shed our habit of complaining about the issues of the day but as one volunteer reported, at the end of the conversations, they realised that we should put such things aside and focus on spreading love instead.

“Malaysians are much better than what we think we are,” said Wong.

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Be a part of Volunteers Unite here.

5. Nurainie Haziqah Shafi’i is a 25-year-old lawyer who frequently volunteers to help the underprivileged since 2009. She eventually founded 'Happy Bank', a non-governmental organisation started by a group of friends to help the needy.

Image via The Star Online

“We are just normal individuals committed to helping people in need, regardless of race, creed or colour, but we can’t do it without public support," Nurainie said.

“Together, we can help these people find the strength to move forward in life,” she added.

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Recently, Nurainie and her team of volunteers, who call themselves the Happy Bank Crew, made Raya more memorable by cooking for 1,000 Rohingya living in several villages

Volunteers packing food for Rohingya refugees

Image via The Star Online

“I believe in helping anybody in need, they can be orphans, the homeless or in this case, Rohingyas,” she said.

“Raya Rohingya” is a continuation from Happy Bank’s previous project, “Iftar Rohingya”, where the group distributed 400 packets of food and daily essentials. They also collected donations for the Rohingyas during Ramadan.

“Our future programmes include blood donation drives and education sessions for those in need,” said Nurainie.

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Join the Happy Crew here.

6. You would think that full-time medical students have their hands full but Sean Thum proves otherwise. Sean is a full-time medical student who consistently finds time to volunteer himself for good works.

The 23-year-old started volunteering work since his secondary school days under St John Ambulance. Sean currently assumes the role as Malaysian Liaison Officer for UKECharisma, an organisation that orchestrates volunteering projects.

He first joined UKECharisma [a branch of UKEC (United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students)] as a volunteer last year. As UKECharisma conducts education projects to teach English at local primary schools, Sean helps to coordinate projects by being the mediator between the committee and the schools they are working with.

Juggling between his studies and personal life, Sean has also been volunteering at various organisations including Kechara Soup Kitchen

"I hope that our rakyat realise that sedikit-sedikit lama-lama jadi bukit (a Malay proverb that means a little effort put forth consistently will add up to something greater) and take up volunteering," Sean said.

"Every small part we do to contribute to the betterment of our socoety and country can only result in a positive change to the society and country."

7. You have probably heard of Syed Azmi for his projects such as #SuspendedMeals and Free Market on social media but you may not know who are his friends that are partnering him to spread kindness and foster unity among the public. Meet the team:

Image via The Star Online

Ahamad Emran, Fadly Daud, Hafiz Kamal, Hayati Ismail, Sarah Lee, Syarifah Athirah Al Tirmidhi and Syed Azmi Alhabshi have managed to undertake 30 community events in the last one year by relying solely support gathered via social media. They have no ready funds to back them and they have no links to political, government or non-governmental bodies. Six of them have full-time jobs, mostly in the service sector, while one is a full-time homemaker.

Among their other successful community initiatives are “freemarket,” village games, feed the homeless and free canteen for the poor children.

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These seven individuals often work together as a group but they also champion their own special causes with others

One of the super seven's project - Freemarket Canteen at a school in Pasir Mas, Kelantan

Image via The Star Online

The seven also encourage like-minded individuals who have ideas to help the public, to go ahead without worrying too much about funds.

“If you have an idea, just try it. Do not worry about money."

“Once people see results, they will jump on board to help and things will will become easier,” said Azmi.

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Follow Syed Azmi and be inspired!

We also want to give a special shoutout to Project B, a beautiful cafe with minimalistic design. However, the most beautiful thing about this cafe is not the design but the people who are working at the forefront and behind the scenes - teenagers aged 17 to 20.

A collaboration between The BIG Group and the Berjaya Cares Foundation, Project B aims to empower the children through vocational education and transform them into contributing members of society.

Project B is a cafe staffed and fully run by the children, under the guidance of all partners. This programme serves as a platform for them to gain work experience, harness their skills and potentially discover their talents.

Usually, there is a minimum of 6 students working at the cafe, three at the back-end and three at the front-end. These students will only work the morning shift, from 11am to about 4pm.

Image via Project B

These teenagers, students from the Dignity for Children Foundation, generally spend about three days at the cafe and the rest of the week in class. Essentially they are doing charity, which is to do trade, and eventually the cafe would need to make a profit. Proceeds from the cafe will then go back to Dignity for Children Foundation, to sustain the programme, and to continue providing help and education to the underprivileged and less fortunate children.

Get to know more about Project B here.

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Indeed, Malaysia is a beautiful country full of great people who do not shy away from making a difference to the people around them:

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