Meet Heidy Quah, The Sole Malaysian Winner Of The 2017 Queen's Young Leaders Award

She has made a difference in the lives of refugee children in Malaysia.

Cover image via RFTR

This is Heidy Quah, a 23-year-old who is the sole Malaysian this year to receive a Young Leaders Award from Queen Elizabeth II

Why is young Heidy getting the award?

It's for the recognition for her advocacy and aid work for refugees in Malaysia through her NGO called Refuge for The Refugees (RFTR). She started the NGO with her best friend Andrea Prisha five years ago when she was barely 18-year-old.

The Queen's Young Leaders Award, that celebrates young people in Commonwealth countries who are taking the lead in communities and using their skills to transform lives, will be presented by the Queen herself, at Buckingham Palace, London, 29 June.

Malaysia as a country does not recognise refugees, as a result of which refugee children cannot attend formal schools in the country

Heidy, who started teaching English to refugee children near her neighbourhood when she was barely 18, formed Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR) in September 2012.

The unschooled Myanmar refugee children have become her battle. Through her work and the NGO, Heidy hopes to help raise awareness about the state of refugees and provide aid to refugee schools in terms of education and sustenance.

Heidy shares how RFTR was formed

It was formed with a simple wish: To help Chin Children’s Education Centre, a Myanmarese refugee school where she volunteered to teach English, to stay open.

The Myanmarese refugee school was in need of English teachers. However, the school soon ran out of funds and was on the verge of being forced to shut.

The school was funded by the Office of the UNHCR or the UN Refugee Agency.

"There I was, a person about to go for higher education while these kids, who can’t receive formal education in Malaysia, were being robbed of the only access to the education they had," Heidy was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini.

So she along with her best friend decided to help. They started sharing stories of the refugee children they were teaching on Facebook, utilising the platform's vast reach.

"We shared our stories, and people just gave,” she said, adding that within a week, they had managed to raise enough money to keep the school open for several months.

It was this process that inspired Heidy and her friend, Andrea, to set up RFTR. Today, it's been five years since RFTR was formed and it now supports 35 schools, caring for over 2,000 refugee children.

Of the 35 schools, 10 schools for refugees are established in the Klang Valley and Penang and the rest of the 25 schools are in Myanmar.

"RFTR’s main goal is to empower refugee children with an education so that they can self-sustain and be independent. And, hopefully, they too can educate their own communities and make a difference eventually,” says Heidy, as reported by NST.

After it was announced that Heidy is the sole Malaysian winner of the 2017 Queen's Young Leaders Award, Prime Minister's Office called her to ask if she is available to meet. Her recognition was even commended by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who tweeted:

However, the ironical part here is that while PM Najib was quick to congratulate Heidy on her international recognition for her work with refugees, his government has refused to ratify the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees despite repeated calls from civil society

Other recent stories on SAYS:

You may be interested in: