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17 Times Everyday Malaysians Made Us Proud With Their Achievements In 2020

From filmmaking and writing to science and education, many Malaysians broke records and made headlines across the world this year.

Cover image via Malay Mail , AMPAS , Emily Yap/The Edge

As 2020 comes to an end, let's take a look back at the many achievements that Malaysians made this year to remind us that all was not lost:

1. A short documentary produced by two US-based Malaysian women was nominated for an Oscar

Image via Gempak

On 13 January, The Academy announced that the 25-minute documentary St Louis Superman, produced by Penang-born Poh Si Teng and Cheyenne Tan from Sarawak, was one of five nominees for the 'Documentary Short Subject' category.

The film follows the story of Bruce Franks Jr, a battle rapper and Ferguson activist who uses protests and opposes police violence in the United States. He ran for the Missouri House Of Representatives in 2016 and, out of all odds, won.

St Louis Superman also won best documentary at the 2019 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Monatana and was part of the official selection at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

2. Writer Joshua Kam became the youngest person to win Singapore's Epigram Books Fiction Prize with a novel about Malaysian folklore

The 23-year-old received the award and prize money of SGD25,000 (RM75,400) on 16 January in Singapore for his manuscript titled How The Man In Green Saved Pahang, And Possibly The World.

Along with the prize money, Kam's novel was also published by Epigram.

"Receiving a platform through Epigram - for those many ancestries and their tales - is a joy and honour," he told The Straits Times.

"Part of me is just thankful to be a vessel of the stories, people, and ancestries I write about."

3. 12-year-old Sangeeta Retnakumar bagged a total of five gold medals in a skating competition held in Bangkok, Thailand

The Standard Six student competed in the Ice Skating Institute (ISI) Asia Final Championship Series and won first place in Freestyle 4, Solo Comp F4, Footwork F4, Open FS Silver, and Drama Sport FS4 events.

She dedicated her win to her grandmother who passed away a month before the competition and thanked her parents and coaches for supporting her this far.

Sangeeta began skating competitively at the age of seven and has won many figure skating competitions in Asia. Her dream is to compete in the Winter Olympics in the future.

4. Author Hanna Alkaf won the US-based Freeman Book Awards with debut novel, The Weight of Our Sky

Image via LayarMinda

Hanna's young adult novel was named one of the winners in the 'Young Adult/High School Literature' category, with the Freeman Book Awards stating that it "recognises quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of East and Southeast Asia".

The historical fiction novel follows a 16-year-old girl with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as she navigates the 13 May 1969 racial riots - and her own inner demons - with the help of a Chinese boy so that she can reunite with her mother.

Speaking to SAYS, Hanna said winning the award was exciting as authors published in the US but not based in it are not eligible for many major awards.

"Truth be told, since it's such a very Malaysian story, I didn't think it would get the response that it has. I'm so grateful that it found its readers," she added.

5. Scriptwriter Renee Pillai became the first Malaysian to win the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Image via AMPAS

Renee won the annual screenwriting competition with her film script, Boy With Kite, which tells the story of a 50-year-old woman who has to take care of her 10-year-old nephew after her brother, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, passes away.

She was one of five winners whose submission beat out over 7,300 scripts from all over the world and received a total of USD35,000 (RM143,000) as prize money from The Academy.

Her screenplay is currently in the early stages of making it to the big screen.

6. Chef Siti Safura Mohd Tawil emerged champion her category in the 2020 Chef Ireland Culinary Competitions with her Malaysian fusion dish

Hailing from Ranau, Sabah, Sti Safura impressed the Irish panel of judges and was seen proudly holding up the Jalur Gemilang while receiving the gold medal.

She won with her dish called 'Nasi Lemak Bunga Telang' - made up of rice that was coloured blue, chicken rendang, kerabu, and crunchy keropok lekor - a fusion of nasi lemak and nasi kerabu.

The talented chef shared she also won a silver medal in a pasta category and said she was thankful for the wins.

7. Military pharmacist Captain Manvikram Singh Gill was given the honour of 'Pharmacy Professional of The Year 2019' for his contribution to the practice in the country

Manvikram was presented the top professional pharmacist award in Southeast Asia on 17 February by SwipeRx, the largest social network of pharmacists in Southeast Asia.

Working at Tuanku Mizan Armed Forces Hospital in Wangsa Maju, he beat thousands of other pharmacists in the region to win the award, and it is well deserved.

The 28-year-old has attended various military professional courses and has been deployed to many humanitarian assistance and disaster relief programmes, including providing aid in a declassified ops in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees.

Apart from his regular duties, he is also pursuing a Master's degree in pharmacy and is actively involved in the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society, the United Nations Association of Malaysia, and the Armed Forces Sikh Association.

8. University of Oxford PhD student Lim Boon Chuan was part of the team of scientists who developed a revolutionary rapid test prototype for COVID-19

The 26-year-old, who hails from Kuala Lumpur, is a scholarship holder studying synthetic biology at the university.

When the coronavirus epidemic was on the rise in China, Lim along with his professors at the university and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) developed a COVID-19 test kit that can produce results in half an hour.

"Our goal is to design and produce something that can be sent to households, so people should be able to do the testing at home easily and fast without going to a diagnostic centre or to the hospital," Lim told New Straits Times.

Lim's role was to design and run all the experiments for the tests that had been validated at Shenzhen Luohou People's Hospital in China with real clinical samples.

9. Malaysian students Mohamed Aqil and Zad Chin Qi Qi were accepted into Harvard College, the undergraduate school of the world-renowed Harvard University, under full scholarships

The 20-year-olds joined the select few of 1,908 undergraduate students who were successfully admitted out of 40,248 applicants this year to Harvard College, making them part of the deserving 4.9%.

Aqil, who hails from Shah Alam, Selangor, plans to major in Mathematics and Philosophy. He told SAYS that he was excited about getting into Harvard.

"[It's] more so for the intellectual experience and educational opportunities than it is the prestige. Being in a place where the brightest minds in the world are concentrated really appeals to me," the avid debater and tennis player said.

Meanwhile, Chin who is from Ipoh, Perak, has a keen interest in robotics and technology, and plans to major in Computer Science and Social Studies.

"I really want to research about the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare tech, and Harvard medical school is one of the best medical schools in the world," she told SAYS.

10. Anime artist Lam Quek Chung won an award at Japan's 13th International Manga Award for his comic Detektif Hantu: Kesumat

Lam's work - written under the pseudonym 'Leoz' - received a bronze award for his horror-themed comic and the prize was presented by Japan's ambassador to Malaysia, Hiroshi Oka, on 6 July.

The award is often considered to be the most prestigious prize for non-Japanese manga artists. A total of 345 works were submitted to the awarding body from all over the world last year, and only 15 came out on top.

The comic book is written in Bahasa Malaysia and is about an investigation into a game that caused the death of a student 13 years ago and features a detective with supernatural powers who is in charge of solving the mysterious case.

11. Cardiologist Dr Masliza Mahmod earned the honour of being appointed Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Oxford University in the United Kingdom

Image via Berita Harian

Dr Masliza was recognised for her work and research as head of clinical trials at the Oxford Centre for Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research's (OCMR) Division of Cardiovascular Medicine.

Hailing from Batu Pahat, Johor, the esteemed 48-year-old has come a long way and has many other titles under her belt. She is also a member of London's Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) and is in the Steering Committee of the British Society of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (BSCMR) Heart Failure Research Task Force.

"This is for Malaysia. Being here at Oxford, I am in a better position to help Malaysia in cardiovascular medicine by opening up training opportunities for Malaysians and for research collaborations," she said.

"I am grateful to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), which has allowed me to pursue my career in Oxford following my PhD. It has always been my intention to give back to the country."

12. 20-year-old academic prodigy Yugendran Rajaendran was accepted into not one, but 10 top-ranked universities in the United States

The fresh graduate of Epsom College, where he attended on a full scholarship, is no stranger to academic success as he had achieved 11A+ for his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations and was predicted to receive five A* for his A-levels.

Yugendran had his pick of Yale, Columbia, and New York University, among other prestigious universities, but the student chose to head to Stanford University in California to pursue a degree in Bioengineering and Mathematical and Computational Science.

When asked why Stanford was his number one choice, Yugendran told SAYS, "I always knew I wanted to do something related to technology, entrepreneurship, medicine, and mathematics. Stanford is the only university that is leading is all the fields."

And the secret to his success so far? He said, "Learn for the sake of knowledge and not merely for exams. No special talent or power is required to be successful, pure hard work and determination are enough to bring you to greater heights."

13. Animator Erica Eng became the fourth and youngest Malaysian ever to receive an Eisner Award for her comic book

Hailing from Johor, the 21-year-old faced Dreamworks Animation visual developer Jason Brubaker, Spanish cartoonist Javi de Castro, as well as US-based artists Matt Huynh, Erik Lundy, and Meredith Moriarty, but ultimately came out on top with her webcomic Fried Rice.

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards are prizes given for creative achievement in comic books and are said to be the comic industry's equivalent of the Oscars.

Eng's comic tells the humble story of an aspiring young artist with hopes of studying in New York and explores the conflicts many Malaysians face over staying or going.

She told BFM Radio, "I thought I could not be an artist and be in Batu Pahat, but I realised how untrue that was. So, [Fried Rice] was just me gathering all those things I was struggling with in high school… and reclaiming it through writing and art."

14. Lt Lohappriya Manisegaran became the very first Malaysian Indian woman to earn the title of pilot with the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF)

Lohappriya from Klang completed her degree from the National Defence University of Malaysia (UPNM) in 2018, and was honoured with the letter of commission as a UPNM Cadet Officer by the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Muhammad V.

This year, she was one of the 38 trainees who was presented the esteemed Flight Wing badge at a presentation ceremony at the Air Force College (KTU) in Alor Setar on 9 October, officially giving her the rank of Lieutenant and the title of RMAF pilot.

15. Universiti Malaya medical student Subashan Vadibeler was awarded the prestigious international Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford in 2021

Image via Malay Mail

Hailing from Ipoh, Perak, Subashan will be headed to the UK to pursue double master's degrees in International Health and Tropical Medicine as well as in Integrated Immunology.

The 24-year-old is extremely passionate about neglected tropical diseases and combating health inequality. He has also worked closely with urban poor communities during his clinical training and is a strong advocate of science for all.

"My hometown is quite a big inspiration for me because at UM, where I'm currently studying, is where the Nipah virus was discovered and my hometown was one of the earliest places to be infected with the virus," he said.

Inspired by his experiences in medical school, the final year student hopes to one day eradicate dengue after seeing many patients who were suffering from the mosquito-borne disease.

16. English teacher Samuel Isaiah was named one of the top 10 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize 2020 for his work in teaching Orang Asli students in Pahang

The Global Teacher Prize is an annual USD1 million (RM4.2 million) award presented by the international Varkey Foundation to teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

Samuel was selected from over 12,000 nominations and applications from over 140 countries around the world.

"Samuel's crowdfunded tech-enabled classroom has boosted exam passes for his Orang Asli students, the indigenous people of Malaysia who live in the rainforests, at the fringes of society," said the foundation.

"I emphasised English as a language first, subject second, and following that, many started to look forward to speaking English. I treated the children like my family and helped to build their confidence," Samuel told New Straits Times in an interview.

17. Nine-year-old Zyson Kang Zy Sun won the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Lunar Loo Challenge 2020 in the junior category

Kang's 'Spacesuit Lunar Toilet' beat out 897 participants from 85 countries. His invention can be installed into an astronaut's spacesuit and works around microgravity in space by creating a vacuum to siphon out human waste to a container.

"This design can not only be used on the moon, [but] it also can be used as a medical toilet," Kang told one of the NASA panelists in a webinar presentation on 29 October.

"Since we are now in a pandemic, sometimes doctors and nurses need to pee or poop. So they can just do it (with the device) even when they are saving people," he added.

While he is now a successful inventor who has impressed NASA, Kang said he aspires to become a geneticist in the future.

No Malaysian achievement is too small to celebrate!

Image via GIPHY

Check out our 2020 #wrapups on SAYS:

Here are more famous Malaysians who made headlines this year: