PETALING JAYA: It is said that the future of a country depends on its youth, for it is they who will ultimately lead the way. And looks like Malaysia is in good hands as many of her young are showing their potential in the best of ways.
On July 1, two Malaysians were named recipients of the prestigious Diana Award, which celebrates youth participating in the fight for social change.
This year, the award, established in memory of Princess Diana of Wales, was presented to 189 individuals from around the world.
Among those listed on the 2023 Diana Award Roll of Honour were Malaysians Nehemiah Aaron Nathan, 25, and Max Han, 22; both social activists in their own right.
FMT Lifestyle recently spoke to Nehemiah, co-founder of “The EduLab”, a social enterprise that aims to improve English literacy among children from underprivileged groups.
Currently studying engineering at Universiti Tenaga Nasional, he and his friends – Syaarveeni Ashok, Ho Jia Da, Lee Mei Yan and Chan Yew Joe – created a card game that helps teach its players English.
“The EduLab is meant to bridge the gap between the urban and rural communities through education,” he told FMT, “specifically through English literacy.”
Nehemiah said he believed that over 850 students throughout Peninsular Malaysia have been positively impacted by the group’s efforts.
He said that children from the B40 group find it tougher to master the English language as they struggle to stay motivated.
“They want to find a new learning environment. Back in the day, we learned English via memorisation and writing.” But while the internet has changed all that, underprivileged children still lack digital access.
“So, we thought, ‘Why not come up with something which combines education with games?’ And we came to the next thought: ‘What if the Uno card game and the English language had a baby?’”
That thought led to the conception of “Zing! English Card Game”, which teaches players how to form proper sentences in English.
Nehemiah and his team introduced the game in schools and the results were surprisingly positive. “We saw the growth in English vocabulary used by the students was super amazing. Their literacy has improved, and their English teachers have told us so.”
It’s very likely that kids love the card game because it is “fun and engaging”, suggested Nehemiah, adding that students are more open to learning via games than traditional class lessons.
When asked about the Diana Award, Nehemiah said he was honoured to be formally recognised for his hard work.
“So far, we have concentrated our efforts only on west Malaysia. Through the award, many doors have been opened to go beyond Malaysia and impact kids around the globe.”
Meanwhile, Han, the second recipient of the Diana Award, who co-founded the environmental non-profit group, “Youths United for Earth” (YUFE), said the group aims to mobilise Malaysians to fight climate change.
Currently in the US, he told FMT Lifestyle via e-mail that his environmental work started in secondary school and that YUFE was set when he was 19 years old.
During this time, he realised two things: “Local contexts matter. Many Malaysians know of polar bears and ice caps melting, but not necessarily our local biodiversity and environmental issues.”
He said there was a need to bring the issue closer to home, as people are more likely to act on matters that directly affect them.
The second epiphany was regarding the role youngsters can play in environmentalism, with Han’s own interactions with environmentally-conscious children leaving him wowed.
He said he believed everyone, including kindergarteners, can fight climate change. “Whatever we lack in experience, we make up for with passion – we just need to be empowered.”
YUFE, he said, participated in a campaign to raise awareness on coral destruction in Pulau Mabul. Additionally, they campaigned with Penang activists against the Penang South Islands reclamation project.
“It was fulfilling, seeing our project grow into this movement, with young people across the nation signing petitions and e-mailing our MPs to voice our concerns.”
Yet, it continues to be an uphill battle for Han, who acknowledged that Malaysia and Southeast Asia are already facing the brunt of climate change, with heatwaves intensifying.
“While Malaysia does have high emissions, it has less historical global CO2 contributions than many developed nations,” he said.
Malaysia must, hence, invest accordingly in climate adaptation plans while holding itself and other nations accountable for their emissions.
“I want YUFE to be the go-to resource and community hub for Malaysian youths wanting to take environmental action.
“We want to make advocacy accessible to youths beyond urban areas and are currently building a map containing environmental initiatives across the nation,” he said.
Learn more about the Diana Award here and consider nominating promising young Malaysians for next year’s recipient list.