The Earl of Wessex Prince Edward (fourth from right) and Deputy Youth and Sports Ministry Minister Steven Sim Chee Keong (second from left) with the International Award for Young People 2019 Gold Award recipients.

“VOLUNTEERING in Uganda last year was a life-changing experience for me,” said Jebsen Edmund, 23 from Manipal International University.

To fulfil the expedition component of the International Award for Young People, Jebsen said, he joined MyCorps, a volunteering programme under the Youth and Sports Ministry.

Jebsen took a semester off and spent three months in Uganda to help the impoverished in the country. There, he was involved in building classrooms and starting up a menstrual product business at a United Nations refugee camp.

“We noticed that the girls in the slums would miss school during menstruation as they could not afford sanitary pads. To address this, we taught Ugandans a cheaper way to manufacture reusable sanitary pads,” Jebsen said.

He was among the 254 Malaysians who recently clinched the gold award for the International Award for Young People 2019.

Originated from the United Kingdom as The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, the programme started in Malaysia in 1991 under the ministry. It is open to youths aged 14 to 24 and aims to increase youth leadership potential, prepare them for future challenges, develop them holistically and cultivate the spirit of volunteerism.

Applicants were required to complete components, such as physical recreation, skill development, community service, conduct an expedition, as well as take part in a residential project to be eligible for the bronze, silver and gold awards.

This year, International Award Foundation Board of Trustees chairman Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, was present to confer the award during his two-day visit to Malaysia. He last visited the country in 2004.

Jebsen and fellow participant Sharvina Nair Ramash, 25, completed many activities for the components together along with four other students from Manipal International University.

They were inspired to join the programme by their mentor, Ravichandran Balasubramaniam, a past National Youth Award recipient.

Jebsen, Sharvina and their friends spearheaded the “Zero Pollution Project”, where they planted 60 trees at their campus. They also volunteered with non-government organisation Kechara Soup Kitchen to feed the homeless, which Jebsen regarded as an eye-opening experience.

“I realised that the homeless did not end up that way because they’re lazy, but it is due to factors such as family problems that led them to their predicament. We should not judge them,” he said.

Sharvina, meanwhile, said she enjoyed participating in her project in Bentong, Pahang.

“Being born and bred in the city, I wanted to experience what it’s like to live in the countryside. We stayed at a chilli plantation and spent time cleaning and learning how to farm. We visited an Orang Asli village to help build a dam and teach the children English.”

Sharvina said the journey enabled her to venture out of her comfort zone.

”Previously, I disliked hiking. However, I decided to try it and now, I’ve successfully hiked up many locations, such as Broga Hill, Bukit Serdang and Gunung Nuang.”

Jebsen and Sharvina took up Bhangra dancing for the programme’s skill component.

Sharvina said she liked dancing, but had never had the opportunity to perform before a crowd.

Sharvina Nair Ramash.

“For this award, I was able to perform on campus twice. It was a great experience.”

Jebsen said the experience taught him invaluable lessons.

Jebsen Edmund.

“I used to be a shy person. But along the way, I gained leadership skills and was selected to become a student representative council president.

“I also developed the confidence to travel around the world alone. Meeting new people has equipped me with the right skills to start business ventures.”

Meanwhile, former Kolej Yayasan Saad students Ahmad Zarif Hadi Mohamad Zailan and Sharifah Nor Qistina Syed Izuan, both 19, said the programme had enabled them to embrace new cultures.

Zarif Hadi, who went to Waiheke Island, New Zealand, for his residence project, said he learnt new skills like how to make honey. He said his experience had expanded his world view.

“I discovered that the world is a bigger place than I previously thought. During my journey in New Zealand, I met people from different backgrounds. It was a happy experience.”

Ahmad Zarif Hadi Mohamad Zailan.

Kolej Yayasan Saad Student Sharifah Nor Qistina Syed Izuan.

“After completing my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination in 2017, I stayed at Sungai Besar, Selangor. There, I learnt to catch fish traditionally and volunteered at a primary school. I had a great time cleaning and painting murals on its walls.”

In January last year, she went to Pyeongchang, South Korea, to help poor families.

“There, I helped to distribute 1,500 coal briquettes to three poor families, which they needed to survive the cold winter.”

During her time in South Korea, Sharifah Nor Qistina said she embraced the different culture by trying out new things.

“I visited the Winter Olympic Park in Pyeongchang and the Dogye Youth Centre. I learnt to make glass jewellery and the Korean rice dish bibimbap. I enjoyed meeting new people there.”

Celebrating their hard work and dedication, the commissioning ceremony was held at Shaftsbury Asteria, Cyberjaya, last month.

In his congratulatory speech, Prince Edward said: “To the award achievers today, without your hard work and commitment, we would not be here to celebrate your accomplishments. I hope that you’ll continue to share your passion and volunteer in your communities to make a difference.”

Deputy Youth and Sports Ministry Minister Steven Sim Chee Keong also congratulated the award recipients.

“Look around you, you’ll see people of different skin colours, religious affiliations and languages. This is our diversity,” Sim said.

“In the ministry, we want to make young Malaysians our strategic partners to shape the future of the country. You are among the brightest Malaysians. The future of the country and world are in your hands.”

Between 2003 and last year, 161,942 Malaysian youths have received the award.