These are extraordinary times. These are also tough times. The 21st century has seen the rise of economic inequality, civil wars and political upheavals that threaten to disrupt the lives of millions around the world. It would seem that in order to act purposively in our time, we need to be motivated by hope. Unless we believe that a better future can be created, we lack the impetus to seek the betterment of our lives and those of others.
Hope doesn’t mean denying these realities. It means facing them and addressing them by remembering what else the 21st century has brought, including the movements, heroes and shifts in consciousness that address these things now. This has been a truly remarkable decade for movement-building, social change and deep shifts in ideas, perspective and frameworks for large parts of the population (and, of course, backlashes against all those things).
When asked whether I'm hopeful about the future, I have mixed feelings: sometimes I am; sometimes I'm not. My levels of optimism and pessimism fluctuate. Is it possible to remain inspired and enthusiastic when facing such a barrage of news – both wonderful and devastating – that we can’t seem to avoid? Yet there is that small word that seems to hang everything in the balance – hope. Hope for me is the sense that while the future is unpredictable, and we don’t actually know what will happen, we may be able write it ourselves.
Hope looks forward, but it draws its energies from the past, from knowing histories, including our victories, and their complexities and imperfections. It is also important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and destruction. The hope I am interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.
When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. The following organisations and people involved have taken those steps in giving hope to humanity. Yet while we read about these heroes and applaud the work they do, it’s also important for us to understand that we are part of the giant tapestry that knits our society and nation together. Unless we lend a hand to make a difference, these endeavours will fade hopelessly into the future, along with our hopes for a better world to live in.
Together we are very powerful, and we have a seldom-told, seldom-remembered history of victories and transformations that can give us confidence that, yes, we can change the world because we have many times before. You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.
Inspired by her time spent volunteering with the foundation in the United States, Sandra Kirwan decided to bring the world’s largest wish-granting organisation, Make-A-Wish®, to Malaysian shores.
Following this, a team of dedicated volunteers quickly banded together, united by their belief in the power of wishes. After months of hard work, in late 2010, the first wish in Malaysia was granted when nine-year-old Aqilah – diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (cancer of the soft tissue sarcoma) – who dreamt about being an air stewardess, was given a chance to live out her dream at the Malaysia Airlines academy.
At any given time in Malaysia, there are over 20,000 children seeking treatment for critical illnesses. Needless to say, these children’s wishes, hopes and dreams take a back seat, as all their focus and energy, as well as their families’, are channelled into battling the illness.
Make-A-Wish Malaysia allows the child and their family to put aside their challenges for a day by immersing themselves in the activities organised on Wish Day. Each wish sees families filled with hope, strength and joy, and empowered to once again take up the fight against the medical challenges they face.
“Hope is what we give by granting wishes of critically sick children, bringing them courage, strength and joy as they continue their medical battle,” says chief executive officer Irene Tan, adding: “Each child who qualifies for the wish receives a personalised wish day, giving the child and family the much needed respite from their long and arduous battle in the hospital.”
A parent’s biggest consolation in grief and their greatest achievement would have to be fulfilling the wishes of their child – emotional, physical, spiritual – as their offspring approaches death. “Once a wish is granted, the child is visibly more happy and willing to continue treatment, and face what’s ahead together with the family,” she says.
However, the challenges ahead can be daunting, she concedes. “Each year, it gets harder to sustain the much needed funds for our work,” admits Tan. It is their hope, she says, that in 2019, Make-A-Wish Malaysia would obtain tax-exemption for donations given, as this would encourage the public to give. “The number of children referred to us is rising rapidly, but without the increased funds, we may not be able to grant some of these wishes in time,” she says, adding that they also hope to recruit committed volunteers in other states to help them with their work with local communities.
How you can help
Cash donations are welcomed. Alternatively you can host an event of your own and channel the proceeds to Make-A-Wish Malaysia. Corporates can also sign up for a Wish Challenge team-building exercise for a minimum donation of RM 10,000.00.
For further details and other ways to help, go to www.makeawish.org.my
TURTLE CONSERVATION SOCIETY OF MALAYSIA
The Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS) is the first non-governmental and non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of freshwater turtles in Malaysia. The aim of the Society is to bring about the recovery of depleted wild populations of turtles, with particular reference to freshwater turtles, in Malaysia through partnerships with like-minded organisations, individuals and local communities as well as through its own programmes.
For Dr. Chan Pelf Nyok, co-founder and executive director of TCS, their work has certainly made a difference. “When we first started, we focused on critical research projects to further understand the species. I mean tak kenal, maka tak cinta kan? (you can’t love what you don’t know)” she says with a laugh. “We needed to find out their biology, threats and how they contribute to the environment. We ran a conservation project where we saved as many terrapin eggs as possible for incubation and eventual release,” she recalls, pointing out that the project was a success. “After 8 years, we saved more than 4,500 eggs from human consumption and released more than 3,000 terrapins into the Kemaman river,” says Chan proudly.
The process of saving terrapins had far-reaching effects. “We brought in numerous benefits to the local communities. Our annual terrapin releases were attended by the State Executive Councillors (past and present, hence the plural form) as well as local and foreign visitors. Our Turtle Discovery Trips are a hit with expats and their family and friends, and when they join our trips, we order refreshments from the local villagers,” says Chan. They’ve also engaged with the local communities to produce the society’s exclusive terrapin-themed batiks and fashion them into kebaya skirts, bandannas, pouches and other products to be sold by the society to raise funds.
“The local community (previously the JKKK, now the MPKK) are also accepting visits from other kampung folks, so that's a sign that they're proud of the project and want to show it to others. We're trying to demonstrate to the local community that for as long as the terrapins still exist in our rivers, there is a whole lot that we can do to promote the kampung, the project, and subsequently increase their incomes,” adds Chan.
The need for awareness remains a challenge with the widespread egg-consumption being a major threat to the terrapins’ survival. “I hope the sale of turtle eggs will be banned in Malaysia. We need more people to empower themselves with knowledge about turtles and our conservation efforts. We also need more local communities to collaborate with us to protect terrapin eggs,” she says.
“We are lending our voice and hope to the voiceless. What’s more, there’s hope that the local communities will understand that saving these creatures would certainly make a difference to both the environment and to their livelihood,” she says. She hopes to involve the women in the kampong by engaging them to make soaps, candles, batik-themed products that are marketable so that they too, can get rewarded through TCS’s conservation project.
“We want to inspire people especially young children to get involved in conservation from a young age. We have Turtle Discovery Trips and awareness programmes to get them started early. What better hope for our nation than raising a generation of responsible citizens ready to take care of our natural heritage?” concludes Chan, smiling.
How you can help
You can help through donations, symbolically adopting a terrapin or two, signing up as a life member of TCS, joining the Turtle Discovery Trips, buy their merchandise (Christmas is coming!) and many more. For more information, visit www.turtleconservationsociety.org.my
Kelas Kaseh comprises a community of educators and volunteers who believe in the empowerment that education brings to the underprivileged. Kelas Kaseh began in 2015 when founders Khairul Azkar and Ahmad Hafiz decided to hold a class to teach the indigenous community. The first ever class under Kelas Kaseh was held in Sungai Buah Dengkil with a total of 40 students in attendance with 40 volunteers hailing from various backgrounds including working professionals and university students.
“Educating the poor and marginalised gives them the freedom to make decisions to improve their lives, which has deep social implications,” says Khairul, adding: “Kelab Kaseh is an informal tuition class provided for the children of Orang Asli (indigenous community) in Semenyih and Dengkil.”
The community teaches Maths and English with the help of volunteers with the aim of increasing the proficiency of literacy and numeracy for these communities. Today, Kelas Kaseh has a database of over 1,000 volunteers and have run over 300 hours of classes over a period of two years across four locations in Sungai Buah, Sungai Lui, Sungai Congkak and Kachau Dalam.
Marginalised families are in the lowest income bracket, they have lower rates of life expectancy, a higher incidence of health problems, including high maternal mortality rates, and they are more poorly nourished than the rest of the population. But despite all their struggles, parents in the poorest societies in the world wish to invest in their children’s education.
“Increased access to education can contribute to reducing poverty. Acquired basic skills such as reading, writing and numeracy, have a documented positive effect on marginalized populations’ incomes,” explains Khairul, adding: “And this is what we do, offering hope through education – that they’d be able to have better quality of life.”
Organising classes, he points out, can be a challenge. “We hope more volunteers will sign up with us in the coming year as we are greatly in need of volunteers every week,” he says. They are also on the lookout for more villages to assist. “We want to help,” he says simply.
How you can help
Follow Kelas Kasih on social media (www.facebook.com/KelasKaseh) and contact them for volunteer opportunities.