by Tan Ze Kai
I was a target of bullying as a child and I was in pain. Growing up, I’ve always wished that I could make everyone in this world more empathetic. I started questioning, why were some people so mean? What if they knew it’s wrong? Was there anything that I could do to create change?
At some point, I came to realise, it’s impossible to change the world. All I could do was to make little efforts to influence the people around me. That’s when I decided to be an advocate for social inclusion and justice.
I started off the journey by becoming a high school teacher under Teach For Malaysia to push for education equity. In my classroom, some students would often say things like “Cikgu, dia tu gay!” (“Teacher, he’s gay!”) or “Teacher, student X sells vegetables at the market, hahaha!” and then the whole class would laugh at the victim.
I could have ignored those unhealthy behaviours – but I would not. I knew how the affected students would feel, so I decided to call out those behaviours and ask the students to reflect on the way they speak to each other.
In the end, we agreed that the word ‘gay’ wasn’t a negative word and that it was wrong to ridicule other people or make fun of a person’s occupation. Since then, I stopped hearing them ridiculing each other in that manner in my lessons.
This experience has taught me to call out if something’s not right, and that the most impactful changes could come from the little things I’ve never thought about.
Fast forward to December 2021, I’ve been with Arus Academy, an education social enterprise for almost a year. I’m so grateful to be able to play a part to advance social justice causes through my involvement in financial inclusion, financial literacy and digital literacy projects.
Being in the team organising the Digital Financial Inclusion Challenge 2021, which gave 42 youths aged 18-30 voices on how to make financial services more accessible to the B40 community, was a super inspiring experience.
How do we help a person with disability who also lives in poverty afford health insurance with adequate coverage? What if they cannot afford a decent smartphone to install an oversized multifunctional app needed to purchase the insurance? What can we do to help them overcome the barriers to getting protected?
The team I facilitated won the second prize for the solutions they presented! (You may watch their presentation here.) After the competition, they asked me, “Ze Kai, what do we do next? Can we join the Youth Committee to continue advocating for financial inclusion?”
“Of course you can!” I replied.
Their faces lit up with excitement. It really touched my heart when I saw their eagerness to contribute in uplifting the community. I will never forget that moment.
Equipping for greater service
In addition, I am also grateful for the opportunity to co-create modules and run workshops for Arus programmes such as:
1. The e-Junior Maker Club micro:bit programming course which has benefited 50 students aged 10-14 (including 35 fully-sponsored B40 students) in 2021, as well as
2. The Fun(d) For Life Guru Celik Kewangan certification programme which has empowered over 641 teachers across all Malaysian states with financial literacy skills they can integrate into their lessons.
At the side, I’ve also joined Dewan Muda Malaysia, a 2-year fellowship designed to train the youths in policy-making, thanks to our co-founder, David Chak who introduced me to the opportunity.
The culture in Arus spurs us to help each other to learn, grow, and this has taken me into an exciting journey in the past year. I would like to quote my manager, Yam Phui Yee, “No one I know leaves this place saying ’Meh, what a crap workplace’, not even interns.”
If you’re also passionate about changing the world for the better, here’s what I want to tell you:
Every little thing counts, and YOU can make a difference!
Tan Ze Kai
Programme Associate, Community Engagement