What have you done for the world to make it a better place?
Are you giving yourself excuses?
That you are too young, too old, too poor, or too rich?
None of this excuses stops Heidy Quah, from Petaling Jaya, Selangor to build a successful non-profit organization that has made an impact on hundreds or even thousands of students’ lives, and counting.
Heidy, the founder of the Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR) organisation (founded in August 2012), was only 17 when she decided to embark on “meaningful and productive activities” in her life before going to college.
After finishing secondary school, Quah and her friend Andrea Prisha, the co-founder of RFTR, were looking for volunteer opportunities when they found out about a refugee school in Sungai Besi that needed support in the form of teachers.
So, they went in as volunteer teachers in 2012 and initially planned to be there for just four months. After their stint, they realised that the refugee children were teaching them so much more in return – values that they could not learn in school or university.
“When we met the headmaster to tell him that our time there was almost done as we were about to start college, he said it was fine because the school was going to be closed due to lack of funds.”
“We were shocked to hear that and felt this was unfair to the kids. Here we are going to pursue our studies when theirs was short-lived. How can we let it be like that? So we decided to run RFTR as a project to raise funds and awareness,” said 23-year-old Quah in an interview with Bernama.
According to Quah, when more people came on board to support their work, they decided to turn the project into a non-profit organisation to expand their reach of work and have more transparency in money transactions.
RFTR is a non-profit organisation that seeks to raise awareness about Myanmar refugees in Malaysia as well as provide education for refugee children. It currently runs 10 refugee schools, nine of which are in the Klang Valley and one is in Penang. It is in the midst of setting up 25 schools in Myanmar.
For her exceptional work in RFTR, Quah was selected as one of the 60 recipients from 52 Commonwealth countries to receive the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award last Thursday in London.
Quah, an accounting and finance student at a private college near here, was the only Malaysian to receive the award from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II this year. She is the second Malaysian to receive the medal after Calvin Woo, 22, who received it last year for his contribution to the education of underprivileged students.
She is the second Malaysian to receive the medal after Calvin Woo, 22, who received it last year for his contribution to the education of underprivileged students.
“To be chosen to receive this award was indeed an honour for me. But this award is not just for me; it is for activists out there who are rallying for underprivileged children and for advocates who are working to make Malaysia a better place.”
“Never in my life did I think I will be meeting the Queen, what more to receive an award from Her Majesty. This was my third time visiting London. Every time I’m off to London, people will say ‘hey, you’re off to meet the Queen?’. This time I told them ‘yeah … I am literally meeting the Queen’,” she said.
Describing it as an amazing experience, she said the trip to London was so much more than just meeting the Queen.
“Just to be among fellow award recipients and realising that everyone, there is really doing something that has an impact on their countries; it was really inspiring to listen to their stories and the sacrifices they made to be where they are today,” she said, adding that she was excited to be seated at the same dinner table with Prince Harry after the ceremony.
Recalling the day that she was notified about the award, Quah said it was on a Saturday in November last year as she was about to have lunch with Andrea when the call came.
“Before that, I received a text message from the Queen’s Young Leaders Committee asking if I was available to receive a call because they wanted to go through some information regarding my nomination.
“We scheduled a phone call at 3 pm that same day. So at 3 pm, the call came. It was surreal and my heart was beating really fast until they told me I was one of the recipients. It was the best day for me,” said the Petaling Jaya-born activist.
Launched in 2014, the award recognizes and celebrates exceptional people aged 18 to 29 from across the Commonwealth who take a lead in their communities and use their skills to transform lives.
Winners of the award will receive a unique package of training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential program in the United Kingdom during which they will collect their award from the Queen.
Asked how she managed her time as a student and as an activist, Quah said it took a lot of discipline and choosing her priorities wisely.
“I have no regrets doing what I do now because I have learned so much more than I would have if I was not involved in this work. Having the experience of working on the ground and dealing with different organizations have put me ahead of the game when it comes to developing my communication skills.
“My advice to my peers out there is never to be afraid to be different. The world expects so much of us and we try to conform so easily to those expectations. But when we stand up and are different with our principles, there’s so much more we can achieve because we are not letting ourselves to be trapped in that whole rat race of trying to please the society around us,” she said.
Want to take the first step and make a change?
Want to contribute but don’t have the time to start another non-profit like RFTF?