Pay it Forward
Through coaching and mentoring programmes, Malaysian non-profit organisation CyberCare is not only transforming the lives of displaced and disadvantaged youth, but also inspiring big-hearted individuals to share their time, skills and knowledge with those in need.
BY SASHA GONZALES
hen CyberCare founder Cheong Yuk Wai first met Mohamad Hasan Al-Akraa during an entrepreneurial training session in Malaysia in 2015, he was struck by the 15-year-old Syrian refugee’s zest for life and passion to learn. The session was part of a youth development programme, Self-empowering Transition and Employability Programme (STEP), which CyberCare holds for underprivileged youth. CyberCare usually conducts STEP in orphanages and children’s homes, but, that year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia had approached Cheong as it was looking to conduct a similar programme for its refugee youth.
After completing his training in 2016, Hasan went on to teach others in a refugee school in Wangsa Maju, Kuala Lumpur. With his newly acquired skills and knowledge, he hopes to inspire others and create a better future for himself. He was impacted by the war in Syria in his early teens, but he says that STEP lifted him from his depression and gave him a purpose. “CyberCare said, ‘Every child has a dream. And every child has a right to fulfil that dream.’ I’d never heard that before. Nobody pushed me to focus on my future. In the past, whenever I felt sad, I was just told to stop crying and to move forward.
Now, I’m happy and always smiling. I tell my students that their future must be better than mine. I may not be able to help my people back home, but I can help them here,” says Hasan.
CyberCare runs two other programmes: Making a Difference (MAD) and the soon-to-be-launched Youth Entrepreneurship Programme (YEP). MAD trains volunteers to become life coaches, combining IT and life skills training, and a community-based project. YEP aims to train and nurture youth to become online entrepreneurs so that they can make a sustainable living. The organisation also teaches social media-related topics like security, etiquette and privacy to youth aged 12 to 14.
EMPOWERMENT THROUGH EDUCATION
CyberCare hopes to bring out the potential of young people and help them realise new possibilities. It also aims to transform the culture of social welfare and handouts into one of active and self-sustaining community care. “Having been in community service since 1998, CyberCare understands that what underprivileged youth need are skills to survive and succeed,” says Cheong.
Since its 2013 launch, STEP has seen more secondary school students opting to further their studies at the post-secondary or tertiary level. “It has touched the lives of 157 Malaysian and refugee youth since it was introduced,” Cheong shares.“Of this group, 45 got a better job with an average monthly salary of RM2,000 (S$636) and were inspired to pursue their dreams via tertiary education. Seven relocated to the United States, Canada and Sri Lanka, and gained citizenship with rights to education and employment.”
“ CyberCare said, ʻEvery child has a dream. And every child has a right to fulfi l that dream.ʼ Iʼd never heard that before. Nobody pushed me to focus on my future... Now, I tell my students that their future must be better than mine. ”
Mohamad Hasan Al-Akraa, a benefi ciary of STEP, a CyberCare initiative
Hasan’s story was shared on Our Better World, a digital storytelling platform by the Singapore International Foundation. In just four weeks, CyberCare received more than 700 new volunteer enquiries, up from 20 a month. Cheong says the feature also reminded CyberCare’s volunteers and sponsors of the impact of their work and service.
“It gave us a major sense of satisfaction and gratitude, and renewed our commitment to serve the community,” he says. “It’s not easy pushing for changes in culture, attitude, and mentality. The feature reinforced our purpose and showed us that there are many others like us who want to make the world a better place.”
CyberCare is launching YEP in December. Participating youth will commit to a three-month programme that will equip them with the necessary skills to run an online business, and source and market their products. They will share some of their earnings with their community – either a home or refugee centre – and CyberCare, to support future generations of entrepreneurs. Says Cheong: “We believe this model will enable homes and other under-served communities to be financially independent and self-sustainable.”
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