By Rama Ramanathan (Proham Secretariat)
When you ask youth, aged 15-25 years, from the Malay community, what they think of Malaysia, what answers do you expect? When you ask them what they don’t like? When you ask them what they would like to see changed?
Today I had the opportunity to listen to the responses of 5 girls and 6 boys to those questions.
The questions were posed to them after they had been introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations. These are the goals which UN member states, including Malaysia, have decided to focus on until 2030.
It is a misnomer to say they were introduced to the goals, because the youth were not told any numerical goals, e.g. “reduce poverty to 0.1% by 2030.” It is more accurate to say they were introduced to a checklist of things which must be protected or enhanced to improve global well-being.
The session began with an icebreaker. The youth were made to stand in a circle, with hands outstretched. A facilitator bound all their hands together, running a ball of string around the wrists of one then doing the same to a person diametrically opposite and again to his or her neighbour, over and over.
When everyone had been bound, one person was asked to step backwards. The result was that the all who were bound in the circle were pulled towards that person.
The point was proven: what one person (or nation) does or what is done to one person (or nation) affects all the others.
In the next exercise the youth wrote, on strips of paper, what they felt the needs were in their community, which comprises about 1,600 households living in five blocks of flats. Their responses were collected for use later in the morning.
Next, the youth were introduced to the 17 items in the SDG checklist:
No electronic technology was used. An instructor used a bunting very like the picture above, but with the text in Malay. He took less than one minute to explain each item. The youth had little trouble grasping why each item was in the SDG checklist.
Their understanding was reinforced when the facilitators read out a selection of the needs they had earlier submitted in writing. Each of the needs was associated to an item in the SDG checklist by sticking its slip onto an item.
One memorable need was “I wish my shoes wouldn’t be stolen.” There was some discussion about which item this need belonged to. Did it belong to 16: Peace and Justice? Or to 10: Reduced Inequalities? Or to 1: No Poverty? They decided on “1.”
A second memorable need was the strong agreement amongst all the youth that the school system tells and directs pupils instead of seeking out and responding to their desires.
The exercise admirably demonstrated to everyone that the checklist, though generated by “big shots” from all over the world, was directly relevant to this community in Kuala Lumpur. The youth were impressed that the government of Malaysia has committed to pursue goals for each item in the checklist.
After the relevance of the list had been demonstrated and the commitment of the government had been announced, the next exercise was introduced. The youth were asked to answer the 3 questions posed at the beginning of this article.
The youth were in broad agreement that there are many good things in Malaysia. Poverty isn’t as bad as it is in other nations, the weather is good, the food is good and the music is good.
The used the word “government” often when they listed what they don’t like about Malaysia.
The cost of living has risen faster than incomes, as a result of which their parents struggle to make ends meet; public transport hasn’t been developed sufficiently, as a result of which people spend much time in traffic jams; there aren’t enough jobs, as a result of which there is much unemployment; the population density is too high.
There was little time to discuss what they’d most like to see improved, but one matter did emerge. They felt assessing pupils through field work rather than exams is an ill-conceived decision implemented by educators. They said it’s hard for their parents to fund their field work, because they already can’t make ends meet.
This was a vibrant sample of youths. They were quick to grasp concepts and eager to share their thoughts about how things are going both in their own community and in the nation in general.
This day generated proof that it is relatively easy to explain the sustainable development goals. It showed we can easily adopt a common, global framework for addressing needs collaboratively. The United Nations and Malaysia have chosen well in rolling out the SDG.
The SDG awareness program among urban neighbourhood was held on Dec 11, 2016 (sun) at the PPR Seri Semarak flats at Air Panas, Kuala Lumpur