Empowering the Youth: Youth need not only listen, they must think and act

Democracy has existed in Malaysia for decades.

63 years ago, our forefathers witnessed the first local election in the George Town municipal council seeing the success of the Radical Party and Labour Party.

59 years ago, Malaysians then participated in the first Malaya General Elections before the nation achieved its independence.

The people of Malaysia have witnessed and participated in democracy at different levels; in the Government, in organizations, and even students in school. We vote for representatives and a Government. We vote for leaders in organizations. We vote for leaders in our school societies. Sometimes, when a family needs to decide where to go for dinner, we vote. Today, as a nation, we have achieved another milestone of democracy, which is the election of the first Youth Parliament. It also marks in the books of our history that Malaysian youth are more empowered than ever.

I am proud to be one of the generations that lived, not only to see the creation of the first Youth Parliament, but to participate in it.

My fellow Malaysians,

I was born, bred and taught in Malaysia as most of us are. As typical Asians, we were always taught from young that we must listen and obey to our parents, our teachers and those who are older than us. We were told that we must not defy our parents’ words or we will be deemed as a rebellious child. Some parents in a family may even go to the extreme of deciding on their children’s education, job and even their love life.

When we are younger, how many times have we heard from our parents, “You should do this. No, you cannot do that. You must listen to me!” It also happens now as in the recent “Listen, Listen, Listen” episode in a forum of a local university. It is a norm for a typical Asian family that “adults command, children listen.”

Now please don’t get me wrong. I totally agree to the fullest that respect towards the elders is one of the most important values of all. It is definitely our pride that all Malaysian families teach that. But at the same time, I believe in youth’s right to voice their thoughts and expression. It is timely enough to deliver empowerment for the real youth. The existence of Youth Parliament is a good way to encourage youth empowerment.

However, Malaysian society needs to understand the true meaning of youth empowerment in order to enable young people to think and act on their own. The current proposed Youth Parliament has the objective of projecting the voice and concerns of the youth to the Government via the Ministry of Youth and Sports. But does it remain as merely a voice in the Youth Parliament? Is the Youth Parliament serving the youth just as a place to voice their grouses or can it do more than that? Maybe the Government should consider allowing the elected Youth Members of Parliament to make certain decisions particularly on youth issues. Let them think, debate and then act on their decisions. When people are given the opportunity to think and act on their own, that is where they learn. This would be a different reform of approach towards developing young people in the country.

But youth empowerment should not stop just at the level of Youth Parliament where it elects 119 members. The empowerment should be implemented beyond the 119 members of Youth Parliament. It should involve the nationwide youth. And it begins at home and at school.

Make the kids decide on their plans and activities during the school holidays. The role of the parents is to make their kids’ choices well-informed with the pros and cons. Encourage the kids to speak up their minds and to make choices. Allow them to think and act on their own. Instead of saying “No, you can’t choose that,” we must ask them “Why are you choosing this?” This is one of the ways to begin empowering and developing the maturity of the youth.

Let us advocate, not only the Government to empower the youth, but the society itself to start giving the youth the opportunity to make well-informed choices and to participate in decision-making processes at all levels. I have always believed that to develop a strong nation, it begins by good education of the young ones, at home.

Today, I am lucky enough to be successfully nominated as a candidate to the Youth Parliament. With my thoughts and ideas on youth development, hopefully I would get elected as to be given another new level of responsibility to the nation.