By LIM MAY LEE
WINNING a Diana Award comes with a lot of perks – recognition, a certificate signed by the British Prime Minister and the chance to rub shoulders with Princes William and Harry.
But for Bushra Farooq, 19, a psychology student from Oman currently studying in Kuala Lumpur, the award is a platform for her to further the causes she champions.
She was honoured as the Regional Award winner in the Diana Champion Volunteer category, one of 80 youths worldwide – youth ambassadors, humanitarians, sports leaders, etc. – recognised for their work.
“Winning the Diana Award has given me an amazing platform,” she said excitedly. “Now I’ll have a lot more support in any new volunteer programmes I want to start because when people see I’ve achieved something, they’ll rely on me more and it will help the work I want to do.”
Her first foray into volunteerism started in Oman, right after her Grade 10 exams. Wanting to do more than just hang out post-exams, she wrote to the supervisor of her local Special Education Centre. They welcomed her help, and she was assigned to the autism centre, where she worked with a girl, Krishna.
“It changed my life,” Bushra said with a smile. “I tried very hard to teach her how to say ‘Didi’, which means ‘sister’. By the time I left, she could say ‘Di’!”
Inspired by this small first step, Bushra set off to help more people, one project at a time.
One such project was under the Oman Cancer Association (Oman CA), campaigning to raise funds for patients who couldn’t afford cancer treatment.
The determined Bushra threw herself into organising fundraisers. It was a month of hard work, but she loved every minute of it.
“When the month was up, we went for the debriefing, and the founder came to give me a letter,” she said reminiscently.
“The patients didn’t know who I was, but they wanted to say thank you. It was the best moment of my life!”
After she graduated from high school, Bushra moved to Malaysia to study at the International Medical University (IMU), bringing along her burning passion to do good.
While volunteering at a Dignity for Children sexual education workshop for refugee children, Bushra realised just how much of a difference she could make in Malaysia.
Not only were their parents unable to buy hygiene products for the girls, the children themselves didn’t know much about the basics of their reproductive systems.
“During the group discussions, girls would ask me questions like ‘Can I shower while on my period?’” she recalled.
“I think our workshop really made a difference in their lives.”
The plight of these children served to strengthen her resolve to continue making a difference through volunteering.
She now divides her free time between various community projects through the
university-run IMU Cares and working with Incitement, a social enterprise that connects volunteers like Bushra to causes and sponsors.
Through IMU Cares, she has worked with Alzheimers patients, and has just completed designing a programme to help school kids cope with stress.
“I found it tough to juggle my studies and my work,” she admitted with a sheepish smile. “I realised kids go through the same stresses, so I decided to use what I learnt in my psychology classes to help them!”
One of her favourite memories of volunteering in Malaysia was when she was part of the Liter of Light project, which brought solar lights to villages across the country.
“When we managed to set up the lights, a little girl came out of her house with a book, and sat down under a light to read,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Her work isn’t just confined to Malaysia and Oman – she was a youth ambassador for Global Volunteer Network, a New Zealand-based charity trust, for two years. She was assigned to the Bamboo Project in Vietnam, where she worked in an orphanage for disabled children, helping to raise funds to improve their living conditions.
“There were babies in steel cots without mattresses,” she said sadly.
“It really hurts you. And the Vietnamese community aren’t really involved in helping out. So I was glad we could help.”
To date, Bushra has clocked up a whopping 500 volunteer hours in both Malaysia and Oman, working with cancer patients, orphans and refugees – and that dedication earned her the Diana Award.
But even award-winners sometimes face a bit of resistance. Bushra’s parents initially had doubts about her ability to cope with so much work.
“My father had to talk to the Oman CA founder to make sure I wasn’t taking on more than I could handle!” she said with a laugh. “But after the talk, he realised how much passion I had, and gave me his blessing.”
She has much to thank her family for. After all, it was her father, a chemistry professor, who made the decision to move from their native India to Oman.
“Growing up in the Arab culture really made an impact on me,” she said.
“It’s very loving and welcoming. That’s where I learnt to take an interest in the lives of other people.”
It’s clear her open mind, as well as her passion for volunteerism, is what’s helping her make a difference in the world.
“I love what I do,” she said with a smile. “That’s why it doesn’t feel like work.”
Volunteerism in Malaysia
COMING from Oman, where people are very supportive of community projects, Bushra Farooq, 19, initially found that Malaysians lacked awareness.
But the Diana Award recipient in the Diana Champion Volunteer category found that Malaysia does have worthwhile projects that could really impact people – potential volunteers just need to notice them in order to make them work.
So, she has some words of advice for those looking to start making a difference in the country, and they essentially boil down to “just do it”.
“When you see an event, just go for it,” she said. “Volunteering helps your self-growth. That’s how I found my own strengths!”
Bushra suggested starting by checking out organisations like Do Something Good or Incitement, which organise community projects like Liter of Light, which brings solar lights to villages, and tutoring refugee children.
Bushra also volunteers at the Kechara Soup Kitchen, serving food to the homeless in Kuala Lumpur.
It may seem time-consuming at first, but as someone who has logged 500 volunteer hours, Bushra has some tips for those looking to do some good.
“Prioritise!” she said. “Make sure you get the important stuff done first, and everything else will fall in place.”
But one thing all volunteers should remember, she said, is to remember why they’re doing it – to make the world a better place.
“Volunteering is selfless. It helps you become more compassionate. And we need more compassionate people in this world.”
Recognising young role models
Here’s how you can nominate inspiring young people for the Diana Award.
THE Diana Award, named after the late Princess of Wales, recognises young role models who selflessly go above and beyond in their daily lives. By highlighting their achievements, it seeks to inspire other young people to do the same.
If you know any young people who are creating and sustaining positive change through campaigning, volunteering, fundraising or simply working for any social change in the community, you should nominate them for the award!
The nomination criteria include:
– Nominees must be aged 9-18 years
– Nominees cannot be related to the nominator, and you cannot nominate yourself.
– Nominees must have been carrying out their activities for a minimum of 12 months.
– You must know the nominees in a professional capacity (i.e. teacher, youth worker etc.), or the nomination will be deemed invalid.
– You must be able to demonstrate that your nominees are committed towards their cause, have made a social impact on the lives of others, have been role models to others and have taken ownership of the activities they have been nominated for.
Do you have someone in mind? Click here to nominate him or her now!