By ANGELIN YEOH
Australian Yassmin Abdel-Magied is the founder of Youth Without Borders – a non-profit organisation that aims to reach out to young people and help turn their dream project into reality.
She was only 16 when she founded the organisation and her own dream to make a difference in the world came true.
“When I was 13, I read a book (in the Sabrina The Teenage Witch series) in which Sabrina’s spells go wrong. She disappears from the lives of people she knows and sees what their lives are like without her. Then she learnt that her existence actually makes a difference to the people around her,” said Yassmin, 22.
The mechanical engineer also said that reading the book made her realise that her life can make a difference to just about anyone. With that epiphany, she was determined to “make a meaningful impact” in not just her life but everyone else’s as well.
“I want to be able influence what is going on in society. You may think that you’re young and you can’t do anything, but you can. You have the power to change the community,” she said during an interview at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur.
Sudanese-born Yassmin gives three examples of projects that started with Youth Without Borders.
“At a basic level, we have a young Sudanese boy who came to Australia during Ramadhan. He said that he loves football and hopes to meet more friends that way. So we figured we could get him to connect with other like-minded youths by organising a Ramadhan football tournament. It was great.”
Yassmin also helped a youth start Masterchef Meets The Streets – an initiative that teaches young people how to cook unique ethnic cuisine and share their culinary delights with the homeless community.
Youth Without Borders also extended help to a 15-year-old girl in Depok, a city in West Java province, Indonesia who wanted access to a public library.
“We ended up catalysing a project that provides reading materials to a marginalised community in Depok,” she said of the Kamar Buku (Book Room) project. It’s a mobile library that works by placing boxes of books on a motorbike and it travels around the villages there.
“It started with a very simple idea and now it’s a project that runs independently.”
Yassmin’s efforts to reach out to young people and help them make a difference has earned her a number of distinctions in Australia. In 2010, she was named Young Queenslander of the Year and she also sits on the board of Youth Affairs Network of Queensland. Not bad for someone whose inspiration was Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
She joked that people often expect her to name someone like Nelson Mandela as her inspiration.
“But really, I’m a believer in the ‘unlikeliest’ sources of inspiration!”
Yassmin was in town recently as part of the Australia-Malaysia Cultural Exchange programme. The week-long programme was initiated by Global Movements of Moderates Foundation to highlight the concept of moderation practised by Malaysians.
Yassmin and five other Australian youth leaders were invited to be a part of the programme to exchange ideas that could be utilised to create better nations.