Monday, December 16

An artful coalition of the young

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MANY friends have urged me to write about an important topic concerning the protection of children, with particular reference to my home state. I shall certainly do so, and research is ongoing to enable me to write more fully on the topic soon.

For now, I owe much to the hard-working people who have organised meaningful events that have benefitted young people in recent weeks.

The most solemn occasion was one long fixed by tradition. Every Sunday closest to Nov 11 at Tugu Negara, the British High Commission leads the commemoration of Malayan, Malaysian, British, and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in the World Wars, the Emergency, Konfrontasi, and other conflicts. Attending as an honorary Major, I was glad to see senior representation from the Malaysian Armed Forces, but more important was the presence of schoolchildren being exposed to a public remembrance of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for future generations. At a time when inter-generational disagreement is a political flashpoint around the world, inheriting a legacy of commemoration serves as a tool for continuity and respect.

The source of that disagreement often concerns the squandering of natural resources by the current generation in an unsustainable way that threatens the wellbeing of the planet. The Asean Sustainable Development Summit organised by the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) bridged this intergenerational gap when the Deputy Youth and Sports Minister and a young vice-governor of a Cambodian province spoke passionately about the effectiveness of sustainable grassroots initiatives that empower local communities using new technologies.

Asli is owned by the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation (JCF) of which I’m a trustee, and at the presentation ceremony of its Scholarships and Awards at Sunway University, the Finance Minister also mentioned the importance of job creation through innovation. But the most eloquent exposition on ‘yesterday’s optimism and today’s pessimism’ (despite data showing unprecedented health and prosperity), came from Dame Minouche Shafik, the director of my alma mater, the London School of Economics, in the JCF Distinguished Speakers Series.

Students of Sunway’s new music faculty were suitably deployed at such events, joining a growing community of serious young musicians across Malaysian universities. At the 10th Composers Concert Series organised by the UiTM Faculty of Music (where I’m an associate fellow) at KLPAC, the quality of musicianship was outstanding, and I detected no regrets from students who chose a field of study traditionally limited in terms of job opportunities. They are inspired by successful Malaysian composers, some of whom showcased their work at the fourth SoundBridge Festival (of which I’m patron) at Taylor’s University, in which young musicians from China performed delightful guzheng and erhu diplomacy.

Taylor’s Bachelor of Performing Arts is in collaboration with The Actors Studio at KLPAC, where a new ‘Brunch on the Balcony’ explores the historic building and the difficult economics of running a fully-fledged arts centre. As much as the arts must strive to survive independently – by fostering a community of ticket-buying arts-lovers, the value of art for nation-building remains. At the inaugural Interschool Art Competition organised by the Association of Voices for Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE) at the University of Malaya Art Gallery, children from private and government schools produced consonant work showing aspirations for people of different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds to live together peacefully.

One of the best ways to actually live this experience is through sport, and I was amazed by the off-court talents of young squash players at a prize-giving dinner to close a tournament of the Negeri Sembilan Squash Association (where I’m president). Squash is probably the most multiracial sport in Malaysia, but seeing their ability to compete on court and then cooperate and respect each other off court only accentuates the need for an extensive upgrade of our squash facilities in Seremban 2.

Another popular Malaysian sport, football, made a rare appearance in my calendar when SMK Tunku Ampuan Durah hosted an interschool tournament where the final was won by the hosts in a nail-biting penalty shootout. I learnt that many top Malaysian players graduated from this school named for my grandmother, and felt awed by their desire to go international in the future.

Though much is said about challenges and opportunities facing the next generation, the breadth of activities I have witnessed shows that millennials and Gen Z – far from being lazy and entitled snowflakes – are ambitious and want to deliver an optimistic vision for Malaysia. My hope is that, rather than flourishing only in silos, their efforts will complement each other, strengthening our national aspirations, and protecting everyone from the divisive intentions of racists and extremists.

Tunku Zain Al-Abidin is patron, trustee, or president of several educational, musical, and sporting bodies.