For a better future

Aziza Aznizan posing for a photo with the children.

On a mission to help minorities in Malaysia, philanthropist Aziza Aznizan and Miss Universe Malaysia 2020 Francisca Luhong James aim to create awareness of the plight of poverty-stricken families in rural areas and also Rohingya refugees in the nation. They recently joined forces, launching fundraisers, handing out contributions and also providing a platform for education of those affected.

Helping each other, one step at a time 

Humanitarian and Paint The World (PTW) founder Aziza Aznizan and Miss Universe Malaysia 2020 Francisca Luhong James recently went on a mission to create awareness of the plight of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia.

Miss Universe Malaysia 2020 Francisca Luhong James

Last year, Malaysia’s solidarity turned to hostility for the refugees with heightened hate speech and xenophobic treatment towards them due to bad press. Certain parties have come to perceive them as a social, economic, and security threat and they were constantly frowned upon since then.

Realising the fact, Aziza and Francisca felt the need to step in and offer help. “It all happened during the movement control order (MCO) in March last year when we saw how this group of people were affected due to their inability to work as they have no access to education and jobs,” said Francisca.

Late last year, they both started to visit homes of the refugees every Sunday to meet with the families and to get to know them. “We then started giving out necessities such as food supplies, sanitary and baby needs. We also launched a fundraiser,” Aziza shared.

The young philanthropist added that it is sad to see that many had misunderstood the refugees. “People were quick to judge them because of what one or two of them did. It’s undeniable that there are a few rotten eggs, but it’s not right to discriminate against the entire community. These are good people,” lamented Aziza.

Aziza (left) and Francisca (right) getting to know the families.

Hence, both Aziza and Francisca then feel the need to redefine people’s perception of the refugees and the negative stigma surrounding them by launching a petition to raise the awareness. “Under PTW, we launched the ‘Crash Courses for Change’ programme.”

Refugees who signed up for the programme will receive scholarships to learn under various volunteers on 10 different courses. “These programmes will provide the opportunity for them to learn how to do makeup, model, bake, play music, digital marketing, photography and many others,” Aziza said.

Apart from that, PTW also collaborated with beauty queen and activist Deborah Henry to provide access and opportunities to 66 refugee scholars through Fugee School, an educational institution which Henry co-founded.

Unwarranted hate

Asked on the importance on helping the refugees, Francisca answered that she believes humanity still exist in today’s world. “During these hard times, I realised we have to be more understanding. To us, working from home and not being able to move around can be challenging. But what about those who are self-employed? How can they earn an income to put food on the table?”

As a beauty queen, Francisca’s endeavour focuses on helping people regardless of their race, religion and status. “While we have a high poverty rate in Malaysia that we should focus on, we should never neglect others who need our help too. To help everyone might be a little far-fetched, but we can help each other, one step at a time.”

Meanwhile, Aziza said that the difference between the poor minorities and the refugees in Malaysia is, “Having documents as a citizen, you are given endless opportunities and aid from the government. But as a refugee, they are stateless and aids don’t come their way. They have no identity and are invisible, or worse, perceived as a burden.”

Passionate in her fight, Aziza explained how refugees who either fled the dangers of their homeland or kicked out from their own backyard, have no place to call home. “Their children were born in Malaysia. They speak our language, watches Malay dramas, eat Malaysian food, know the streets and grow up with Malaysian friends. Yet, they are still considered invisible and unwanted here.”

Francisca added that the collective perception of “They are not ‘orang kita’ (our people), why should we help them?” made things worse for the refugees. “There are many ways we can contribute to help the lives of these people.”

Giving an example, the co-founder of Women Rise said that if three out of 10 people in Malaysia support the cause they can help change the future generation’s perception towards the refugees. It takes time, but progression is always better than nothing.

Aziza also lamented how immigrants in Malaysia were born to be hated. “I feel their helplessness whenever I’m around them and I feel like it is really important to help these particular community.”

She noted how the lack of education and bad press contributed to the misconception towards refugees. “Some had a bad experience with one refugee, and that ignited the hate towards the whole community. But, for example, what if you have one bad experience with a Malay, or Chinese, or Indian, then do you blame their whole community in Malaysia? That is just plain wrong.”

A little help goes a long way

Aside from their enthusiasm to help refugees in the city, both Francisca and Aziza had also partnered under HELP Borneo to help the poverty-stricken in rural Sarawak. “It is an initiative organised to guide the B40 groups in villages in the outskirts to improve their standard of living via education of all sorts,” Aziza said.

Via the HELP Borneo platform — available on the Paint The World’s official website — adopting a kampung is now possible as people can donate to different families in villages in Miri, Kuching, Mukah and Kanowit to help fund their children’s tuition, improve their homes and give financial guidance in terms of budgeting.

As for the future, Francisca foresees more movement to empower the lives of many Malaysians. “Under Women Rise, I also aim to empower young girls to become future leaders.”

With a lot of planning under her sleeves, Aziza has a few projects lined up to promote Sarawak culture and traditions. “For now, our next project under PTW will be with Technology College Sarawak (TCS) and local volunteers for the upcoming ‘Crash Courses in Languages’.”

Opened to Sarawakians aged 17 to 25, Aziza hopes that the courses can encourage youths to learn a new language and continue to be productive after their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) examinations.

Among the languages offered in the courses include Spanish, Italian, German, French, Arabic, Korean, Japanese. The online courses are free and will run for the whole month of March.

Aziza Aznizan posing for a photo with the children.