Taking that Bold Step Forward

By Michelle Ng

The end of the year is a good time for reflection, and it is commonplace for politicians to present a report card for the year.

The 6th State Elections only just came and went 4 months ago – it will take time before the work we do take root. I had, in last month’s entry, explained the 3 trials we’ve begun in Subang Jaya.

For those reasons, I decided to take a different outlook in this article and reflect on one person who truly inspired me – my refugee intern.

In 2023, I was invited to speak to a small group of young people about waste management. To be honest, I did not feel like I made a huge impact in that talk. At the end of the event, the organisers introduced a timid young lady to me, who asked if I took interns.

I said I did and explained the procedure – that I’d need a CV and cover letter emailed to me, after which I will set up a chat for us to get to know each other.

She did all that, and during the chat I found out that she was a Palestinian Christian refugee who has been living in Malaysia since she was a child, and that she was let go from an institution of higher learning where she was conducting cancer research with because of her status. She found herself here in Malaysia because her father was an activist and her family was persecuted for their views.

‘Cancer research? Wow!’ I thought to myself. We could be unlocking great potential here. In fact, given how clever she is, I was concerned that her experience in our office will be underwhelming.

I took her in (let’s call her Z) and exposed her to what our other interns would experience, only that her time with us will include the 15th General Elections. To be honest, by this time we had experienced so many State Elections that being able to intern during one was something so normal.

There was an opportunity for Z to visit Parliament, the first day where Members of Parliament will swear in. Z was hesitant simply because that would mean exposure to men in uniform, which was traumatising to her given her experience in Palestine where, as a child, she was caught after curfew whilst living in a warzone.

I told her to come anyway, and that I will make sure that everything was okay.

She did, and although she was shaking at some points, she was able to fulfill her life dream of going into Parliament, watching the debates and meeting elected representatives.

During the course of her internship, my staff would report to me that Z often seemed down, and how she would remark that there is nothing in life for her to look forward to because no one will take her in for work or education. It broke my heart. I wished I could do more, but was also aware that I was doing the best that I could at that point.

Z’s 3 months came to an end. After a few days I received an email from her, explaining that her time with us allowed her to overcome her fear of men in uniform – which to her was a big life accomplishment. She also said that she was the first refugee she knows who has been given such an opportunity, to which she is grateful.

That confidence allowed Z to go from strength to strength. Next thing I knew it, she was working with a Mental Health NGO.

And the best part is this – that she will soon be pursuing her studies in Oxford on a scholarship.

I have to say this – that her accomplishment is all hers, and is a testament to her resilience.

I had only availed our office. Yes, there were some risks, but none that was unwilling to face. Little did I know, however that this experience acted as a springboard in Z’s life to propel her to greater heights.

Z has been an inspiration to me. I hope that likewise, her story has been the same for you.

Happy 2024 to all – I hope that the New Year will bring much joy and fulfillment to you.