Home New Writers Empowered communities could raise Malaysia’s quality of life from the bottom up

Empowered communities could raise Malaysia’s quality of life from the bottom up

It’s long past time to let go of our ethnicities and think of ourselves as one people

Acts of kindness and compassion are like candles illuminating the darkness - DR WONG SOAK KOON/ALIRAN

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By Jacob Nelson

I am a Malaysian. I grew up in Malaysia and have remained interested in the country, although I have lived away for a long time. 

My ethnicity (you talk about race too frequently, in my opinion) is not relevant to what I am about to write. 

Malaysia has diverse people of various ethnicities and religions. Be proud of that.

The richness of Malaysia is to be found in its cuisine. At a simple hawker market, you can find food with Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya, Arab and Eurasian influence.

I have had the privilege of living in different countries. Trust me when I say that Malaysian cuisine offers such variety as rarely found elsewhere in the world. And this comes from the diversity of influences. 

Malaysia is largely an exception in the world in that its different ethnicities have lived together for hundreds of years – mostly in harmony.

Last year, Malaysia was hit by severe floods in several areas. It brought tears to my eyes to read about people of different races taking care of each other. That, my dear friends, is what a country is really about – people who care about each other.

An important dimension of development in Malaysia (and most other countries) would have to come from grassroots community involvement – that is, people coming together to improve their communities.

These initiatives could involve improving the drainage (to reduce the severity of floods) and encouraging people to use their bicycles (as an adaptation to the climate and environmental threats we face). 

Investments may include widening roads to include bicycle lanes. We could plant more trees so that our neighbourhoods have more greenery and are more pleasant to live in. These ideas do not involve huge costs or investments.

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Local communities would benefit by improving the quality of life in their communities. The more desirable a community is, the more attractive it becomes to live in, and the more likely property values will rise.  

We can, as caring communities, decide that no one in our community will go hungry. We must make sure that everyone in our community has access to clean public toilets. 

We could improve the quality of schools by inviting volunteers from the community – teachers, doctors, engineers and other professionals – to contribute their experience and expertise.

Malaysia has a good standard of education. But it can be further improved so that it becomes competitive with developed nations. This would be a long-term endowment for young people. The most important benefit is that you get to live in a nicer, kinder community.

You will probably respond, “What for I pay taxes?”

I will say this much: you cannot depend on the authorities to anticipate all eventualities. We’re facing unusual challenges – challenges that are distinctly different from those we’ve faced since independence.

The floods last year were a stark warning of the adverse impact of climate change. This is science – not fear-mongering. We may have to deal with warmer temperatures because of global warming. 

What I have proposed are not huge investments and do not require heavy outlay. It merely calls for communities to work together.

We cannot just blame the government for everything that has gone wrong. The government cannot possibly anticipate everything and be responsive to every community’s needs. It may be comforting and convenient to find someone to point the finger at, but that is not a path to making our communities better places to live in. That’s up to us. 

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There’s more: a community with involved people can highlight problems and priorities to local authorities. They will have a unified voice, and they are more likely to be listened to.

We’ve had four to five decades of good times. My sense is that there’s trouble looming, and we have to unite to deal with the challenges ahead.

For example, we already have inflation and an upcoming food crisis. How do we deal with a food crisis? Communities should have certain basic principles, such as:

  • No one in our community should go hungry
  • No children should be poorly nourished in our community
  • The elderly in our community should have access to food and decent healthcare

This is all feasible – from kampongs to urban areas.

Ultimately, we are a nation of caring communities – regardless of ethnicity. We care about each other. If we didn’t care about each other, there would be no community and – if that’s true – no reason to have a country. 

It’s long past time to let go of our ethnicities and think of ourselves as one people.

Jacob Nelson has spent much of his life as a finance professional abroad but continues to observe what’s happening in Malaysia with great interest

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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