Joining IMU opened a whole new world of opportunities for Michele Fernandez. She has always been very passionate about humanitarian work and the opportunity to do this started when she joined the University to study pharmacy. It started off with Michele volunteering at IMU Cares events and fundraising events that were carried out at the University.
“Doing good for others is the strongest drug I know of, it is so addictive that once you start, you would want more, a more stronger dose each time. From just volunteering in university, I started to volunteer at Liter of Light by Incitement. Losing my weekend to go for builds at Cameron Highlands and coming back at 1-2am, then rushing back to the lab wasn’t easy because not everyone appreciates volunteer work. But, all that was worth it, because I knew that I had a role in changing the lives of the children in a village. From that, I went on to joining my friend from APU in his idea to help the environment and the homeless, though we are still at the beginning of the project, it is a good start.”
Michele was involved in so many volunteering projects that her mentor had to ask her to stop and focus on her studies. For her efforts in these, Michele was awarded the Aflame Student Award at IMU’s University Day celebrations on 10 March 2017 at the University’s campus in Bukit Jalil. As the 2017 winner of the Aflame Student Award, Michele was given the opportunity to nominate a beneficiary, Dignity for Children Foundation, to receive a donation of RM5,000.
Open to graduating students from all programmes, the Aflame Student Award recipient is nominated by the graduating class – peers whom they feel have represented humane values throughout the course of study at IMU. We met Michele before the celebrations and she tells us more in this interview.
|How did you feel when you know you will be receiving the Aflame Award?|
|I was surprised that people are actually given awards for being nice and kind since just being able to bring positive change in people’s lives is already an award to me. I am just glad that, the cash award is going to a foundation that has a strong impact on the lives of children; they are our future anyway.|
|Why did you nominate Dignity for Children Foundation as the beneficiary?|
|After just volunteering twice at Dignity, I saw how strong their impact was to the society. Children are the pillar of our future, Dignity made sure that the kids, be it refugees or the poor kids were able to get equal education and therefore equal opportunity like the rest of us. Without equal opportunity, these kids might end up choosing the wrong path life; crime etc. They provided them good food, proper education and the much needed love and care, and this ensures that these kids would grow up to do well.|
|How does it feel to be the first pharmacy student to win this award?|
|I think the ones who are the happiest are the School of Pharmacy lecturers and Dean. I hope that my juniors would win this too, but winning the award isn’t the point, in my point of view. I hope more are sincere in being charitable instead of just doing it for the sake of collecting MPU hours. It isn’t us who wins the award, but the unfortunate who wins; wins an opportunity to a better life through our actions.|
|How long have you been involved in working with the community?|
|I have always been taught by my mother to help those in need, and I quote her here, “Even if you have something as tiny as a mustard seed, you must share and if you can, you must help others in any way possible.” I grew up seeing my mother helping others when she herself was barely surviving. Though I was very passionate about humanitarian work, I only started to volunteer and work for charities since I joined IMU.|
|Describe your experiences doing community work|
|The word I would use is strengthen. My experiences have strengthen me in 3 different ways. It strengthened my knowledge. While volunteering at homes, we had to clean the drug cabinets off expired medications, this became a hands-on experience of me to look the medications, make a list of the medications, write down its indications and memorise it as I do it.It also strengthened my network circle. Through the volunteer work I go for, I have met many amazing like-minded people who will be able to help me pursue my future goals in social business.Lastly, it also strengthened my dreams to one day run my own social business. From volunteering with many organisations, I have learnt how start a proper social business that has a strong impact on society and as I continue to work with them, the desire to run my own project deepens.|
|What community projects are you currently involved in?|
|I am currently actively involved with Liter of Light as a light engineer. A project in which we go up to the hills of Cameron Highlands and build solar powered lights for the indigenous people there. I also occasionally go for street feeding.|
|Could you describe any future plans that you have?|
|I want to run my own social project that involves cleaning the plastics off the street by converting it into something useful and helping the indian community; especially students in my housing area.|
Another student shortlisted for the final selection of the Aflame Student Award was Dhivya Dhyana Suppiah who has been involved in humanitarian work since she was 17. She was inspired by her mother who did a lot of work with Rotary and was always the first responders to natural disasters. She firmly believe in tackling two current social problems – lack of empowerment for women in the society and urban poor. To this end, she worked with various NGOs conducting women empowerment camps and founded Stop the Hunger with some friends to do street feeding in the streets of KL. Dental student, Lau Jia Ern was another student who made it to the final selection of the Aflame Student Award. For Jia Ern, opportunities to give back to the community was open to her when she joined IMU. She was able to use her dental knowledge for this purpose. She believes in the importance of education and helps out with a home for OA children are given an opportunity for education in the city. As an animal lover, she also volunteers at animal shelters. This year, the distinguished panel of judges for final selection were Prof Dato Kandasami Palayan (Chair), Dr Susheela Balasundram (UNHCR) and Dr Wilkinson Tan Yoong Jian (Inaugural winner of the Aflame Student Award in 2012).
For Dr Susheela, compassion for those in need balanced with maturity and the courage to make the change for those in need is the most important criteria for selection of the winner. She believes that humane values are very important for the graduating students, especially those in the healthcare industry to ensure that beneficiaries are treated with empathy, compassion and dignity. In this increasingly individualistic, self-driven world, it is crucial to ensure that there is emphasis to serve and give back to communities in need.