Khind Starfish Foundation’s Projects for Happiness

PEOPLE, even governments often give attention and put priority on the youth of a nation as they are seen as the future of a country. While many emphasise on the young, hale and hearty, establishing projects and programmes for betterment, there is very little emphasis put into encouraging these rising numbers of young adults in helping to improve the community they live in.

It is this conscious observation that mooted the Khind Starfish Foundation to launch the “Projects for Happiness” in 2014.

Three years on and the project has become popular among university students. Out of pure interest and a desire to know more, theSun’s Brian Chung met with the foundation’s CEO Cheng Ping Keat, to learn of the ins and outs, the progress of the foundation and what made it “tick” with the youth.

Q: How has the project been received by the public since its inception in 2014?
It has been steadily gaining popularity among university students and institutions of higher learning. We have donated over RM352,000 to sponsor 51 community projects since inception. Despite initial challenges trying to encourage students to participate in the project, we have now managed to build a strong network, working with over 40 universities, both private and government-run. Some lecturers have even used some of the foundation’s projects as part of their classroom assignments.

Q: When a foundation is set up, there are always areas of focus to define its objectives and direction. Why did the foundation choose to focus on university students?
When we first established this foundation four years ago, we decided not to fixate on any specific cause or particular area of concern, instead, to do as much as we can with the limited resources we had. Back then, I came across the story about the Project of Peace and its founder Kathryn W. Davis. She had donated US$1 million to sponsor 100 projects in the US and across the world. She awarded US$10,000 towards each community project, right up until her death in 2013, of which her successor has since been continuing in doing so.

Inspired by this, we (the founding committee) decided to adopt this methodology by sponsoring university students to do community work. Similarly, we contributed RM10,000 to each project. We decided on working with the youth because they ARE our future and we wanted to plant the seed of kindness among our youth. We thought it was a good age to start with – at university level; and we hope they will continue in their efforts. We also felt there was a dire need for more people to get involved and care for the community and that we cannot just rely on the government alone – everyone has a role to play.

Q: With most students busy with assignments and exams, how is it that they can spend (sometimes) months on a project?
When I lobby a project in university, I tell students how they can benefit from it. It may not be the best method, to “dangle a carrot” so to speak, but I needed to let them understand the mechanics of doing community work and that it really can benefit everyone.

Some of the reasons I shared was that it will enhance their resume, which is very true as these projects will make any CV stand out.

Another reason was that the Projects for Happiness provides training. When they become a “member”, their communication and planning skills are put to the test, having to plan good, solid projects that are feasible and impacting, and that are convincing enough for sponsors to buy into. Once their project is accepted, they have to attend a judging session where they will need to present their project. A decision is made on the spot, whether to finance a project or not.

Students involved in a project must also raise additional funds as the foundation will not sponsor a project entirely. This also provides the students a chance to learn and grow through developing skills to raise funds. Terms require them to raise at least 15%. It’s a strict and lengthy process – but crucial and needed.

Besides coming up with the project, presenting it, getting donors to fund it and raising funds themselves, the students also need to execute the project and see it through. This naturally comes with challenges to overcome and opportunities to improve one’s problem-solving skills and leadership abilities.

Q: The foundation’s projects place emphasis on eradication of poverty, education, and promote the performing arts and culture. Why these, and how are they affiliated?
These are the three core objectives of the foundation but we also have three values we hold high, which are advocating racial harmony, protecting the environment and animal welfare. These values cover a huge scope of issues and possible community projects.

All projects will contain two or more values that are associated. For example, an environmental protection project would protect the environment as well as educate, as it involves teaching people about the dangers of contaminating the planet and such.

In poverty eradication projects, we address financial issues and teach people about budgeting and saving, among other useful lessons. So, a project can involve some, if not all, of the foundation’s values.

Having said that, many people underestimate the value of the arts and culture. For those who do not know, it actually helps to reduce stress and how one perceives the beauty of the world. It also helps promote creativity. We cannot deny that culture and arts are part of our life and that they form our identity in the world.

In relation to this topic, let me share about a project the International Islamic University students organised. It was called “I’m P+ the Theatre” and was aimed at raising public awareness on HIV and its effects on the carrier and family members. Society has a stigma on the disease and many who are infected cannot get jobs, some even friends. The project saw students conduct a stage performance on the story of a family affected by the disease. Students used their performing arts skills to educate the public and put out an important message. This project is one of the few but impactful examples of how performing arts can help change mindsets, hence, a society.

[Follow our marketing andmedia section tomorrow for part 2.]