The vocal advocate

Datuk Aznil Nawawi shares how he became an anti-drug ambassador

13 Jan 2021 / 10:20 H.

FOR decades Datuk Aznil Nawawi was a familiar face and a welcomed guest in Malaysian homes through the many TV shows he has hosted. So, it is natural that some people turn to him when they need a sympathetic listener. But, a recent confession changed Aznil’s life.

“They just want to share. I have been in everybody’s home since 30 years ago. I belong to many households. I don’t think they look at me as a stranger,” added Aznil.

It came as one of the many messages that flooded his social media inbox every day. However, this time, he was moved into focusing on a message, which was written by a recovered addict.

“I seldom open direct messages on Instagram. But I don’t know what led me to open one DM, and it was from this man who wanted to talk about his drug soliciting problem.

“He said that he needed someone to talk to, that he doesn’t have a father figure and his mother had just passed away, and he has had this drug problem before. Now he needed some confidence, and needed to feel accepted by the public,” said Aznil.

It was clear that the man wanted to do all he could not to relapse, and turned to Aznil for help. In turn, Aznil set an appointment to meet the man and they talked.

They talked about how the National Anti-Drug Agency (NADA) programme helped the man, and how he would like his story to inspire others through telling it to Aznil who could share it with his many followers.

But the man was not seeking fame. He wanted to keep his identity a secret.

“When I posted the story on Instagram I got in contact with NADA,” Said Aznil. From there he decided to work with NADA as an anti-drug ambassador.

“After I spoke to the NADA head director, in the end, we came up with a programme. The thing is I have a foundation, Yayasan Persona.

“Before Covid-19, I worked closely with the Ministry of Education. I went around to schools around Malaysia to inspire students to speak their mind, to be confident, and to have a great persona,” said Aznil.

Yayasan Persona was started by Aznil after he noticed that a lot of Malaysian youths lacked communication skills.

“They tend to be shy and quiet, just like how they have been taught at home and at school. However, the real world values those who can express themselves.

“I love kids. When I conduct auditions, I look for kids who can speak their mind, who are chatty. But it is not one out of 10, or out of 20, sometimes I can’t even find a single kid out of 30 who fits the bill.

“When these kids grow up and go for an interview, they would not be able to represent themselves. I was a part of the team to interview intakes at Astro, and these students look good on paper, but when it comes to the interview, they can’t even talk about themselves.

“During the talks about the 2050 National Transformation plan, I said that this is one field that we should transform. It is a major problem and it must be addressed from school. Kids must know how to speak their mind, but ethically and politely,” said Aznil.

With a strong belief in his cause to inspire, encourage, and uplift students to express themselves while still holding on to the Malaysian culture of ‘Budi Bahasa’, he started Yayasan Persona in 2018. And he does this with the help of his team and using his own time and money.

“The pandemic was a major blow to Yayasan Persona,” added Aznil. With children not being able to go to school, all of his programmes could not proceed as planned. “I was a bit lost, I didn’t know what to do. Even if we do it online, it would not be as good as when we do it on the ground.”

However, thanks to the person who shared his story and led Aznil to NADA, he now uses his foundation to address the drug issue in Malaysia.

“My mission is to stop people from even thinking of trying drugs. That’s why I show all the extreme results of drug addiction so that parents and youths that follow me would not even think about taking it,” said Aznil. To him, there should be a stigma, not a curiosity towards drugs.

When asked about his thoughts on the legalisation of drugs in the west, Aznil says that in Malaysia we have a different set of cultures, religions and values.

“I believe we are very passionate people. Once we are focused on something, we go to the extreme, whether it is good or bad. Malaysians are very passionate people. So in my opinion, opening the gates to legalising drugs can lead to worse things,” said Aznil.

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