Making a difference

Young Medina Zaharah Onn volunteers to help those with special needs.

08 Jan 2019 / 17:48 H.

DESPITE her bubbly personality, Medina Zaharah Onn still has trouble speaking in public, but due to her experiences from years of volunteering work, which has allowed her to meet with various people, she has managed to overcome her fears.

The 11-year-old regularly travels and volunteers all over the world, a freedom she has due to being homeschooled.

In particular, since the age of eight Medina has been joining her siblings in volunteering to teach music and art to teenagers with special needs from the Yireh Love Foundation.

She explained: “I did’t [start volunteering] so I could become [famous], I volunteer to help out people with special needs because it’s part of my learning experience. It teaches me how to cope with life, how to deal with challenges and stressful situations.”

She also finds time for social and environmental work; like the time she farmed for coffee beans with the Akha Ama tribe in Chiang Mai, and when she joined the Kelantan Flood Relief effort in 2014.

In recognition of her efforts, she was awarded the Tuanku Bainun Young Change Makers Award in 2016. That same year, she was also named the Malaysian Grand Prix winner of the Mitsubishi Asian Children’s Enikki Festa.

Medina explained: “You don’t have to be a special someone to make a difference. When you reach out, your actions will then inspire others to follow suit.”

Medina herself continues to inspire others with her noble efforts towards the betterment of the society.

How did it feel to make the news for your efforts?

“I didn’t feel anything, because my parents didn’t want me to get bigheaded. Like, I still scrub the toilets and take out the garbage at home.

“I’m [currently] on a three-month suspension from the internet. As a person, I’m quite anti-social and shy, and since my productivity has also been dropping, my mum decided to cut me off for the time being.

“As a result, I did get more productive, and opened up myself to a lot more people.”

Do you see social media as an important aspect when it comes to preaching goodwill and kindliness so that others will get inspired?

“It’s so easy to get lost on the internet, especially when social media is so influential today. I’ve stopped using social media because it was [too much of an influence] on me, and on some levels, it messed up my thoughts.

“I don’t think it’s a good [medium] to preach goodwill, but no doubt social media is a good platform for people to reach out and get inspired if you do it correctly.”

What are your thoughts on the current state of social welfare for those with special needs?

“The public definitely needs more education about special needs.

“I think the reason why I have not been avoiding [the children at Yireh] is that I’ve been helping them out for five years now, so we’ve formed a close relationship.

“I volunteer also because I can learn how to interact with them better, and to understand how they learn and behave. Simply put, they struggle to get in touch with their emotions. Their actions are their only way of expression.

“Sometimes when they ‘misbehave’ – whether it was intentional or not – it still tends to put people off, hence people get offended, weirded out, scared or upset.”

In what ways do you have to work creatively to engage those with special needs?

“Those with special needs tend to have sensory issues, hence, they find it very hard to communicate, and are reluctant to participate in activities. So by teaching them art and music, it helps them tremendously to encourage interaction with each other.

“Basic activities like painting, cutting, and moulding will improve their motor skills, and music is a good way for them to discover themselves as a means of expression.”

Were there times where you had to step out of your comfort zone?

“Yes, and it’s not just volunteering at Yireh. It’s every time I go out to talk to people.

“There was one time I ran an art workshop with secondary school students. It was very tough because they were older than me, and language was a barrier because the Malay language is not my first language.

“These experiences definitely helped me build my confidence, though I don’t think I have stepped out of my comfort zone as much.

“If I have a choice, I usually don’t want to take that step, but my mum has been motivating me and I do come out a better person.”