A reflection from the LoyarBurok retreat in Malacca, on 26 & 27 February 2011. This post was first published in The Star.
I am writing this piece from the inaugural LoyarBurok Retreat in Malacca where 32 people — “Loyar Burokkers” — have come together for two days.
LoyarBurok is a platform for intelligent and critical discourse, where Malaysians can come together by sharing their writings on its blog and views via its e-mail group. This gathering in Rumbia took some of this discourse offline.
Besides getting the “brain working,” it was a pleasure being in discussion with many good beings in a “safe space,” where everyone can speak without being judged. After all, many Malaysians often think well about food, but little of their people. The fact is, like good food, good people also exist. The bunch of people at the retreat is evidence of this.
Among them is human rights lawyer Edmund Bon.
For me, what is more significant than his work dealing with Internal Security Act detainees are his “extra-curricular” activities and initiatives such as the MyConsti campaign, which aims to educate the public on their fundamental rights and civil liberties as provided in our Federal Constitution.
Edmund is one of the founders of LoyarBurok, and he recently introduced PusatRakyatLB — the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights — that will be launched this month.
The centre will serve as LoyarBurok’s first physical on-ground presence to provide a platform for Malaysians to use for training, education, research and advocacy, among others.
Then there is June Rubis, a conservation biologist who has been working both in Malaysia and Indonesia over the past decade on orang utan conservation.
She is the first local full-time female field worker in our country, and also the first to initiate long-term orang utan research in Sarawak for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
She has since left that role to work together with the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA) and Jaringan Orang Asal seMalaysia (JOAS) on land rights issues of the indigenous communities of Sarawak.
She flew from Kuching to be part of the retreat and is a firm believer of building stronger ties between Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, particularly within civil society.
The third, and final person I’d like to introduce, is Woon King Chai.
He might be recognised as a student leader and activist, but he made headlines as one of the four students charged with campaigning in the Hulu Selangor parliamentary by-election, known as UKM4.
King Chai’s main focus now is how to leverage on his legal battle to push for student rights, especially their involvement in politics.
It was very interesting to listen to him explain reasons behind his legal battle, and his opinions on why certain restrictions within the University and University College Act 1971 (UUCA) could potentially hinder the development of university students.
He argues that restricting a student’s freedom in deciding their learning experience — including participation in politics — would affect their thinking, growth and maturity.
I have only shared a little about three of the 32 people who participated in the retreat but I feel that people like these do the kind of work that affects many Malaysians. Theirs may not be glamourous work, but they make a difference.
But like you and me, they are not perfect. What they have done, however, is take action instead of just sitting back and these actions led them to where they are today. You can see this metaphorically, or even literally — today, they all put their minds together to create a voter education campaign.
I was part of this process, and it was one that I didn’t expect. After all, I coordinate flashmobs and I know little about voter issues. Yet, I was still able to contribute.
My journey on the “path” started two years ago when I decided to stop whining and to start doing something.
Today, the paths of 30 brothers and sisters crossed.
Zain runs RandomAlphabets and Wago Sdn Bhd. You can connect with him via Twitter at @ZainHD.