By Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star on 6 January 2015

Let me start by expressing my deepest sympathy to everyone affected by the flood. The calamity is unprecedented and I hope all of us will do whatever we can to help the victims.

The disaster brings out the best from common Malaysians. Thousands of people immediately responded, with some donating much needed daily items and others joining relief missions to the affected areas.

The vast majority are unsung heroes and they are not looking for recognition. This is completely the opposite of some politicians who politicise the relief effort, busily issuing statements criticising each other, unashamedly looking for photo opportunities, and abusing this disaster for their partisan agenda.

So while the flood is certainly bringing out the best of the common people, it is also bringing out the truth about some of our politicians. But I guess for now we just have to live with the third class mentality shown by them.

Regretfully I cannot go to the east coast but I had the chance to help out in Perlis and Perak. The affected families whom I met are strong and I pray they will remain strong in facing this ordeal.

The vast majority of people who volunteered with me were relatively young, mostly in their 20s or early 30s. The multiracial nature of the groups were very heartening. Camaraderie and the spirit of unity is indeed still alive and long may it remain.

But at a time when there are extremist groups intentionally working to divide the nation for their political gains, moderation and togetherness must be actively fostered. And that is one of the things we at IDEAS want to do this year.

This newspaper has worked hard since August last year to campaign for moderation. The team must be commended for that. Now we want to do our bit too.

Working with the National Integration Research and Training Institute, an agency under the Department of National Unity and National Integration at the Prime Minister’s Department, we are now looking for twenty youths and young professionals aged between 20 and 30 to join our National Unity Youth Fellowship Programme.

We invite all youths who believe in moderation to get more information from our website and to apply. Our youth fellowship programme will support this group of young leaders by providing them with the skills and knowledge to champion the spirit of unity as stated in our Rukun Negara.

Over a period of nine months, the selected Youth Fellows will go through a series workshops of to train them on important skills such as strategic planning, organising, messaging, and advocacy. They will also be given basic exposure to topics like integrity, ethnic and religious relations, nation building, economics, and globalisation.

On top of that, we will pay the costs to take them around the country to meet directly with community and religious leaders in different parts of Malaysia. Through these meetings they will get first hand exposure of the real issues on the ground. The programme will culminate with a national conference on national unity in September 2015.

We are targeting the younger generation because this group is becoming increasingly important in Malaysian political scene. In the 2013 general elections 25 percent of voters were under the age of 30. In addition, lately there has been a surge of youth-based activism that are calling for a more progressive and liberal Malaysia.

Interestingly, many of these youth-based activism cut across ethnic and religious lines. But in a relatively hierarchical society like Malaysia, their capacity to articulate their message to a broader influential constituency remains relatively low. Our programme is designed to help upskill them so that they can do more in the future.

Our belief is that if youth activists and organisations are provided with the relevant knowledge, technical skills and relationships, they will be empowered to implement more effective advocacy to push the country towards the liberty and justice as envisioned by our nation’s forefathers.

Last Sunday in this newspaper Dato Seri Wong Chun Wai wrote that we must not allow extremists to hijack Malaysia. He quoted two of IDEAS Council members, Dato Seri Nazir Razak and Tan Sri Munir Majid, both expressing support for more to be done to champion unity. My hope is that this project will contribute towards that aim.

At the same time, we are also preparing for a key milestone for IDEAS. This year marks our fifth anniversary, after being officially launched by YBM Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah on 8 February 2010. Just like in previous years, we will hold an event to commemorate this landmark, together with celebrating the birthday of our Bapa Kemerdekaan Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj. The venue will be announced soon.

My colleagues are busy working out the details of the event that will take place on Saturday 7 February 2015. We hope you will join us at the event.

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Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs.

Details of the Youth Fellowship can be found here

For our 5th Anniversary please click here

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