“It’s official—I’ll be flying to London to meet The Queen Her Majesty next June!”
That’s not a status update many of us will ever be able to post in our lifetimes, let alone before we hit the age of 23.
But for Malaysian student Heidy Quah, that’s exactly what she’s going to be doing.
The 22-year-old is Malaysia’s only representative for the 2017 Queen’s Young Leader Award. Established last year, the Award is meant to recognise and celebrate exceptional people aged 18–29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives.
Winners receive a trio of training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential programme in the UK. Then, they will also collect their Award from Her Majesty The Queen.
But who is Heidy, and why was she chosen?
At the age of 18, she co-founded Refuge For The Refugees (RftF), an NGO that champions bringing education to refugee children in Malaysia. It also aims to raise awareness of the state of these refugees and the importance of education to them.
Overseeing 8 refugee schools, they manage a group of volunteer teachers, help to develop structures and syllabuses, and network with partner organisations.
And, she does all this while still studying for a degree in finance.
It’s a lot to handle but Heidy told Vulcan Post, “What keeps me going till now is seeing how much the kids hunger for education; it is their hunger for education, their grit and their desire for growth that inspires me to keep going.”
What she’s working on now wasn’t always something she thought she’d do. In fact, she said, “If you were to tell 15 year old me that I’d be running my own NGO one day, I’d probably laugh at you.”
She explained that growing up, she was rarely in leadership positions. Despite trying to be a prefect multiple times, she was told that she was soft, shy, timid—that she’d get bullied.
In her words, “I never quite thought my voice counted. I never saw the need to speak up. In fact, it made me uncomfortable to. I was complacent being told what to do, how to do, and when to do things.”
Her big turnaround began when she first began working with refugees. Heidy shared that she was often told off for focusing her efforts on helping the refugees.
“Such encounters, while frustrating; makes me realize this: people need to be educated. And hence I embarked on this journey with my amazing best friend and am now backed up with a fantastic team and top notch volunteers. We started with 1 school but are now in 8; and the dream is to reach and empower many, many more.”
The Queen’s Young Leaders Award is valued recognition of her efforts so far. She told Vulcan Post, other than meeting the Queen (of course), it’s the programme itself that she’s looking forward to.
“As part of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award programme, one thing we’ll be exposed to is the Leading Change course, specially put together for us by Cambridge University! I’m definitely really looking forward to that because I believe that it will further empower me to empower youths,” she said.
In closing, here are some of the words she shared on her Facebook post: “See the less privileged around you as a gift, as an asset, as a friend, as family. By seeing and treating them as equals, you help bridge the gap. Learn to listen; listen to learn. Listening is serving too.”
Congratulations on being chosen for the award, Heidy! May you continue to inspire other Malaysians to help give voice to the voiceless.
Feature Image Credit: Heidy Quah