For many of us, including me “ASEAN” used to be just a topic we learnt in Geography books and its countries are just names we needed to memorize for school exams. But as we grow mature, some of us had benefit from this opportunity: the opportunity to experience a meaningful event that made the word “ASEAN” seep unto us skin deep, lingered close to our hearts and eventually, becoming more than just mere words out of a textbook. Maybe that meaningful event was that two weeks of budget backpacking trip across the islands of Java. Or perhaps it was that short 3 days ASEAN youth workshop where we had the opportunity to meet new people and learn how to say ‘hello’ in the many different languages. In the year 2015, there was no short of Bruneians attending ASEAN-related local or international events or volunteered and worked in ASEAN countries. They had shared how these events changed their perspective of life and what is the ASEAN community they wish to see 10 years from now.
Around September this year, Billah Hasan, a journalist for Brunei Times were presented with the opportunity he had never expected: to experience the American dreams rooted to a good cause for South East Asian nations. He was in United States for 5 weeks, as an academic fellow at the Northern Illinois University, United States to study on civic engagement under the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), alongside other academic fellows from ASEAN countries. More than that, he also had the opportunity to attend the YSEALI Summit 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, which was held concurrently with the ASEAN Summit 2015 and attended a town hall session with President Barack Obama himself. For those not familiar, YSEALI is a signature youth programme of US President Barack Obama which is aimed at increasing mutual understanding between US-ASEAN and encourage cultural exchange and nurturing ASEAN future leaders. He said, “As the module that we studied in NIU was entitled ‘Leading and Organizing Change in Southeast Asia (LOCSEA), we learnt how to organize and mobilize people towards the betterment, to be applied back in our home countries.” Perhaps one day, with all of the knowledge he had gained from the experience, he shall be in the frontline for the driving force of human development in South East Asia.
Another proactive Bruneian, Mas Dino Radin attended a summit for Young South East Asian Leaders, held in Kuala Lumpur from 19th to 22nd of November 2015. In the summit, around 500 YSEALI alumni members were divided into groups, each consisting of 5-6 ASEAN youths and 2 team leaders. They were assigned to create a one minute informational campaign (such as an app, videos or other multimedia) on regional challenges faced by South East Asian Nations. As they were only given 2 days to address and present innovative solutions, the time constraint has left a great impact on her perspective of ASEAN cooperation. “I felt that it somewhat mirrors the reality of ASEAN challenges and regional cooperation. As a region, we don’t have the luxury of time to come up with solutions but not only do they need to be effective but sustainable and innovative as well. It became increasingly clear that in order to sustain ASEAN, we needed a paradigm shift.”
The year 2015 have also seen Bruneian youths stepping up on the global pedestal and be recognized for their hardwork. One of them is Liaw, the founder of Biodiversity and Natural History Society (BruWILD) in Brunei. Ms Lin Ji won country winner prize at the ASEAN Green Award organized by the Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) and ASEAN Academy of Engineering and Technology (AAET) in Kuala Lumpur, held on the 29th to 30th November, 2015. During the event, winners from each ASEAN countries shared their works related to protecting the environment or on promoting the green concept, whilst identifying the common environmental concerns within the region and share ideas to overcome such obstacles. For Ms Lin Ji, having the opportunity to represent Brunei in the ASEAN Green award was not only a start to build rapport across the ASEAN community of environmentalist; but it also meant that their struggles to achieve the “little albeit significant achievements” in Biodiversity conservation and community based research programs in Brunei, was worth it!
On the other end, Dk Khairunnisa Pg Hj Roslin had never expected that the biggest leap she ever made reaped memories she will miss for a life time. She was assigned to teach English at a public primary school in Vientiane, Lao PDR, for a period of 10 months from January to October 2015. Teaching was a profession that had never crossed her mind, neither does she think she had the skills to teach or deal with children. However, prior to the program, along with other apprentices, she underwent intensive training (including spending 6 weeks in East-West Centre in Hawaii) to design classroom activities that incorporates play-based and project-based learning for effective learning in young learners. “It made a great deal of change in the way I learn to communicate. I became more patient and cautious of the way I interact and be more sensitive to those in the receiving end,” she said on how the experience changed her life. Is this not the ideal ASEAN community we want to see? A place where talent (including the talent to teach) is shared and where those collective talents contribute to the development of ASEAN as a whole. It is certainly a community that Dk Khairunnisa and I would like to see.
For Siti Ajeerah, who is currently working for the Legislative Council of Brunei, attending the ASEAN inter parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) in Ho Chi Minh from 3rd to 6th December not only meant that she had the opportunity to be trained on AIPA connect, an intranet system for the AIPA member parliaments, which enables her to understand the system and perform her duties better; she also had the benefit of networking with other ASEAN nationals in the same field of work.
Zaidul Anwar, a Bruneian currently doing his masters in Thammasat University, Thailand, had attended a handful of ASEAN events this year, ranging from CIMB Young ASEAN Leaders award presentation in Malaysia to ASEAN youth Exchange Program, Youth LEAD, in Bangkok. Attending such programmes may be hectic. But as he realizes that the majority of ASEAN citizen didn’t know what is ASEAN is all about and how does it affects them; and furthermore, for the past 48 years, the livelihood of ordinary ASEAN citizen haven’t improved much despite decades of positive economic growth. Thus, prompting him to actively participate in many ASEAN activities and discussions this year. “I believe, with the approaching ASEAN Community, ASEAN is ready to accommodate and listen to more voices & opinions. After all, a close knit community allows distribution of prosperity to the people by blurring national boundary and bring people together by having a sense of belonging to each other.” Indeed such visionary minds and articulate voices like Zaidul Anwar is needed to lead our young community to greater success in the future.
And personally for me, the day I realize the potential of ASEAN prowess was on during the MH370 plane disappearance tragedy, when many ASEAN nations sent their troops and cooperate in its search. It was on that day that ASEAN for me felt so big, I tremble at the news of such cooperation. To the world, many of our nations may be third world or still developing, but imagine what we can do if we harness the power of collectivity: “collective talents” “collective knowledge” “collective contribution”. Imagine the ASEAN we could achieve as a community.
By Nur Atiqah Raduan, ASEAN Correspondent from Brunei Darussalam