Cover Melissa Ngiam, Samuel Isaiah and Alina Amir are a few of the notable leaders making a difference in Malaysia.

Meet the men and women, including Global Teacher Prize finalist Samuel Isaiah and Gen.T 2020 honouree Cheryl Ann Fernando, who are making a positive impact on underprivileged communities in Malaysia through education

Samuel Isaiah

It’s not every day that an English teacher working with orang asli students in a rural part of Pahang gains international acclaim, but that’s exactly what has happened to 33-year-old Samuel Isaiah, a teacher at Sekolah Kebangsaan Runchang in Pahang.  

Refusing to believe that orang asli students weren’t cut out to succeed academically, Samuel devoted all his energy to improving his students’ lives using technology and out-of-the-box teaching methods, from organising crowdfunding campaigns to purchase laptops, tablets and even ukuleles for his students, to launching an ‘Asli E-Pal’ programme for orang asli students to exchange emails with pen pals across Malaysia and beyond to improve their English skills. As a result, the English pass rate of the students in the school jumped from 30 per cent to an average of 80 per cent in their national examinations.   

This year, Samuel was shortlisted from 12,000 nominations from around the world as a Top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, an award organised by Varkey Foundation in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which honours the impact of teachers around the world.

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Eight of the 10 finalists were announced by British actor, comedian and presenter Stephen Fry, who thanked Samuel for his valiant efforts. Earlier this year, Isaiah and one other Malaysian teacher, Norhailmi Abdul Mutalib from Kedah, were shortlisted in the Top 50 for the Global Teacher Prize.

“I’m humbled and grateful for this recognition," says Samuel, who chose to shine the spotlight on his students when he heard the news. "I believe that this award signifies the amazing capabilities of the minority children that I’ve been teaching for the past eight years. The award really sheds light on their abilities, challenging misconceptions that they can’t do great things in life.”

The winner will be announced in December. If he wins, Samuel says he will use the prize money of US$1mil (RM4.4mil) to collaborate with government bodies and NGOs in Malaysia to further improve the lives of orang asli communities across the nation.   

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Cheryl Ann Fernando

If you have watched the 2017 film Adiwiraku, you would have heard about the heroic efforts of 2020 Gen.T Malaysia honouree Cheryl Ann Fernando, the teacher who inspired the movie. Fernando left a comfortable PR job in the city to join Teach For Malaysia as a volunteer teacher back in 2013. After being posted to SMK Pinang Tunggal in Kedah, where many of her students couldn't speak basic English, Fernando worked closely with her students, inspiring them to form a choral speaking team and join a choral speaking competition against 25 other schools; impressively, the team ended up in fifth place in the competition.

Fernando is currently country director at Pemimpin GSL, an organisation that aims to improve school leadership.            

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Raudhah Nazran

Determined to tackle the issues of youth unemployment and digital literacy, Raudhah Nazran founded Accelerate Global, a social enterprise that empowers youths from all walks of life with the skills needed to succeed in the workforce. Travelling often to Malaysia's rural areas, Raudhah personally conducts these workshops and classes with her team. To date, Accelerate Global has impacted more than 400 individuals across Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Philippines and the UK.  

In an effort to help stateless and at-risk youths become more employable, Accelerate Global is co-organising a fundraising gala dinner together with Yayasan Hasanah on November 11. The funds raised from this event will go towards equipping young people with the skills and knowledge to become micro-entrepreneurs and to support themselves during a tough economy.

Melissa Ngiam

When she was 25, Melissa Ngiam left a career as an accountant to join Yayasan Generasi Gemilang as a volunteer. Moved by the NGO's mission to give underprivileged children and youths a leg-up in life through access to quality education and mentorship, Ngiam became a full-time member, eventually expanding her role to oversee operations, fundraising, partnerships and communications as its CEO.

Today, Ngiam and her team continue to transform lives through practical, impactful programmes like Super Sarapan, a crowdfunding initiative to help underprivileged students perform better in school.       

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Alina Amir

Alina Amir co-founded Arus Academy together with Daniel Russel, Felicia Yoon and David Chak. During her time as a volunteer teacher with Teach for Malaysia, the former analyst realised the disconnect between what kids were learning in class and what was happening in their everyday lives. Arus Academy was thus created to help unmotivated and underprivileged students apply science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in useful ways. 

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Amelia Tan

Together with her co-founders Andrew Yong and Karthik Karunanithy, Tan founded The 100% Project, a crowdfunding platform that aims to support educators in need of funds to help make their classrooms more interactive and innovative—and this platform has been especially active this year at the height of the pandemic. 

The 100% Project's recent initiatives include crowdfunding for personal protective equipment (PPE) for Sabah's frontliners as well as to provide students in B40 communities access to online SPM master classes.     

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