Like a spark in the quiet darkness, these Malaysian youths prove that one’s never too young to ignite the world

What started as ripples in the calm have grown into roaring seas of change, with these remarkable youths at the helm. From climate activism to political reform, they are strangers to going with the flow—evidently, the world’s injustices only seem to fuel their passion for a better Malaysia. Tatler sits down with these extraordinary humans to ask them some very ordinary questions that reveal who they are beyond their feats.

See also: 2 Teenagers Raised Over RM30,000 For The Underprivileged During A Pandemic

Reyess Gnanalingam

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Reyess Gnanalingam
Above Reyess Gnanalingam

The age of 12 seems to be the age of agency for Reyess Gnanalingam, son of Datuk Ruben Gnanalingam and Datin Shirieene Hajamaideen. Gnanalingam was selfless in raising RM150,000 for Mahdya’s Gift, a charity that aims to provide healthcare to uninsured critically ill children.

His compassion radiated true as he walked 10km in the hot and humid streets of KL for the sole purpose of raising funds. While some may worry that such physical activity might be too strenuous for this young’un, his determination to support this cause was even greater. He says, “Children generally have loud voices: what better way to get the message across than having a 12-year-old kid asking to help other children in need?”

What gives you joy?
Hugging my brothers close—nothing makes me prouder than being their big brother and someone they can rely on. Chocolate chip cookies also bring me a lot of joy!

Read more: Reyess Gnanalingam On Walking 10km To Raise RM150k For Charity

Harsha Ravindran

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Harsha Ravindran
Above Harsha Ravindran

For teenage social entrepreneur Harsha Ravindran, her list of accomplishments seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. When she was just 13, she co-founded Ascendance, a nationwide youth development platform working with the Malaysian Ministry of Education to aid youths in creating sustainable careers.

She also founded her own start-up at 17. Now 19, she is the chief marketing officer of Ascendance, a three-time TEDx speaker, a published author and recipient of the 2019 Diana Award for Young Changemakers. Her brilliance did not go unnoticed as she was offered a spot at the University of Pennsylvania, an American Ivy League university where she now studies applied arts and sciences.

What gives you joy?
Watching the faces of youngsters light up when they connect the dots between the essence of what Ascendance is sharing and their daily experiences. That and spaghetti bolognese!

What is the most memorable moment of your career?
It would be right after we won the Diana Award for Young Changemakers. We were in disbelief—we literally had to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming!

See also: 3 Garden International School Students Prove It's Never Too Young To Pursue Their Passions

Sasha Alyssa Philip

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Sasha Alyssa Philip
Above Sasha Alyssa Philip

Though she is young, she is mighty indeed—12-year-old Sasha Alyssa Philip, granddaughter of Datin Jasmine Abdullah Heng, stands out from the crowd in her drive to save the endangered Malayan tigers. Spearheading this project when she was just 10 years old, this two-year campaign soon grew into something majestically extraordinary—not unlike the very tigers Philip is eager to save.

Through fundraising, the BSKL (British School of Kuala Lumpur) for Malayan Tigers campaign raised a staggering total of RM43,500, split equally three ways and donated to Perhilitan, WWF and MYCAT for tiger conservation efforts. Philip’s personal impact on the protection of Malayan tigers is testament that no matter your age, your drive to support a cause can go a very long way.

What gives you joy?

Representing my school or my district in sporting competitions brings me joy! My smile is usually biggest on the morning of a meet, right up to the start of the race or game, and then it comes back on straight after, whether I win or not.

If you could have dinner with one person in the whole world (dead or alive), who would you pick and why?
I would like to have dinner with footballer Nadia Nadim. As an athlete myself, Nadia’s story is truly inspiring. It’s just amazing how a 12-year-old girl who had to leave her country and live in a refugee camp, could end up being on Forbes’ 20 Most Powerful Women in International Sports! She reminds me to see the good in every situation rather than focus on the bad.

Sahana Kaur

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Sahana Kaur
Above Sahana Kaur

Discovering your passion at just 17 years old feels like hitting the jackpot, and the winner of such a jackpot is Sahana Kaur. She expresses her passion for human rights, climate action and youth empowerment through activism and proactive projects. Not only is she the founder of Project All For All, a youth-led nonprofit striving to empower youth civic engagement, she is also the recipient of a myriad of awards: the Diana Award for Young Changemakers, the EARCOS Global Citizenship Award and the AMP Global Youth Visionary honour.

Indeed, the Garden School International A-Level student’s significant influence spans across Malaysian borders; within Amnesty International, Sahana serves as the chair of Malaysia’s first youth committee and is one of Malaysia’s youth representatives for the Global Assembly.

What is the most memorable moment of your career?
One of the most memorable moments during my work has definitely been an orphanage visit my friends and I organised two years back. Some of my friends ran a mini running race while we were setting up lunch, and they thought they might need to intentionally run slower since they were much taller than the children—but many kids ended up outpacing them by a mile even when they were going at full speed!

If you could have dinner with one person in the whole world (dead or alive), who would you pick and why?

The pastry chef of Curate at Four Seasons KL—they make the best chocolate pudding ever.

See also: 3 Inspiring Women Share Their Thoughts On Nurturing Ambition—In Garden International School And Beyond

Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai

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Qyra Yusri and Tharma Pillai
Above Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai

Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai’s urgent determination to enable political autonomy for Malaysian youths took them all the way to the halls of the Parliament. The pair were just university students in 2016 when they co-founded Undi18, a Malaysian youth movement that advocated to reduce Malaysia’s voting age from 21 to 18 years old.

Working within Malaysian Students’ Global Alliance, this movement ultimately made way for imminent success: the Undi18 bill was passed in 2019, empowering youths to use their voices sooner rather than later to exercise their political will. Qyira and Pillai were both recognised by Forbes in its 2021 30 Under 30 list, and presently serve as Undi18’s education director and advocacy director respectively.

What gives you joy?
Q: Being able to have some good cream cheese spread on my bagels for breakfast in the morning.
P: Being able to wake up late on Saturdays.

What is the most memorable moment of your career?
Q: It would be when Tharma and I got the email that we were listed in the Forbes list, I gave him a call and he thought I was giving him a cruel prank! If you could have dinner with one person in the whole world (dead or alive), who would you pick and why?
P: I would choose to have dinner with my grandma. I haven’t seen her in such a long time due to the pandemic and she is currently in Pangkor. I hope once everyone is vaccinated and the situation is safe, I will be able to see her again.

See also: Activist Nisha Ayub On Fighting For The Rights Of Transgender Community

Ong Yong Xun

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Ong Yong Xun
Above Ong Yong Xun

Ong Yong Xun is another young Malaysian to grace the Forbes 2021 30 Under 30 list. His impact on Malaysian youths combines technology with education: in 2020 when he was just 20 years old, he created the JomStudy app to help SPM students do their revisions, which garnered over 10,000 downloads within the first four months of its release.

JomStudy’s creation was a feat of marvel— Ong had no prior formal training in computer programming and taught himself to code and created his app in a whirlwind span of six months. With the pandemic halting in-person schooling, this app has become even more empowering for students, increasing their quality of education through the screen of their phones.

What gives you joy?
Being grateful gives me joy. It doesn’t require much action, it’s being constantly mindful and reminding myself that I am fortunate to have a roof over my head and food served on the table during these trying times.

What is the most memorable moment of your career?
My most memorable moments would be getting featured on news articles and radio stations—I can tick that off my bucket list. It’s unforgettable to be able to lend a platform to inspire younger generations regarding entrepreneurship. To me, acknowledgement is a very powerful fuel to drive an entrepreneur.

See also: Deborah Henry On Why Education Is The Best Gift You Can Give Anyone

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