Doers, not dreamers

Cheryn Tan 

MANY of us harbour dreams of making a difference in this world. Yet we never progress from the stage of merely dreaming. Enter the Young Achievers' Club - a multiracial club made up of ambitious teenagers.

What sets these youngsters apart from other dreamers is that they actually take action in turning their dream into reality.

Dubbed "a club for the leaders of tomorrow", the YAC is dedicated to taking a stand on global issues such as poverty, child abuse and cancer, among others.

The YAC is, according to its mission statement, "a well-planned training ground that empowers children to be authentic, responsible, confident and joyful leaders".

Founded in 1996 by Sabri Abdul Rahman and Norwati Abdul Razak, this club is a platform to develop young children's self-confidence and nurture their potential.

True to its name, the YAC has had countless notable achievements over the past seven years. A mission to Iraq was accomplished in March 2001, to expose youths to the suffering of innocent Iraqi children.

Last year, the club raised RM500,000 for the Malaysian Coalition for the Prevention of Child Abuse during a charity gala dinner.

And currently, 14 YAC youths aged 14 to 16, including Amanda Sabri, Marisha Naz Shakil, Sarah Chen and Hazwin Hashim, are sacrificing their year-end school holidays for a good cause. They are working as waiters and waitresses at the Palm Terrace Holiday Villa Coffee House in Kuala Lumpur, and RM100 from their salaries will be donated to MCPCSA. The project also lets the Young Achievers experience the life of a waiter first-hand.

"We work from 3pm to 11pm every day, including weekends," says Amanda who, like the rest of the Young Achievers, goes to the Sri Chempaka Cheras school on a full scholarship. "We treat each day as a challenge, and take all the hardships at work in our stride."

"It's been a great learning process," adds Sarah. "I've learnt how to handle customers from all walks of life, even the difficult ones." Hazwin nods in agreement.

Marisha says that this experience has taught her to view waiters from a different pespective. "Since working as a waitress, I've realised that a simple 'thank you' goes a long way," she notes. "After working for a gruelling five or six hours, it's nice to come across a polite customer who gives you a smile of gratitude."

Amanda treats this job as an eye-opener, and she is distressed by the amount of food wasted daily, especially during buffets. "At 7pm the trash can is empty, but by the end of the night it's filled to the brim."

"Imagine how many people are starving in this world, yet we still waste so much good food," Marisha points out. "We'll be speaking to the general manager of the hotel about this," says Amanda.

Another "small point of contention" is that the adults tend to assume that young people are not big on volunteering and this upsets Amanda.

"Some of the customers couldn't believe that we were doing this on a voluntary basis. They thought that we were working because we couldn't afford an education. It is unfair to assume that we're just doing this for the money," says Amanda.

"Now I have a newfound respect for waiters," Marisha adds. "To be able to work for such long hours and put up with condescending customers takes patience. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an easy job."

Being a Young Achiever definitely isn't easy either. When asked what the qualities of a Young Achiever are, the girls immediately respond: "Committed, confident, hardworking, selfless, and going the extra mile in whatever task he or she chooses to undertake."

And they certainly portray these characteristics. In spite of their youth, these teenagers are sensible and level-headed. Even though they are of different races, they are so close that they refer to each other as "family".

"We're all colour blind in the sense that we never take into account the colour of one another's skin," explains Amanda. "There is no room for racism in the Young Achievers' Club."

"We respect each other's culture, and we celebrate all festivals," says Marisha. "Recently we organised a Deepavali celebration at the Taman Megah Disabled Children's Home. "

"We're also celebrating Christmas at the Lovely Nursing Home for old folks," adds Sarah. "We'll be adding some Christmas cheer by decorating the home."

By now, you're probably thinking, what perfect angels these Young Achievers are. But at the suggestion that they are "saints", Amanda pretends to look horrified. "Of course not! We don't just spend our time doing charity work, we also hang out and go shopping together. We're just normal teenagers."

Normal, except that they have certainly achieved a lot at such a tender age. Yet they remain hopeful about their future.

"Nothing is impossible, once you set your mind to it," Marisha says firmly.

"With the right amount of dedication and determination, of course," finishes Sarah.