Championing environmental issues through Youth Empowerment

By Nur Fatihah Irdina

Malaysian Youth for Forest Action or MyHutan founded by co-founders of Undi18, Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai sets to advocate for youth empowerment in governance to seek and promote sustainable financing for forest conservation in Malaysia.

The initiative began in 2020 with their first media statement aiming for a call to action in accordance with the proposed resumption of logging in Ulu Muda Forest Reserve. In the statement, MyHutan urges the state government of Kedah to reconsider the proposal as the logging activities puts 4.2 million people in Perlis, Kedah and Penang at risk.

Aside from highlighting the weight of the issue in the media statement, a solution was proposed by the team that suggested a call for action to the federal government including the state governments of Kedah, Penang and Perlis, to look for feasible and effective financing solutions because the problem transcended beyond state boundaries.

Illegal logging activities are the source of contention between environmental activists and scientists. And other reports have also addressed the need for collective responsibility.

Hands on deck

Initially the organisation was built on the basis of fighting for an environmental cause but over the course of one year, the Instagram page also managed to achieve over more than 1,000 followers and attract news media outlets at the same time. The question is how did this happen? The organisation is a youth-led campaign which brings persons between the age of 15 and 24 from all walks of life to work and learn with each other.

Sarvagjnaa Diyva, 19, the youngest member in MyHutan shares that her interest in advocacy and politics developed at the age of 16 and ever since then, she began volunteering at organisations to further polish her skills in the said subject. Recently, Divya has been working closely with MyHutan as a start to dive deeper into Climate Change policies.

“As an individual, I hope to be able to pursue a degree in Actuarial Science in University of Malaya and volunteer with political parties and other environmental conservation organisations in the years to come.”

Volunteers at MyHutan come from all walks of life that includes both environmental conservation and non-environmental backgrounds.

Aidil Iman Aidid, 22, environmental justice advocate, decided to join the team a year ago after spending a great deal of time in advocacy alone. He spends his time volunteering at turtle conservations in Kemaman which usually takes around two days at maximum but realised that physical volunteering is not a prolonged commitment that promises a collective effort from the youth in mobilising climate change.

His communication background helps guide other volunteers from both communication and research teams when preparing infographic posters by assigning appropriate reading materials needed to extract important information into accessible Instagram text posts.

“I met Qyira during an interview at Awani before, somehow a year after the MyHutan application circulated on Twitter. From then, I thought my interest in environmental advocacy should have its own platform,” Aidid said.

Following the latest political turmoil in our country, the volunteering programme has also attracted our local Malaysians studying abroad to volunteer.

Nur Ain, 21, a student at University of Exeter says, “I can see that this organisation is thriving for forest conservation which I think is ideal because I have been to a few other NGOs but they only post on Instagram, hardly push for activism.”

Running the campaign

Over the course of one year, challenges faced by the individuals arise for both old and new volunteers. For Divya, similarly to other active students in the extra-curriculum field, she struggles with time-management.

“One of the challenges I have faced in running this campaign would be time management. This would be because I am a full time student. Thankfully, everyone in MyHutan is very helpful, so I can always ask anyone for some guidance.”

For some who do not have any advocacy background, the challenge lies in other areas that one faces individually. For instance, interacting with one another of different age and background, impostor syndrome kicks in to some.

Ain says that she is new to the programme, “When I first joined MyHutan, I was unaware of the direction and it was quite difficult to comprehend biodiversity policies, especially the terms that come with it but the induction gave an insight.”

Aidil shares that before MyHutan paved the way for volunteers to join, he struggled with content creation.

“I wasn’t equipped with the right capacity to produce the content I wanted to deliver due to time constraints but when new people came in, the flow and production of content increased. We could write press statements in the span of three days with everyone’s help and research expertise.”

A future direction

Even with the campaign’s small followings base in the beginning, the team has already planned ahead for a future direction.

Concerning the latest IPCC report, Malaysian environmentalists highlight the importance in mitigating the effects of climate change that requires immediate action from the higher-ups.

Through this lens, Aidid, who shares his ambition in becoming a project coordinator or programme leader hopes for MyHutan to become its own body of organisation.

“Ideally, we would like to be on the ground, designing solid plans and policies by collaborating with the right organisations or government in the future,” remarks Aidid.

Aside from designing policies as one of the main goals, the plan does not stop there. Voicing out environmental issues that are happening here in Malaysia is also part of the plan.

With the recent environmental protest regarding Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve which saw a huge movement towards liberation from property mishandling, giving hope to future leaders of Malaysia.

This was due to the people’s increasing aspiration for peace and security within the walls of democratic international order.

Consequently, the campaign has also pushed for solidarity matters, particularly showing support through online solidarity.

“Voicing out environmental related issues, designing policies tailored to safeguard our environment is also part of the plan but we hope that our social media page will grow beyond making press statements and actually work with the professionals.”

Also a volunteer at MyHutan, Iman Nor Hizam, 23, from UITM Shah Alam remarks that championing environmental issues is about talking and discussing about the issues, illegal logging and deforestation for example.

Finding solutions with each other’s expertise, bringing light to the public through our online campaign is essential. ***

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