“I have been a refugee my whole life.”

“I have been a refugee my whole life.

My parents fled to Iran when Russia attacked Afghanistan. My siblings and I were all born in Iran. In 2004, we moved back to Afghanistan. For about 10 years, I lived in Afghanistan; I was studying Spanish Literature at Cavard University. In 2013, I had to move to Malaysia because of the war that happened in my home country.

As a refugee, I face many challenges because I don’t have any rights. I always live in fear and I can’t ask the government for help because I don’t exist. But I still need to make a living. I need to eat. I do work but we are underpaid. Sometimes, some bosses don’t want to pay me in the end because I don’t have any documents. And I can’t do anything about it.

I met many refugees who came to tell me that they have worked for their bosses for more than a few months, and yet are not getting paid. Sometimes they get injured during work and they don’t have insurance to cover it. They have to pay their own medical bills, and healthcare services are expensive.

Sometimes I get tired but I know that I’m not living for myself. I am also living for my parents and siblings. I need to be alive to take care of the people in my life. That is why I am still here. But at least we are trying. We are trying our best and when our applications are not successful, we still keep trying.

My only plan now is to wait for UNHCR to get me resettled to a place where I can have my proper documentation, get health insurance and study in a university.

I want to thank all the Malaysians I have met. They don’t care where you are from and they are very kind and friendly. I want to also say that there is a large group of refugees living in Malaysia. They need help and support because they are living in a very bad condition.

27 years now, I’m still a refugee, I’m already getting used to it.”

– Humans of Kuala Lumpur

Photostory by Victor Raj and Samantha Siow
Edited by Sydrah M

My name is Rachel and I’m a Chin refugee from Myanmar. I came to Malaysia with just my sister and we were looked after by our aunt on our way here. It took us 7 days to reach here as we travelled by car, by boat and on foot. That was 9 years ago. I was only 6 and my sister was 7 years old. The one thing I miss about Myanmar is this sour fruit called saimitu, which you can only find in that country.

My name is Rachel and I’m a Chin refugee from Myanmar. I came to Malaysia with just my sister and we were looked after by our aunt on our way here. It took us 7 days to reach here as we travelled by car, by boat and on foot. That was 9 years ago. I was only 6 and my sister was 7 years old. The one thing I miss about Myanmar is this sour fruit called saimitu, which you can only find in that country.

My most memorable moment in Malaysia was the time we performed at a concert organised by the CSO (Chin Students Organisation). We did our cultural dance and we also danced to K-Pop music. We had a fashion show, too, where we dressed up in our traditional dress.

In this coming Hands of Hope musical, I play a character who’s also named Rachel. She’s very kind and always helps people in need. She’s quite different from who I am in real life because I’m very rude (laughs).

It’s sad that I was told I can’t go to a local school here in Malaysia. I really enjoy learning Math and I want to keep learning it. My ambition is to become a Math teacher one day, as I’d like to share my knowledge and educate others.

– Humans of Kuala Lumpur

Photostory by Samantha Siow and Aiman Mustafa
Edited by Sydrah M

*Hands of Hope Charity Musical Theatre 2019 aims to raise awareness about the humanitarian issues happening in Malaysia. This musical theatre shares the journey of two refugee brothers from Chin to Malaysia and also the struggles that they face when they are in Malaysia. For more information, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/2432726603440770/

 

“Even though I was a ‘third culture kid’ – raised everywhere except Malaysia, I’d call myself a Malaysian first.

“Even though I was a ‘third culture kid’ – raised everywhere except Malaysia, I’d call myself a Malaysian first. I was also the black sheep of the family, so of course, my family were not happy when I told them I would change jobs from being a producer, to be a standup comedian.

I’m Papi Zak, I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for about 10 years now. If you don’t know what stand up comedy is, it’s when a person stands up in front of a group of people, and share their personal life stories, views and opinions.

The difference between the guy speaking on the stage, and the guy sitting as the audience – is that this person can make a person laugh by telling jokes (he better!).

I studied in the US, so my first exposure to stand-up comedy was when I watched Eddie Murphy’s live comedy show – he is my inspiration.

I always knew him as an actor, but when I saw him on stage, he was such a great comedian and made the whole ninety minutes of the show feel like it passed by in minutes. The way he engages with the audience, the way the audience was wrapped around his stories – that amazed me.

I was also shocked when I realized there’s a stand-up comedy scene in Malaysia. I mean, Harith Iskandar is actually a standup comedian, and in 2013 when I met him, he recommended me to give it a try by performing at an Open Mic show.

And stand-up comedy is the hardest thing to do in the world. It was never about being famous, it was that feeling, that people really want to hear of my stories.

When people laugh at my jokes, it’s the most gratifying feeling ever. It’s like a drug, and you want to keep that laugh going and going. Stand up comedy helped me build my confidence.

And biasalah, my family thought stand-up comedy as my full-time job was a joke. They were the traditional Asian parents, so when I changed to work in comedy, from being in TV production and as a radio host, they weren’t happy either.

For them, the importance of my job was stability. But now that I have more gigs to do, they’re more okay.

I’m not as famous as Harith Iskandar or as big as Jen Han, but I’ve come to understand comedy is what you make of it. No matter how poor or rich you are, as long as people know that you’re genuine, they’ll buy into it.

And let me tell you – it is the greatest feeling in the world when the audience laughs at, and with you”.

– Humans of Kuala Lumpur

Check out Papi Zak‘s page for his latest shows!

Photostory by Mushamir Mustafa

“What’s the hardest part of being a promotions girl?”

What’s the hardest part of being a promotions girl?

“Standing long hours is the hardest part – and when we have icky clients. There’s actually a lot of politics, a lot of gossip that goes on between us. Actually, that’s common in every place.”

What do icky clients do?

“It’s especially when clients want to take photos with you, sometimes they hug you. And you don’t want to say no because it comes off as rude? And you can’t be rude because you’re representing the company. This is a real issue that happens everywhere as well.”

“You’re young, you’re a good person and if you find a good woman, go and marry.”

“What advice can you give to young people?”

“You’re young, you’re a good person and if you find a good woman, go and marry. If you don’t have money, that’s fine – the both of you can work together and help chip in to the costs for the marriage, for example. If the girl wants to marry you for your money, then that’s not love. It’s love when the two of you get together because you love each other, and will work together to build a better future for the both of you. You should never fall in love because of money.”

“I came to Malaysia alone in 2014 because of the civil war in my home country, Somalia. I had 4 siblings. When the civil war broke out in 1994, our mother disappeared and we couldn’t find her. My father and eldest sister died before I came to Malaysia.”

“I came to Malaysia alone in 2014 because of the civil war in my home country, Somalia. I had 4 siblings. When the civil war broke out in 1994, our mother disappeared and we couldn’t find her. My father and eldest sister died before I came to Malaysia.

I remember the first day I arrived in Malaysia. It was in November 2014. I felt lonely and cold. My parents were not with me, and I was away from my country and my people. But I told myself that as a woman, regardless of where I am, I have to do my best to survive. That was the only thing I thought about. I want to be strong. I’m aware of the situation of my country and my parents, but what matters the most right now is that I’m safe here in Malaysia.

I’m currently earning my income by teaching mathematics at SRC (Somali Refugee Community) and operating my own beauty salon. Because of my status as a refugee, I can’t obtain a business license and can only run my salon from home. There are two things I’d like to achieve in life – one, to become an accountant since I’m good at math; and two, making quality beauty products. Once I succeed in these areas, I would like to provide training to other refugee women and help empower them.

Apart from receiving education, some of the greatest challenges I’ve faced throughout my stay in Malaysia include getting a job. It’s even harder for the (refugee) children, especially those without their parents.

The things I miss most about Somalia are my siblings. I really hope to see them one day. As much as I want them to come to Malaysia, I can’t bring them over easily. There’s a lot of money needed. But I will try.”

– Humans of Kuala Lumpur

Photostory by Samantha Siow
Edited by Sydrah M

I want to become a pop star when I grow up. Maybe do K-pop music. I like to sing, dance and rap. My idol is Lisa from Blackpink. My parents told me that if I want to become a pop star, I must work very hard for that.

I want to become a pop star when I grow up. Maybe do K-pop music. I like to sing, dance and rap. My idol is Lisa from Blackpink. My parents told me that if I want to become a pop star, I must work very hard for that.

I’m a Chin refugee from Myanmar and I came to Malaysia with my family. I remember we came here by boat. I was very young, probably 6 years old at that time so I didn’t really understand what actually happened back then in Myanmar. I’ve been living here (in Malaysia) for almost 10 years now. I miss my grandparents the most. I haven’t seen them for so many years.

The first day when we arrived here, I didn’t know anything but I felt excited. I could see the differences between Myanmar and Malaysia, in terms of the buildings and the people. I remember that we slept at my mother’s friend’s house because we didn’t have a place to go to. Then, we moved to another house. Around 6 to 8 months later, I went to this school called Chin Learning Centre with my sister. I enjoy learning English the most and I’d like to improve more on my grammar.

In this coming Hands of Hope musical, I play a character named Mathew. There are some parts that require me to sing and dance, and I really enjoy it. Mathew is protective of his brother, Thomas. It’s not a very difficult role to play but the script is really long. The singing part is my favourite because I like the lyrics.

– Humans of Kuala Lumpur

* Hands of Hope Charity Musical Theatre 2019 aims to raise awareness about the humanitarian issues happening in Malaysia. This musical theatre shares the journey of two refugee brothers from Chin to Malaysia and also the struggles that they face when they are in Malaysia. For more information, please visit: http://ow.ly/ezwS50wjj2O

Photostory by Samantha Siow and Aiman Mustafa
Edited by Sydrah M

“#Undi18 is a movement I started together with a friend, with the objective of lowering the voting age to 18.”

#Undi18 is a movement I started together with a friend, with the objective of lowering the voting age to 18.

I’ve been a registered voter since 2017 and voted for the first time last year at GE14 (14th General Election). Had I been eligible to vote when I turned 18, I could have gone to GE13. It felt weird to not being able to vote at 18, an age where I am already considered as an adult.

During my time studying abroad, everyone at uni was talking about Donald Trump and Brexit. It was an exciting moment for us Malaysian students there, although we did notice a large number of Malaysian youths were not active in political discourse. Our country’s voting age, combined with our Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) did not make it easy for them to participate and speak out. So, we started NAMSA (National Assembly of Malaysian Students in America) to encourage more dialogues among students.

While a lot of countries had already set the voting age to 18, Malaysia was still one of the very few countries with a higher voting age at 21. To get the voting age reduced to 18, we first approached our student coalition network to garner their support because we realised it couldn’t be a syok sendiri petition. The students we worked with are elected representatives whose student bodies are recognised by the government.

Unfortunately, the petition was not well-received by the previous ruling party. We spoke to many BN youth leaders, but they turned us away. It was also rejected as a Transformasi 50 (TN50) motion.

It was much easier to gain support from Pakatan Harapan, who was the former opposition party at that time because they had many young idealistic leaders who believed in our cause. Our petition for reducing voting age thus became part of their manifesto.

Things really took a turn when the Undi18 Bill was tabled in Parliament. I attended the session with 50 other students as I felt it was really important to have all of us involved. It was so surreal to see it being passed unanimously! It really made us feel that Malaysian youths have a say in the country.

This year, #Undi18 has been more aggressive with public engagement. Social media plays a huge role in spreading the word out and it definitely makes our work a lot easier. We hosted so many Facebook live sessions to engage the public. We have also been conducting workshops in schools on political awareness and education. Recently, we collaborated with Sekolah Rukun Negara to increase our reach and the reactions we’ve received from students had been interesting.

We hope to work with more organisations that are interested in cultivating political awareness among youths and make a greater impact in the next elections. We’re still working hard to improve the structure of Undi 18 as we plan to expand ourselves.

Everyone has a role to play so no one gets left behind.”

Photostory by Yasmin Mortaza
Edited by Sydrah M

“I love their spirit. They, the disabled Paralympians, have spirit. Abled-people always likes to talk big that they can do something – but if you can see the determination of the Paralympians, you will go back home thinking that the ‘orang cacat’ (disabled people) can do better than you.”

“I love their spirit. They, the disabled Paralympians, have spirit. Abled-people always likes to talk big that they can do something – but if you can see the determination of the Paralympians, you will go back home thinking that the ‘orang cacat’ (disabled people) can do better than you.

I met this amputee where his whole leg below the hip was amputated – and he cycles faster than me.

I don’t cycle to win medals but I really want to inspire girls and the disabled to cycle, and to convince others that not only abled people can perform, but even disabled people can perform better than abled-people.

I started cycling when I was 15, when I secretly took my dad’s mountain bike out for cycling rides and races. One day I tried my luck in a 40km race and won 3rd place. My mother realized my potential and encouraged me to continue cycling. My dad thought that a cycling ‘hobby’ would not go far for a girl. But my mom was very supportive and I got my own mountain bike when I was 16, but it was a basic bike and was crazy heavy, around 15kg.

By the age of 18, I was already representing Malaysia at the national level and competed in the ASEAN Games, ASEAN Cup and was in SUKMA (national-level Malaysian Games), twice, winning 2 silver medals. My speciality is in endurance and time-trial cycling.

Last time all abled and disabled athletes were training together at Bukit Jalil.

And I always mixed with the disabled people. I greeted them and ate with them. I saw those who were amputees – with no hands, arms or legs. And I always wondered how could I join them?

And it turns out that they were looking for ‘Pilot’ cyclists on tandem bicycles.

A tandem bicycle is a bicycle where there are two people cycling together.

The ‘pilot’, me, cycles in front, as I am physically abled. The one sitting at the back is the ‘stoker’, and in Paralympics, this is where my blind cyclist partner sits.

I sent in my application and got the job as the pilot cyclist for tandem bicycles.

When I switched over to the Paralympics, people had thought that I had a disability – and kept asking me, ‘what’s your disability?’

In the Paralympics, there are many disabled athletes, from slow learners to the deaf and mute who speaks in sign language only, to those with ADHD, autism, and mental disorders.

They might look and talk normally as a person, but they are considered disabled.

Being a pilot is difficult because it’s hard to control a tandem bicycle, you have to be ‘hati kering’ because it’s so hard to control a tandem, ‘macam drive lorry’.

As we are cycling together to make the tandem bicycle move, the pilot has to be tough. I also control the ‘gears’, and the pilot has to cycle three times stronger than them, in case they have cramps and injuries. I have to announce the directions, where we are heading, be focused and have enough sleep and rest to lead.

I began training with the Paralympians, where we all cycle 200km, daily.

Last week, we cycled from Kampung Pandan to Cameron Highlands and everyone was still standing strong.

Tomorrow, we will be cycling for 180km, and 160km the day after.

In one week I can easily get 2000km of cycling mileage, and even though I have been cycling for 5 years and totaled up millions of kilometers, it was still tough on me.

I feel like I’m able and I should do something for them.

The issue in Paralympics is that para-cyclists that represent Malaysia and have won medals yet they are not recognized for their achievements.

We won gold in the 2014 Asian ParaGames held in Incheon, South Korea because we’ve prepared enough. I want to go further than that – to the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics and the UCI World Championships.

I want to raise awareness of Paralympic cycling. because no one knows about us, no one is watching us. My teammates all feel defeated, asking ‘ is there anyone watching our victories?’

During the SEA Games the crowds were all cheering for Azizulhasni Awang (first Malaysian cyclist to win a medal at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships) – but after him, who wants to watch us? So I am trying to raise awareness on this.

It is a form of a charity helping them in religion. And I am only getting paid a salary of RM 1,000. I really hope one day, my blind stoker and I can make it to the Olympics-level.”

(This story was taken one week before Adilla and her disabled cycling partner won the Gold medal at the SEA Games – Women’s Paralympic (Tandem Cycling) event)

– Humans of Kuala Lumpur

Photostory by Mushamir Mustafa

“I had my first cancer when I was 10 years old. It was bone cancer on my left leg’s femur bone. I did chemotherapy and surgeries – and I survived, I am ok…

“I had my first cancer when I was 10 years old. It was bone cancer on my left leg’s femur bone. I did chemotherapy and surgeries – and I survived, I am ok. I have metal plates inside my leg, as cancer eats your bones, the bones have to be scrapped away. When I was 12 years old, cancer spread to both of my lungs – a recurrence. It was at the terminal stage (stage 4), it was quite serious. There was 2.6 litres of water in my lungs, and a lot of tumours, about 9-10cm nodules. I relapsed. I also survived. I did chemotherapy and surgery again. They operated both of my lungs and removed the modules and minimized the tumours.

When I was 13 years old the metal plate in my left leg broke, and I needed to get it amputated. It wasn’t actually an amputation, its where they take my left leg and folded it into my thigh. But my body cells rejected the new organ, and it was swelling and bleeding non-stop and I was in a critical condition.

The doctor asked my mom if I wanted to amputate it and I immediately said just do it, and do it fast because it was very painful and swollen. This was the most painful moment of my life. I couldn’t sleep.

3 days later, I got the amputation. And when I woke up, the first thing I wanted to do was call my friends and tell them that I don’t have a leg anymore! I know, to me it was funny.

When I was having my cancers, my family was very positive and they didn’t make me feel down – in fact, they made it feel as though I was just having a fever.

And since I survived the first time, I was confident that I will survive the second one. Friends and strangers were supportive, and even my primary school did a fundraising campaign and help write to the media.

During the fundraising campaign, my mom told me of this very old lady, who had a picnic basket, and we thought she was going to the pasar (wet market). But then she explained that it contained money for my operation.

I missed school as I was in bed the whole time. Previously I was in Taekwondo since I was 6 years old and I am a black belt. I was very much into Taekwando and won the bronze medal at the state championships.

My friends didn’t discriminate me as well. At Standard 5, on my first day of school, the teacher asked the class, who wants to help her? I was on a wheelchair and was bald due to my chemotherapy session – and everyone in class raised up their hands.

It is amazing how there are people who don’t know me, but they are willing to help me.

Also, I find it interesting that, it is the older people who say that I am beautiful, but they say that I should also wear long pants or a long dress. I myself have no fear wearing anything I want.

I hope to inspire others to appreciate everything around you and not give up easily. At least you try, and move forward.

I always tell people, think of your abilities rather than your disability. It’s better to go slower than not moving forward at all or overexerting yourself and becoming worse. So take care of yourself.

Everyday is my happiest moment – because I am alive. Now I appreciate my life. I don’t want to give up”.

– Humans of Kuala Lumpur

Photostory by Mushamir Mustafa