KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — While most 20-year-olds are busy finding themselves, Calvin Woo Yoong Shen decided to find meaning in helping to boost social development in the country.
His efforts have won him the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award, the only Malaysian among 60 winners from across the Commonwealth.
Woo will receive the award from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace next year.
The award is part of the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme which “celebrates the achievement of young people who are taking the lead to transform the lives of others and make a lasting difference in their communities.”
“I showed them all my programmes, which I wrote the modules for under SASTRA Education development and some of my other works with the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) and Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiatives (YSEALI),” said Woo who is currently the Strategic Transformation via Education Development’s (SASTRA) Head of Programme for Malaysia.
At SASTRA, a group that champions human capital development, Woo drafts modules for personal, career, academic and technical programmes, which his team of six teaches to underprivileged students aged between 15 and 17.
“We are sometimes invited to the schools and at times we look for schools to carry out our programmes.
“These kids can be slackers, drug addicts or just people who do bad things when they are supposed to be studying,” he said, adding that his team has to date executed the eight-month long programme at one school in Kedah and another in Kuala Lumpur.
Asked if the students took him seriously given that he is just a few years older than them, Woo said they, in fact, became accepting after knowing his age.
“I tell them my age and when I do so, they become more open with me. I am able to hear their problems and help them see opportunities to overcome them,” he said.
A country, he said, can only develop economically when the people start to pull themselves together to make a change.
“I don’t believe in just inspiring someone. I believe in inspiring action as only then we would be able to see changes that will translate positively for the nation,” Woo added.
Of his own experience in school, Woo said it was somewhat difficult for him to get along with his classmates as he was “different” from them.
Spending most of his time in the library in school and Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris where he did his diploma in English language, Woo said his friends were his teachers and lecturers.
“I enjoy intellectual conversations and so my friends are mostly academicians,” he said, adding that he spent his free time playing badminton.
“I also try to make it a point to visit my family in Muar (Johor) whenever I can as my younger brother, who is 17 years old, is one of the reasons why I decided to choose this path,” he said.
Woo’s brother is a gifted child and has an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 136. But he “was unable to say ‘daddy and mummy’ until the age of seven. But his intelligence skyrocketed thereafter and since no schools would accept him, he is being home-schooled by my father who is a retired English teacher,” he said.
Woo also regarded his family as the inspiration for his wanting to help the community and nation through education.
“My eldest sister, 27, is an English teacher in Singapore while my second sister, 24, teaches piano and music therapy for students, including Down Syndrome kids,” he said.
When asked about his long term plan, Woo listed three goals: start a family, get a doctorate and start his very own socio-enterprise.
“Before I’m 30 years old, I would like to do all these but whether they are going to happen or not, it is in His (God’s) hands. My short term goal would be to study for my degree in education studies,” he said.
Woo will be meeting representatives from British High Commission tomorrow to sort out preliminary preparations to his programme which starts next month.