Sarah Najihah Mohamad Fuzi, 10, was concerned that some of her schoolmates didn’t wash their hands regularly.

“Many of my school friends aren’t in the habit of washing their hands before eating. Some don’t clean their hands after playing or after going to the toilet. It is important to wash hands with soap and water to prevent the spread of germs,” says Sarah, a Year Four student from SK Padang Pekan in Jitra, Kedah.

To encourage her friends to practise good hygiene, she learnt how to make soaps from YouTube videos. She then embeds a miniature gift (such as an eraser or keychain) in the soaps. She calls them Sara Ann Surprise Soaps and sells them for between RM1 and RM10 to her schoolmates.

Sarah’s idea was that children would try to use up their soap to get to the gifts.

“Children are motivated to wash their hands regularly to obtain the gift. The simple act of washing hands can reduce problems like hand foot mouth disease (HFMD). I hope teachers and parents can educate children on the importance of hand hygiene,” says Sarah, one of the winners of the Tuanku Bainun Young Changemakers Awards (YMCA) 2018 held in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Sarah was concerned that her friends were not washing their hands regularly and made soaps with incentives for them to develop the habit. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

Sarah’s fun and inventive idea won over the judges who awarded her RM2,000 and a trophy.

“I am so happy to win the award. This comes as a surprise. I hope to inspire other children to make changes than can benefit society,” says Sarah, who runs her part-time soap business with the help of her parents.

In her opening speech, Pusat Kreatif Kanak-kanak Tuanku Bainun chairman Raja Datuk Seri Azureen Sultan Azlan said, “The awards is a platform to recognise and celebrate children in Malaysia who are doing amazing things for their works to inspire others, especially their peers.

“It has also grown into a full-fledged programme with nationwide tour of changemaking workshops,”

The award was initiated in 2015 to recognise Malaysian children, between the ages of six and 15, for their courage, resilience and inspiring contributions to make their world a better place. It is a celebration of young people who are making social impact through the initiatives and projects that they have started within their communities.

This year, the award was divided into four categories – students aged between six and 12 years old (individual), 13-15 years old (individual), six -18 years old (group project) and 18 years old and above (advocate).

The Young Changemakers is the brainchild of WOMEN: Girls and Pusat Kreatif Kanak-Kanak Tuanku Bainun, with the backing of the Education Ministry, Gamuda Berhad and Unicef.

WOMEN: Girls received 60 submissions from across Malaysia during the nomination period from July 1 till Sept 30. Three finalists were shortlisted for each category.

Out of the nine finalists, four are championing the environment.

A finalist from Long Sepiling, Sarawak, was determined to encourage his fellow villagers to keep the rivers clean.

Another group of finalists from Kuala Lumpur were nominated for their initiative to provide clean water to the orang asli in Pahang.

Muhammad Danish (right) actively campaigns to reduce the use of plastic in his school and his father’s restaurant. Photo: WOMEN: Girls

But it was Muhammad Danish Agunawan’s stance and action against the use of plastic containers that clinched the award in the individual category (13-15 years old).

The Form One student from SMK Sanzac in Kota Kinabalu has been encouraging his friends and family members to stop using plastic containers because of its damaging effects to the environment.

As a result of his advocacy, many of his schoolmates no longer use polystyrene containers and opt to bring food and drink containers from home.

His efforts do not stop at school. The customers at his father’s restaurant have also started to use less disposable plastic packaging for their purchases too.

“Plastic pollution in the ocean is alarming. We have heard stories of sea creatures that have ingested plastic. There have been reports stating there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. This is worrying and we need to make the change,” says Muhammad Danish who won RM2,000 and a trophy.

Hands For Education volunteer Wan Muhammad Azlan Wan Azman (left) spends his weekend tutoring children. Photo: WOMEN: Girls

Under the group category, Hands For Education was recognised for their project to help underprivileged students excel academically through weekly peer-to-peer mentoring sessions.

Hands For Education comprise a group of students from Sri KDU secondary school in Petaling Jaya.

On weekends, they help to tutor and motivate underprivileged students living in the PPR flats in Kota Damansara, Selangor.

The idea was mooted by group leader Chiang Kah Vern, 16, last March. Through this meaningful project, Chiang hopes to inspire students to improve their socio-economic situation and break out from the poverty cycle.

“I pass the flats in Kota Damansara on the way to school. I wondered about students living in these flats and their academic challenges. This inspired me to organise mentoring sessions for some of the students. We now have 38 volunteers who provide academic support and motivation to children on weekends.”

Part of the group’s winning of RM2,000 will be used to buy teaching materials for their students.

Ernest Kelly Subin, a biology teacher from SMK Tamparuli, Sabah won the Advocates Award. The teacher has been actively empowering his students to make a difference in their community through ingenious ideas.

Last year, he was the teacher-in-charge for the Easy Pipe Filter project by BBKK2.0 which won the group category award of YCMA 2017. Ernest won RM1,000 and a trophy.

For more details, go to www.womengirls.org.