To see how one is affecting lives means that you have to hang on for the long run. Heidy Quah co-founded Refuge for the Refugees (RFTR) in June 2012 and in 2017, she was awarded the Queen’s Young Leaders Award—the sole Malaysian recipient.
2020 means that she’s been in the game for about eight years. It’s all thanks to one experience: the six months before university, Heidy volunteered to teach at a local refugee school in Kuala Lumpur. Indeed, it was a life-altering event for her.
RFTR began as a non-profit organisation that sought to raise awareness for the plight of refugees and provide holistic and internationally recognised education for refugee children. As recent as the past couple of years, she delves deeper into the issue. “We’ve started to look at a lot more in terms of laws and policies; work rights, healthcare, safety and security,” Heidy said.
“Our organisation strives toward ensuring that they have access to these basic human rights.”
When asked on how she stayed true to the course, Heidy finds a combination of purpose and a strong sense of injustice is a great way to remain steadfast in this risky business. That, and seeing the children.
“Many of them have graduated from school, with a number of valedictorians in the US. I’m constantly in awe whenever I see my kids come to a full cycle, from finishing up school to giving back to their own community,” she proudly stated.
These days, Heidy’s typical schedule starts as early as 6:30 am. By 8 am, she’s already at one of the refugee schools. Later it’s meetings after meetings, where the final one would adjourn at 7 pm. Weekends would include a visit to one of the refugee families and case management.
Working with these folks who are vulnerable to exploitation due to their status and lack of legal protection would lead her down a road where she sometimes crosses paths with the criminal element. Imagine yourself being followed and receiving multiple threats—it’s emotionally taxing. To stay on top of the situation, Heidy goes for self-defence classes, specifically Muay Thai.
If you wind back to when it first began, never in Heidy’s wildest dream that it would end up here. “For us, it took a whole lot of working on what people told us was impossible to achieve – and focusing on that.”
However, she finds it to be a very lonely journey. For the most parts, Malaysians are still ignorant to the plight of the migrants and refugees.
“When you understand your privilege, know your identity and your worth, there’s so much more to give. After all, you can’t give out of an empty well.”