Empowered to Empower. An interview with Shashi Varmaan, Teach for Malaysia

December 19, 2016
Teach for Romania
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A child’s background shouldn’t determine his or her outcome in life. Therefore, I’m calling out the young, bright leaders of tomorrow to make changes in classroom, thus inspiring every kid out there to do more than dream.This is the revolutionary. Dzameer Dzulkifli, CEO of Teach For Malaysia.


Hi Shashi, tell us a few words about yourself!
My name is Shashi Varmaan, but friends call me Shashi. I’m 18 years old and the only child in my family. I am from Malaysia, living in a small town called Springhill, one hour away from the capital city, Kuala Lumpur.
I am currently enrolled in the sixth form at King George V High School. I like to read a lot, mostly non-fiction books, love playing soccer and keen on keeping up with current issues, especially global warming, news about Elon Musk and his space exploration programme, SpaceX and production of electric cars with Tesla Motors. Mr. Musk is my inspiration to dream about making impossible things possible. I’d like to pursue my career in International Relations with a focus on world organizations, such as the United Nations.

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Which would you consider to be the daily struggles of a young person in Malaysia?
I think polluted environment is one of the main difficulties. Environment contributes a lot to one’s development, especially the mindset. Young people in Malaysia are vulnerable to threats, such as getting involved with criminal gangs. This happens because they tend to follow in the footsteps of their relatives or friends. They were brought up in an environment where murder, robbery, drug dealing and brawling are all common. As a result, they are heavily influenced by negative thoughts and actions. Furthermore, the lack of guidance is a huge challenge for youngsters in Malaysia.
How is the educational system coping with these issues and how is it perceived in your country?
I live in a climate where the police are waging war against gangs. Within the current education system, the students who are heavily linked with gangs and have discipline issues are often ignored. Who cares about annoying students who, supposedly, don’t even want to learn? This is the perception that most of the teachers are holding to, unwilling to make the effort to steer them back on the right path. Although the Ministry of Education is a strong supporter of Moral Education and Religious Education in schools, students are not really internalizing the values they learn, because they are studying just to pass exams.


Tell us a bit about your story. How did it feel when you first came in contact with the Teach for Malaysia programme?
It is quite an interesting story, which changed the course of my life completely. I first got to know Teach for Malaysia after I participated in „Kem Skorlah” which is a pre-service programme for 2015 fellows. The fellows were really amazing and I had a really hard time when they left us. But, they advised me to never give up on my dreams. It lifted my spirit to do more in my life and go for bigger goals.
I kept in touch with Teach for Malaysia, although the pre-service programme ended and right after completing my High School Examination in 2015, I was offered to lead a book project called „What Students Want”. Since I want to make things happen, rather than wait for positive change to happen, I decided to lead the project. A mentor was assigned to help me execute this project by setting out guidelines and reaching out to the fellows through the community portal.
What impressed you the most? The teachers, the methods, the value-based learning approach?
The teachers impressed me the most. I witnessed a group of young educators who are passionate about teaching young minds and inspire them to achieve big things in life. As a matter of fact, a good teacher can bring out the very best in every student, no matter how good or bad the student is. The teachers worked towards achieving their vision, but not for the sake of outcome. For instance, they want students to understand and apply what they learn, rather than to push themselves to obtain good results. As amazing teachers, they incorporated creative teaching methods, encouraged collaborative learning and above all, they loved us unconditionally.
How would your life have looked without being in the Teach Programme?
I wouldn’t even answer these questions for this interview. The Teach Programme expanded my network more than I imagined and beyond the imagination of any other 18-year old Malaysian kid. Without being in the programme, I would not be as confident as I am now and I wouldn’t have met all the inspiring people that are now present in my life. I enjoy building connections with people, exchanging ideas with them and without Teach for Malaysia I wouldn’t have had the chance to do all these.


Which is the most important lesson that you learned in the programme?
The most important lesson I learned in the programme is the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people. The people we choose to keep around either help us become a better version of ourselves, or they cause our downfall, due to their negativity. When I surrounded myself with positive people, I noticed that my life and mindset dramatically changed. I started seeing the world differently.
Do you have a system of values that guides your life?
Yes, I believe in the law of attraction. We are what we think and we become what we think. Before achieving anything in life, I’ll achieve it through my imagination. I’ll imagine that I have already achieved the things I want and soon it’ll inspire actions and hope within me to go for it. Realize, visualize and manifest your dreams, this is what I firmly believe.
How important is it to have a mentor? Is it crucial for the personal development of a young person?
I think it’s necessary to have a mentor and to become a mentor for others. Yes, it is crucial for the personal development of a young person, because life as a young person is not easy. There are a lot of challenges, be it emotionally and mentally and a little help or guidance is certainly needed to combat every challenge. Sometimes, the decision we take might not be the right one, so it’s good to discuss it with a mentor, reflect on it and just then take action. Once we empower a person, the same person will try to do good for others. That’s how we change the world; start by mentoring one person. Empowered to empower.
What is Teach For Malaysia for you and how did it change your life?
For me, Teach for Malaysia is more than an organization, and I would say it’s a big family. When everyone works together to solve a universal problem, it’s much easier to accomplish the mission. Teach for Malaysia taught me how to utilize my strength to make an impact in my community and in the world. It taught me to stop grumbling about the corrupted world and initiate changes instead. It taught me to change myself before changing the world.
Give us a bit of an insight into the work Teach for Malaysia is doing.
Teach for Malaysia is an independent, non-profit organization on a mission to empower Malaysia through education. Teach for Malaysia is mobilizing a movement of leaders to empower Malaysia through education.


Do you see yourself as Malaysian leader?
I don’t see myself as a Malaysian leader. I will contribute to the development of Malaysia through fellowship and only after that I will begin my journey towards becoming a global citizen. I want to lead a collective evolution, on a global level. I know it is a big dream but I also know it is not impossible to achieve it.


Are leaders born or educated?
Leaders are educated. It only takes self-motivation and will-power to become a leader. We are natural leaders, every day we make choices and we learn from the repercussions of our choices. Doesn’t that mean that we are our own leaders? And it’s a lifelong journey, leaders are avid learners and they are not born with this quality, they just have the will to act.
Heart or brain? What leads you in life?
Heart, or I’d like to say that intuition leads me. I follow what my intuition says, because I believe that intuition is the hidden “God” within me. It rarely goes wrong. If you put your heart in everything you do, success is inevitable.

Shashi is a determined and inspirational Malaysian young man, whom we had the chance to meet and interview during the Teach for All Global Conference in Bulgaria.