This week, our Legislative Fellows from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines are gathering at the State Department with fellows from 14 other countries. The summit is called the Legislative Fellows Congress, and it brings together all the separate legislative fellows programs for a single meeting to honor their experiences. ACYPL’s fellows will join others sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Legacy International, World Learning, and others.
To prepare for the Congress, we asked our fellows to write short pieces describing their experiences in places like Pascagoula, Mississippi, St. Louis, Missouri, and Atlanta, Georgia. We’ve printed them here:
Ka Ea Lim, Malaysia
When I was thirteen, I stood up in my classroom and told my teacher that I disagreed with his method of punishment, which consisted of drawing on the faces of misbehaving fellow students with a white chalk.
That day, I took several strokes of the cane on my open palm for being disobedient but I left the classroom with my face untouched and a new resolve to end my teacher’s abusive and degrading treatment. Since then, nobody had their faces drawn on again and my teacher was suspended indefinitely.
That was the only time when I felt like a true leader.
Many years have passed and I often look back and wonder where that thirteen year-old girl has gone.
It is probably no surprise that as an adult, I have continuously chose to work for human rights and humanitarian organisations because of my lack of tolerance of those who disrespect the dignity and integrity of other human beings. However, none of my accomplishments as an adult has come close to what I did when I was thirteen.
Sure, I would often try my best to execute my duties and responsibilities to the best of my abilities and judgments, but I have always allowed others to lead while I stay happily behind the scenes. I would often shy away from social engagements, hide from the spotlight and prefer to live a life that is free from what I assume as cumbersome commitments.
My philosophy has always been this: do the right thing but leave the big things to those with big ambitions.
When I got into this programme, I figure that I’ll be able to learn more about leadership. Thankfully, I’ve met many people with impressive portfolio; young politicians and corporate executives who have founded or co-founded organisations or other miscellaneous community projects. I learn that these individuals do not sit and wait for others to solve issues faced by their communities. They get out from their comfort zone and do something about it. Not only do these individuals want to see a change in their communities, they want to be a part of that change.
At the same time, I also discover that in order to be defined as a leader here, one often needs to be seen as a leader; the one who asserts him/herself forward, the one who gets him/herself noticed and the one who is competitive enough to want to be recognised as a leader. These are aspects of leadership which I have never felt comfortable with.
Throughout my stay in St. Louis, I’m forced to ask myself these questions:
“If I don’t want to appear on the television, does that mean I’m not a leader?”
“If I don’t care enough about meeting very important or influential people, does that mean I’m not a leader?”
“If I don’t care about being photographed with important people, does that mean I’m not a leader?”
“If I don’t want to give a speech in public, does that mean I’m not a leader?”
After much pondering, my answers to all the above questions are an affirmative no. I realise that in order to be a good leader, I need to stay true to myself. There comes a time when I need to be honest and courageous enough to make a stand on what are the things I will support or need to do and what not. Leadership is not just about “being out there” but also about making the right decisions, no matter how tough they are, and taking necessary actions to implement those decisions.
When my best friend asked me over Skype what I’ve learned from the programme, I told her that most of the people I’ve met here inspire me to get out from my own comfort zone and start thinking about what I want and can do for my community. I told her that I’ve always wanted to run a non-profit organisation which provides youths with a platform to have their voices heard and to become more socially responsible within their own communities and I would like to see this vision coming to fruition.
So, by being in this programme, I think I’m able to see the reincarnation of that thirteen year old girl again. Hopefully, I’ll be able to have the courage she had by standing up in the midst of a crowd to advocate for what is right without fear.
Lim Ka Ea
C. W. “Chewie” Lim, Malaysia
It is very different to talk about tsunami from a safe distance than to see one actually happen before our own eyes. And on Nov 4, that tsunami took place across the political landscape in US.
I am one of the members of an international delegation under LFP that have felt the aftermath of that political tsunami from close and seeing it happened as the political tidal wave washed away the DNC’s control in House of Representatives.
This latest major political development in US has reminded me of the result of General Election which took place in my home country, Malaysia, in year 2008 which was also being dubbed as ‘political tsunami’ as the ruling party, National Front, suffered its worse result ever in its history of governing Malaysia since the independence of the country in year 1957 by losing control in four states and did not secure 2/3 majority in the Parliament.
While National Front in Malaysia is slowly and steadily making progress in regaining its dominance, the struggle to restore the trust and public support for DNC has just begun.
Watching the live telecast of President Obama acknowledging the “message” sent by the frustrated voters has cemented my belief that to campaign on reform is easy, but to realize promises on reform could cost politicians dearly. Furthermore, my observation also tells me that a government can legislate reform, but it could not legislate public confidence towards reform.
LFP has brought me to US at the right time as I was fortunate to witness and experience the essence of American democracy, with a strong mix of “Tea” during this particular time. It is a very competitive, emotionally charged, very demanding and indeed very expensive democracy judging from the massive amount of money spent on campaigns and TV ads.
The media and media personalities were very involved in setting the pace and temperature of the election campaigns and every issue was being debated, scrutinized and exploited to the fullest extents in the name of freedom of speech and transparency.
During the course of my fellowship in US, I have collected many opinions from various individuals and sources on governance and democracy of this country. The current state of health of politics in US will remain a hotly debated topic following the result of Mid-Term Election, but I do sincerely believe that no matter how emotional those debates may be, it will not in any way loosen the firm belief of this country on the tripatite motto, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
Simply because, that makes the difference between a nation and a great nation.
Rizki Affiat, Indonesia
It has been an intriguing mixture of study, travel, and adventure! That is what I can conclude about my experience in ACYPL. I don’t mind being curious and serious, and ACYPL LFP gave me that. I like to travel, meet new people and have fun, and ACYPL LFP gave me that too. It is a place where young political researchers, activists, and/or officials meet the expectation of being vocal, critical, nerdy, and learn how to appreciate different and various political perspectives and practices.
Some of the rewarding experiences I have had that really enhance my perspectives during my staying in Washington DC and Mississippi are varied from the visit to DNC office in DC to internship in Palazzo campaign for US Congress, from the country house party with the well established Republican Women in Mississippi to feed the birds in the beach with a great elder lady friend of ours, from a heavy class political discussion in Brookings Institution to the jury selection observer for a murder trial, from great talks about local democracy in a city level to a twice visit of the inside Harrison County Jail, from the Capitol Hill and White House in DC to the Capitol Building in Mississippi. Our senses have been receptive to beautiful historical landmarks of Washington DC to the forest, coast line, and rivers of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Many of the learning experiences and discussions that I have not mentioned, but all of them were splendid. We have learned so much about the US Politics in general, local politics, US democracy, elections, and the political dynamics surround it. It was a brain drain and brain gain concurrently.
Nevertheless, one of the most wonderful experiences that I shall mention is the friendship I gained with the people I met. Almost a month in Mississippi might have caused a home sick of home country, but at the same time the engagement I have with the hosts in Mississippi reaffirms what it means to be human – to have a sense of global network and solidarity. To bridge the gap of being alien to one another because of the geographical and cultural distance. To be able to talk, share experience, work together, work, smile, and laugh together. I hope the friendship would endure for years to come, to separately or together building a more tolerable world and productive life.
I studied Political Science as my major in college, where I mostly learned from books, writing assigments, and discussion. ACYPL LFP is a wide open door to a world where politics in real life – for better and worse – are implemented and interconnected among the people who involve in it. It gives me a great tool to be a leader, politician, advocate or activist, and a researcher in political fields. I have learned more than I could dare to expect before, and for that, I can say that I am honored to be a part of this program. Thank you so much for all the fellows in ACYPL who had made this happen to all of us.
Betty Idroos, Indonesia
POLITICAL. Is a word that has an important meaning that surround national and state life. Sometimes the political terminology has become masculine terminology. However, I – an Indonesian woman – have been loving that terminology meaning that since I was sitting in elementary school. Until I fully realize that politics is a very powerful tool to determine the life of nation and state, to any gender.
This program helped open the eyes of my heart and mind about the political system, judicial, socio-economic condition of U.S. citizen and directly involved in it. Conducting visits, discussions, simulation, and directly involved in it is really a very amazing experience and fun.
Like a child who received a new toy, I was very enthusiastic and I love the program. The program provides a new view that the U.S. is not as “arrogant” as I have had believed all this time. Provide new insights and experiences of many things, such as electoral system in Jackson and Harrison County in MS, central and local government systems, institutions, legislation at the federal and state levels, social media and other communication media for candidate campaigns, public service in local government, professionalism and staffing of government in D’Iberville, Harrison County Planning Commission, and also the process of jury selection for the murder trial in Jackson County Court. And I had a shiver when I saw the bad guy was sitting and waiting for the process. And also “a fascinating creepy feeling” when I visited the Harrison County Jail. It’s a very cool experience.
Other experiences include witnessed the involvement of women in politics in Emily’s List, Tea party with Republican women, and NGOs dealing with women and help women affected by domestic violence. The involvement of one candidate winning the Congressman is also fun; I had the chance to see him communicating with people, doing all approach to introduce the candidate through letters, phone calls and even campaigning on radio and TV. Congratulations to Steven Palazzo for his victory. Salute to the American people that in addition to voting for leaders who will represent him/her in public office, they also provide funding for the candidate.
Mississippi, particularly the Gulf Coast. It would be wonderful memories when considering the hospitality of the people – with special hug when meeting and parting-vibrant city, typical food and culture. On this occasion, I can also improve my English skills, speaking and being a good listener. From daily talks to the “high level” and serious discussion at Brookings. Finally, in addition to enjoying all the amazing experiences, we have an extra “American brothers and sisters”.
Throughout the experience of being a participant LFP ACYPL 2010 I conclude that political life, both in America and Indonesia have their own complexity. And I feel lucky to be elected to the participants of this program. Great thanks to ACYPL, U.S. Department of State and all hosts in Mississippi – Michael Janus, Michael Watson and Lisa Palazzo.
And “When you a teach a man, it means you teach a person, but if you teach a woman, it means you teach a family, even one generation!” I feel fortunate that I was a woman entitled for this learning process. And I’m sure the experience will be useful to increase my capacity as an individual and part of Indonesian society.
Ibdilillah “Dil” Ishak, Malaysia
In early August 2010, I received an email from a lady name Kristin Rhebergen. I thought I was being selected to go to an exchange program in The Hague, Holland when I saw the name but actually I was selected for a fellowship in the United States of America for a quite a number of weeks. As an Executive Secretary to the Youth Wing of the largest Political Party in Malaysia, 6 weeks away from my hectic schedule at work was not an easy task to explain to my boss who is the Youth Leader. I thank the Almighty God that I have a very understanding boss who appreciates the value of knowledge and learning and without hesitation he gave me the weeks off to go for this fellowship. With the opportunity given by ACYPL and the US States Department, I accepted it and was looking forward to the opportunity of a lifetime.
Being in politics in Malaysia we do get exposure to US news especially on the Presidential Elections and the Mid Term elections. And when I received the schedule of my fellowship, I saw the opportunity to learn and understand the American politics from campaigning to running up to the election, I was really excited as this is one of the things in my life that I really want to do and learn about The American Democracy. And accepting this I have acknowledged that I will leave behind my beloved family, my political party events and programmes, the party’s AGM and 2 By-Elections!
Upon arriving in the land of the free, I was given a 5 day orientation in DC about American politics, economy, education and history with 10 others; 3 others from Malaysia, 3 from Indonesia and 4 from The Philippines. One of the most memorable visits I personally had was to the West Wing of the White House. It felt surreal as not many people in my country get to visit the West Wing and have a tour inside it! I actually step on the steps of the many Presidents of the United States. It felt great!
Afer 5 days of orientation in DC, the Malaysian fellows were attached for 4 weeks in St Louis Missouri. A 2 hour flight from DC we were greeted by our host from the Office of the License Collector St Louis City, Missouri, the Honourable Mr. Michael McMillan and his Communication Director Ms Charlotte Ottley. We felt like VVIP as we were received in a stretched limousine.
The 4 weeks has come and go really quickly and it is sad to say goodbye to our fine hosts. In our 4 weeks we were exposed to city and council politics as well as state wide politics in Jefferson City. The highlights of our stay were memorable dinners that we attended to like the Black and Gold dinner, NAACP and 100 Blackman masquerade dinner to name a few. We had field passes to go to Edward Jones Stadium the home of the St Louis Rams the local football team and get to see the players practice up close. We also had the opportunity to watch the Blues games and hold talks to local businessmen and met with local leaders from various faiths.
It is also a coincident that I was studying in St Louis. As a fellow Alumni of University of Missouri St Louis (UMSL), our hosts have arranged for me to meet with the Chancellor of UMSL and also to tour around the University. And the meeting that I had with the chancellor and the office of international students department was successful as one of the initiatives that I will do and have received the University’s backing and sponsorship is to establish an Alumni Chapter from Malaysia. Once it is established, Malaysia will be the first International UMSL Alumni Chapter.
With so many things and programmes that were planned for us, we didn’t realise that we had so much fun while learning and it is time to go home. We thought 4 weeks was too long. Our hosts have been great as we are far away from our family in a long time but they have really made us to be at home. It will be very sad to leave St Louis as they have become like a family to us. With all the knowledge that I have personally learnt, I will hopefully one day, given the opportunity, use where applicable or compatible in Malaysian politics.
Thanks ACYPL and US State Department for this experience of a lifetime!