Award highlights moral education for junior youth

December 6, 2006
Video: Mr. Lim leads a song during a class in his home village of Jenjarom. He teaches classes for both children and young teens, sponsored by the local Baha'i community.

JENJAROM, Malaysia — Before he became a vegetable seller in this down-and-out ethnic Chinese village about 55 kilometers southwest of Kuala Lumpur, Lim Jia Chin was a local gangster.

"I used to be quite notorious," said Jia Chin, who is now in his late teens. "I was involved in cheating and fighting."

But Jia Chin decided to give up on his life of crime after participating in a moral education program sponsored by the local Baha'i community here.

"One day I was attending a Baha'i-inspired program with my friend and I saw that I can live differently," said Jia Chin. "I decided to join the classes. Now my life is different. I am happy and glad now because I have transformed."

The moral education classes that made such a difference in Jia Chin's life were started here two years ago. And one of the main promoters of these classes has been a young Baha'i named Lim Soon Kam.

Now 28 years old, Mr. Lim was recently honored for this work in a ceremony on 4 November 2006, when he was named the Young Outstanding Malaysian for Moral or Religious Leadership by the Junior Chamber Kuala Lumpur Mandarin, a community service organization affiliated with Junior Chamber International.

The award, and Mr. Lim's record of volunteer service, offer a window on the efforts Baha'is are making to provide moral and spiritual education to junior youth populations. Such efforts are considered a "core" activity for local Baha'i communities around the world. In Malaysia, for example, Baha'i communities sponsor more than 150 moral education classes for young people aged 11-15, serving more than 1,000 junior youth.

Most of these young people are not Baha'is, and the aim of the classes is youth empowerment and community transformation. The classes stress the importance of virtues like honesty, trustworthiness, courtesy, and service to the community at large.

"We believe that each human being is endowed with the capacity to understand that they have the power to make moral and upright decisions and to use their skills and knowledge to promote social transformation in their society," said Mr. Lim, explaining that children and junior youth especially have the capacity to change for the good.

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Mr. Lim focused his efforts on Jenjarom, his home town, which has in recent years become infamous for various social ills, including gangsterism, gambling, prostitution, and drug trafficking.

Jenjarom is one among many of the so-called "new Chinese villages," which were created in the mid-1950s, when the country was a British colony. The original purpose for the rural relocation program was to segregate the villagers from Communist insurgents. Today many of these villages have deteriorated into slums or shanty towns.

For young people, especially, unemployment is high in villages like Jenjarom, and opportunities for education are limited. In response, many youth have turned to crime and other vices as a means of survival.

"A few of my childhood friends were killed in gang fights," said Mr. Lim. "Some indulged themselves in drugs. Many were school drop-outs who, in their pursuit for wealth and status, resorted to selling drugs and ecstasy pills, smuggling and gambling. Due to the disintegration of social and moral values, pre-marital sex was a common practice in the village and girls are being forced into marriages due to teen pregnancies."

Unlike many of his peers, Mr. Lim did well academically in high school and college. He was the top student as an undergraduate at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). And he completed his master's degree at Queensland University of Technology in Australia six months early.

In 2004, Mr. Lim returned home and started a junior youth program in Jenjarom, hoping to address the social problems that he had witnessed growing up. Since that time, more than 150 young people have completed the program, and many today say that their lives have been transformed by it, like Chin the vegetable seller.

The Junior Chamber award recognizes young Malaysians between 18 and 40 "whose dedication to their profession or life undertakings has resulted in exceptional achievement, in the form of significant contributions to the progress or welfare of the community at large."

The national administrative body of the Baha'i community of Malaysia, in nominating Mr. Lim for the Junior Chamber award, wrote this about him:

"Growing up in one of the most notorious Chinese New Villages in the country, where the negative forces of society find its predominance, Soon Kam was undeterred by the destructive elements of his environment.

"Instead, he rose up with a strong sense of dedication to contribute significantly to the social well-being of his community by holding on strongly to his belief that social transformation can take place when individuals realize they have the capacity to serve humanity and make the world a better place."

Others, similarly, have praised Mr. Lim for his efforts to help children and youth.

Omar Bin Munir, one of Mr. Lim's professors at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), said: "His constant and tireless focus on virtues and service oriented community development work has raised his group of young people to shine out with moral and academic excellence. This is highly noticeable in view of the unhealthy society in which they are living in. His concerted social work is truly remarkable and praiseworthy."

Another professor, Razali Adul Hamid said that except for Mr. Lim, none of his students "has ever achieved to this high level of personal and social excellence, meaningfully contributing to the material and spiritual advancements in the society."

Mr. Lim attributes the success he has had in organizing the moral education program to his practice of the Baha'i Faith. "My work is strongly based on a principle that Baha'u'llah states as, the betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds and through commendable and seemly conduct,'" said Mr. Lim.

Mr. Lim said the Baha'i scriptures provide clear guidance for parents and communities on how to raise children in a nurturing and unambiguous environment.

"Therefore," said Mr. Lim "this program encourages children and youth to develop a strong sense of purpose, empowering their own transformation and leading them to contribute to the advancement of society. Baha'is believe that people's spiritual capacity, as the basis for their own happiness and sense of well-being, is a powerful force for social change."

Tony Liew Voon Fun, a program director at Taylor's College in Petaling Jaya, where Mr. Lim worked as a lecturer in the school of architecture, building and design after receiving his master's degree, agreed that it is the Baha'i Faith that has motivated Mr. Lim.

"He seeks people's virtues, not their faults, as the common uniting factor, regardless of race, creed and religion," said Mr. Fun. "I strongly believe that his multi-cultural experience and his religious belief, the Baha'i Faith has molded him into a character that is humble, respectful of authority, able to embrace change and circumstances with a multi-ethnic outlook."