A chartered accountant on weekdays, Sheela Raghavan Tan dedicates her weekends teaching underprivileged children the art of Bharatana...
Social Activism’s Serial Dreamer
Chan Oga puts together workshops and talks that promote individual empowerment in Georgetown. She talks to us about how having dyslexia informed her world views, the magic of crowdsourcing and how Professor X could have improved his school for mutants.
Tell us a little about your background and how that has brought you to where you are now?
I have a degree in Psychology and was a teacher for two years. Teaching gave me a meaningful work experience, but it also showed me what our country lacks: an empowering education system where each individual learns things that matter with joy, explore and grow their passion alongside diverse classmates. Education should be empowering people, not limiting their choices and dictating ideals of a "successful" life.
You run Kelip-Kelip talks every month, can you tell us more about that?
Kelip-Kelip is a social impact talk and networking platform where we get people together with the aim to be inspired, connect with like-minded people and collaborate with each other.
When I was a teacher, I managed to fundraise RM4,000 overnight just by sharing about my school project to a group of social impact enthusiasts in a minute. I wanted individuals from all walks of life who may have ideas for a better world to have the avenue to inspire, connect and collaborate with other like-minded people. My team is now 15 months old and we have delivered 13 consecutive events and connected more than 500 people in Georgetown.
What makes you happiest about Kelip-Kelip gatherings?
What makes me happiest is when we have children speakers, and adults get blown away by children's ideas and work. I believe the future ultimately belongs to the children of today and that they too have valid ideas that should be shared and fuel our efforts for a better tomorrow.
What are some of the struggles you face organising such events?
The platform's sustainability has been on my team's mind since day one, but we've always wanted to make our platforms accessible to all, hence Kelip-Kelip's events has remained free. It is a challenge when the platform does not make money and many other work/income-generating activities often pose conflicting priorities to our team’s manpower.
Besides that, Penang is rather small. The community we are connected to is possibly over-saturated and desensitised by our event invitations. They take their time knowing there will be regular events in the future which means each event gets less participants. We’re constantly trying to reach out to a bigger audience.
You’ve also founded The Village School.
Yes, the Village School is a social enterprise that teaches farming, building, coding and art-making with the principals of sustainable living and inclusiveness towards building a more resilient society.
What was the inspiration behind wanting to start this?
It was inspired by Professor X's (yeah, X-Men) Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters – all children need a Professor X who sees their potential and fosters their superpowers rather than focus on their differences. But Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters had a flaw - mutants did not learn alongside humans. The Village School is a place where children of different abilities learn together and complement each other’s' skills.
Why do you think people need something like The Village School?
I started The Village School because of two reasons.
1. To facilitate learning and growth among people of all abilities.
I am dyslexic. Thirty percent of the world’s population is estimated to be "different" (those the society calls Orang Kurang Upaya, disabled, retarded - but I beg to differ), but I don't think people who are different should ever be treated any less in education and workplaces. Everyone has a preferred way of expressing themselves and something valuable to contribute to society - what all of us need is an education climate that fosters growth rather than one that forces us into standardised moulds. Hence, The Village School hosts different sorts of practical yet hands-on workshops to facilitate the discovery of individual passion.
2. Going back to basics, empowering independent communities by learning things that matter.
The world is relying on outsourced supplies for our livelihood (think clothes, food, services). We no longer make our own, we pay the people who make them severely low wages in unethical working conditions and we are depleting mother nature's resources while polluting her with our waste. One day, if the economy collapses or if we lose our supplies, do we all know how to grow our own food, build our own homes and work together as a community?
The Village School aims to empower each individual as a self-sustainable unit of the society. When we can make our own things (with a sustainable mind set), we rely less on the manipulative economy and contribute less to the deterioration of mother earth.
Five years from now, where do you see yourself going with your projects?
I hope Kelip-Kelip and The Village School's model will be so popular that people would replicate them in different pockets of the society. I hope to see a world where we appreciate each other for what we can contribute; no child, regardless of abilities, is left behind in society. I also hope that we will be relatively self-dependent (as opposed to being dependent on institutions to bring in our supplies) without adversely affecting the environment.
By Adeline Chua
Photos courtesy of Chan Oga
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