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Fighting for the Forgotten
A local NGO is paving the way forward for non-profits with an innovative, new program for underserved communities.
For some, social work is a calling. For Raj Ridvan Singh, this call came at a very young age. At age 14, the Malaysian youth swapped a comfortable, urban upbringing for the political and social unrest of Cambodia to start up his own NGO, SOLS 24/7, with the aim of raising the living standards of Cambodian youth through educational and social programs.
At age 17, Raj was faced with a similarly difficult decision, choosing between the financial trappings of a corporate career and his true passion, volunteerism. Raj, whom at the time was the youngest Microsoft computer system engineer in the ASEAN region, ultimately decided to forego a promising corporate career to focus on social work.
His volunteerism journey then took him back to Cambodia where he spent a few years community building before heading to Timor Leste to set up another SOLS 24/7 centre at the height of the civil war as the country sought independence from Indonesia.
“Things were tough for sure [in Timor Leste], but I would rely on business skills and raw activism to push through the challenges of setting up an education NGO during such a turbulent time in history,” says Raj.
These days, Raj is based back home in Malaysia and SOLS 24/7 has become one of the first organisations to successfully blend social responsibility and entrepreneurship.
“Hundreds of thousands of people across different countries have benefitted from the programs we’ve put in place across four main sectors – education, technology, mental health and renewable energy,” he explains. The founder believes that these four pillars are core to enhancing the quality of life in a lasting and sustainable way for underprivileged youth.
One of the main non-profit initiatives that SOLS is focused on is its community centre program. Open to all regardless of race, age, or socio-economic background, the centres cover syllabus ranging from English, IT, mathematics and general soft skills. “The idea here was to create an environment that would teach kids that working hard and having the right frame of mind is the key to a better future for both them and their families,” says Raj. To date, the SOLS centres have trained over 30,000 students in Malaysia alone and won a slew of NGO awards along the way.
Apart from community centres, SOLS has also launched the Borneo Green Academy which is a free education program based in Penampang, Sabah. As part of the program, students experience a full boarding school environment that’s geared towards providing skills to increase the students’ chances of employability in the future.
“Among poor communities, it is the youth which have the greatest chance of breaking this cycle of poverty by choosing to educate themselves and going on to better paying jobs,” says Raj. “Part of what we’re trying to do is to teach youth that it’s okay to continue their education instead of dropping out of school at an early age to earn a living.”
“Ultimately, the goal is to create an organisation that provides high quality, easily accessible education to everyone,” Raj concludes.
SOLS has big plans in 2018, having secured its status as a certified Cambridge English Language Assessment Partner and a certified Google education partner. Through these industry tie-ups, the organisation is hoping to offer an even wider berth of knowledge to its students in the years ahead. These initiatives, coupled with an enthusiastic team and a determined founder, point to exciting times ahead for SOLS 24/7 and the thousands of youths that it continues to empower.
Learn more about SOLS 24/7 at www.sols247.org.
By Erik Gan
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi
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