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Peer-counselling programme in Malaysia mentors at-risk children

© UNICEF Malaysia/2006/Nadchatram
Azra Tasneem Vazeer Alam, 19, is a volunteer with the Mentoring Malaysia programme.

By Lydia Lubon

The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children is a landmark effort to provide a detailed global picture of the nature, extent and causes of such violence and act to prevent it. The final report will be presented to the General Assembly on 11 October. Here is the second in a series of related stories.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, 9 October 2006 – For young people around the world, being a teenager is one of the most challenging times in life. When faced with difficult situations such as discrimination, substance abuse or violence, they need trusted role models for guidance.

“When people called me names in school, it was a very painful experience for me,” recalls Azra Tasneem Vazeer Alam, 19.

Azra feels she owes her resilience to the strong bond she has with her parents. This is why she recently began working with 13- and 14-year-old children through the Mentoring Malaysia programme at HELP University College (HUC) in Kuala Lumpur.

“It is very important that young people have positive mentors to succeed in life,” she says.

Giving back to the community

Mentoring Malaysia is a two-year pilot programme which provides peer-to-peer counseling for children in disadvantaged circumstances. The Asian Research Centre for Child and Adolescent Development is training psychology students between the ages of 17 and 21 to become volunteer mentors like Azra.

The UNICEF-supported programme was created in partnership with the research centre, which works within the HUC system. It aims to benefit 2,560 school children in four different schools in Malaysia and eventually to branch out worldwide.

For Azra, mentoring is a welcome opportunity. Not only does she view the programme as a valuable learning experience but she feels that it is a positive way to give back to her community.

“Because I lived through tough times in school with the help of my parents, I feel I can do the same for a young child,” she says. “This is one of the best ways I can help my society, my community and fellow Malaysians.”

A worrying trend

According to Developmental and Counselling Psychologist at HUC, Dr. Brendan J. Gomez, 80 per cent of Malaysians have experienced bullying at some point in their childhood, a statistic that continues to rise each year.

“Our country is growing rapidly – economically, culturally and socially. As a result, 28 per cent of Malaysian children are suffering from mental health problems,” explains Dr. Gomez. “It is a really worrying trend, and we want to try and address that problem right now.”

It is UNICEF’s hope that providing children with positive role models will give them the self-confidence to deal with violent situations and strengthen them against threats such as drugs and HIV/AIDS.

“Young people talk to young people in a way they don’t talk to adults,” says UNICEF Representative in Malaysia Gaye Phillips. “UNICEF’s experience is that young people can be remarkable teachers. We call it peer-to-peer but what it really means is young people participating, in a genuine way, to help change and modify the behaviour of their own age group.”




9 October 2006:
UNICEF Malaysia Goodwill Ambassador Rafidah Abdullah reports on a peer-to-peer mentoring program for troubled youth.
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