Often seen as “people with no choice and no voice”, refugees have been granted some valuable airtime in a new video production from low-cost regional carrier AirAsia.
The AirAsia Foundation video, #DestinationGOOD | In Search of Home, highlights three social enterprises it has supported in helping refugees in Malaysia to rebuild their lives.
Yap Mun Ching, executive director of the AirAsia Foundation, says the foundation places great importance on supporting social enterprises that work with refugees. Without access to legal employment, most refugees in Malaysia struggle to meet their basic needs, and it is here that socially aware enterprises can step in and help.
The #DestinationGOOD | In Search of Home clip, which runs for almost six minutes, lets viewers see, and hear the plight of refugees by bringing to light their individual stories. They recount their feelings and experiences from the familiar context of someone with a job in a local business. The effect is refreshingly humanising.
Rather than looking upon refugees as a single disempowered bloc, the audience hears stories of personal struggles, and how easily lives can be uprooted and displaced by forces beyond our control.
Personal tales provide insight
One story from Nahid, an Afghan woman from Iran, speaks for many. In her voice-over at the beginning of the video Nahid explains “no refugee is here for fun”. One of an estimated 160,000 refugees in Malaysia, Nahid acknowledges that “the only hope that they have here is if the government of Malaysia allows us to work legally.”
Nahid is co-founder of Nazanin Bags, one of three social enterprises that received an AirAsia Foundation grant. AirAsia is also backing their project by commissioning Nazanin Bags to produce exclusive AirAisa items, including their waste material life jacket products, which are “flying off the shelves”, according to Ms Ching.
These days, most of Nahid’s customers find Nazanin Bags through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and order the bags online. In her former home of Iran, Nahid was not even allowed to own a SIM card, let alone a computer connected to the internet. She says she lived in constant fear of arrest by Iranian police.
Qasem, also a co-founder of Nazanin Bags, recounts how alienation and fear can continue to haunt refugees in their struggle to find sanctuary. “Before I started making bags I was afraid, because I was working in a restaurant as well”, Qasem says. “I was afraid that the police would arrest me”.
Nahid adds “the way they treat us was: You do not belong to this country. You must leave”.
Ms Ching explains how the AirAsia Foundation grant programme can help overcome such attitudes.
“The grants that AirAsia Foundation provides are to social enterprises that show innovativeness, entrepreneurship as well as inclusiveness”, she says.
The first organisation to a receive an AirAsia Foundation grant was The Picha Project, a catering business that works with refugee chefs such as Rania.
Rebuilding lives one meal at a time
In the beginning life in Malaysia was “very very difficult”, Rania says. He now works alongside Picha Project co-founder Suzanne Ling to achieve their goals.
Serving people great food is just part of their mission, Ms Ling says. “At the same time we are also building the lives of refugees through this food business”.
Marastoo Theatre, set up by Afghan writer and director Salaeh Sepas, is another enterprise that has garnered the support of the AirAsia Foundation.
Mr Sepas, who works with a troupe of Afghan actors, says he finds theatre a useful, strong, and impactful tool that can be used to help refugee communities.
“It is an opportunity that refugees can use to tell their stories, their pains, and to have a good relationship with the local community in Malaysia”, he says.
While refugees can never forget the fear, stress and horror that forced them to flee their homeland, Mr Sepas says, “this relationship has caused the refugees to regain their confidence, to be hopeful of the future, of life”.
Ms Ling says she hopes the AirAsia Foundation’s support will help send a positive message about refugees.
“We want to share what the social enterprises are doing so that the general public will have a channel to know how they can support refugees, and how they can also play a part in making them feel more welcomed”, Ms Ling says.
“It is also to remind us that we need to treasure what we have. The concept of home, which is simple and so basic to every one of us”.
AirAsia Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the AirAsia Group, which helps the general public effect social change through entrepreneurship. More information on its work can be found at airasiafoundation.com
Feature photo AirAsia Foundation
- AirAsia is upcycling old life jackets into lifestyle products (The Jakarta Post)
- AirAsia Fondation launches Destination: GOOD — marketplace to support Asean social enterprises (Web in Travel)
- AirAsia Foundation launches pop-up store at KLIA2 (The Borneo Post)
She commenced as an intern at AEC News Today and was appointed as a junior writer/ trainee journalist on April 2, 2018