Young And Purposeful – Lydia Ong

Youth and Sports, Women Development, Family and Community exco and Berapit state assemblywoman Lydia Ong clocks a hectic schedule, courtesy of her targeted constituents, the youths. She tells how engaging them is a challenge and passion she lives for.

In the past it was difficult for many youth-based NGOs to get assistance, funding or attention from the BN’ youth affairs exco; most of the youth programs’ funding came from federal agencies. However, only selected and politically-connected NGOs were given the funds. Now many youth NGOs have praised the state government for constantly communicating with them and providing funds for them. Often this is the only funding that they have received from any government.

Though the youth development budget is a relatively small allocation of RM 300,000 in 2010, Ong said it is already double what BN has provided in the past. This allocation is for 23 youth associations in the state; each association gets around RM2000, which is inadequate to cover their operations.

“To cover the budgetary constraint, I am constantly organising donation drives to rally the public in funding the youth programs sanctioned by the state government,” she said.

Engaging the Youth

Youths desire activities that will engage them; many rural youths don’t have the opportunity to access fun youth-based activities available in the cities. The state government has begun to promote programs such as wayang pacak (portable movie screening) in the kampongs.

“Many youths are apolitical and apathetic toward current affairs. To engage them, we need to be their friends, listen to them with respect and fulfil their needs.

“Instead of assuming the type of programs they want and shoving it to them, we asked the youths what are their program preferences and consider these suggestions and organise them,” said Ong.

Since 2009, the state government has organised youth carnivals that feature paintball, target shooting, hip-hop dancing, band performances, street soccer contest, photography contest, street dance performance and shuffling. These programs even attract entrants from neighbouring states.

First Day At Office

According to Ong, when PR took over Penang, they were thoroughly unprepared for the underhanded tactics by BN.

“On our first day to work in KOMTAR (the state government’s office) a day after the swearing in ceremony, the police barred us from entering the building on the excuse that they were not informed of the new government’s appointment. At the same time we, the new exco team, saw lorries laden with government files leaving the building right under our noses.

“The previous government left us with an empty office, literally. All the files, computers, office equipment, stationery and staff were taken by BN. We had to start from scratch in running the government. The federal government too threw obstacles at us. All federal agencies in Penang were directed not to cooperate with the new government in running the programs,” she added.

It was a trying time for them. They had exco meetings almost daily with the state agency directors as early as 7am in the morning that lasted through the day. It was hectic, busy and tiring period during the first three months, in their efforts to set up the government.

“There were also sabotage efforts from pro-BN elements in the state government. Files went missing, exco minutes were leaked out to the media and the public before we could publicise it; the list goes on. On the good side, we also had young civil servants who were motivated to work harder in this new environment as they could see us being sincere in wanting to rectify the past government’s mistakes,” she said. -The Rocket