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They always say that the youth is the future and Malaysia is certainly a fertile ground of potential.

For one, meet Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah, a Malaysian student who was awarded the 2020 Rhodes Scholarship to continue her studies at the University of Oxford in UK!

To fill you in, the Rhodes Scholarship is the world’s oldest international scholarship (handing out scholarships since 1902) that enables young people from around the globe to continue their postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford.

It is widely considered the most prestigious scholarship programme in the world and only 5 Malaysians have ever received this scholarship. So it’s a pretty big deal!

While Ezzaty’s scholarly achievement is worthy of applause, her hard work in actively making the lives of people better is one that’s the most impressive. (There’s a reason why the Rhodes Trust were impressed by her, you know!)

“Mainly I applied because I truly believed that the Rhodes Scholarship would be a great opportunity that would bring me one step closer towards my dream of ensuring that all Malaysians have equal access to opportunities and a good quality of life.”

Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah to TRP.
Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah
(Credit: Penn Today, University of Pennsylvania)

The 23-year-old Selangorian was already making a difference here in Malaysia before she embarked on her academic journey to the United States, where she is currently doing her bachelor’s degree in health and societies (concentration in global health) and a minor in anthropology at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).

As someone who’s passionate about social impact, Ezzaty told us that a lot of her volunteer work in Malaysia was in reducing education inequality through student-run NGOs, namely The Kalsom Movement and Charisma Movement.

Via The Kalsom Movement (where she’s been involved for 2 years), she’s been to secondary schools across Malaysia where they run education and motivational camps for high achieving Form 4 and 5 students from low-income backgrounds. The goal is to empower the students to succeed in their SPM and pursue tertiary education.

One of The Kalsom Movement’s motivational projects to empower Malaysian school students.
(Credit: @TheKalsomMovement/Facebook)

“One of the years I was a volunteer, I remember having a student who expressed to me that he simply was not interested in university. To my greatest delight he reached out to me a few months ago asking me for advice on applying to scholarships.

These students have amazing potential, and to be able to nudge them and inspire them of their own capabilities is truly rewarding.”

Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah to TRP.

According a 2004 Education Ministry and UNESCO study quoted by The Star, 85% of school dropouts in Malaysia come from poor families.

While the numbers have been declining through the years, Malay Mail reports that the implications for school dropouts is far reaching and a slippery slope down that leads to a life of crime and violence, missed opportunities, unemployment rate, and lower socioeconomic status.

This is something that Ezzaty is acutely aware of.

In July 2019, she spent two weeks tutoring students and living in a primary school located in the rural depths of Sabah with Charisma Movement’s Temuno-Teringai Project.

“For the first time in my life, I was experiencing what it felt like to be in school with no water, no phone connection, interacting with young students who have never seen the world beyond their villages.
To think that there are hundreds if not thousands of kids in Malaysia who face similar circumstances is devastating.

Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah to TRP.
View this post on Instagram

[Charisma Movement’s Project Teringai Temunda] I spent my first two weeks of July literally living IN A PRIMARY SCHOOL in a rural area of Sabah. Imagine this; no running water, no internet, no phone coverage. However, I still wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. Because what I lost in water and cellular connectivity, I gained a whole lot in human connection and life experience. I tutored english and maths to 12 year olds and to my heart’s dismay, a significant number of these UPSR students could bare read english or do basic maths. But the things is, by the end of just the mere two weeks, I saw my studnet grow from not being able to memorize his multiplications to doing complex maths questions involving decimals, fractions and even long division! It made me realize that truly, the only thing holding these kids back is there life circumstances. Had the had the educational opportunities I had when I was their age, I am 100% sure they would be more than ready to face the UPSR. The random fortune in life you were born into really should not determine your ability to succeed. These kids are some of the kindest, most independent, strongest kids I have ever come across. There are many like them out there and, as a nation and as individuals, there is a whole lot more we can do to help them get education they deserve.

A post shared by Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah (@ezzatyhasbullah) on

This experience made her truly realise her privilege in living and growing up in a middle-class background with ample opportunities available to someone in her position.

So how does she plan to fight this inequality with the Rhodes Scholarship?

Ezzaty’s goal is to ensure that all children in Malaysia have access to quality education regardless of their geography or socioeconomic background.

With the Rhodes Scholarship, Ezzaty is optimistic that she’ll be one step closer to her dream of ensuring that all Malaysians have access to opportunities and a good quality of life. So while at Oxford, she’ll be doing not one, but TWO masters programmes to maximise her time there.

First, she plans to do master’s in social data science and then continue with Oxford’s master’s in public policy.

“As much as I dream of an ideal world where data informs policy and no man, woman or child gets left behind, I recognize that reality is complicated. The MPP program would ground me in the real-world considerations of public policy whilst inspiring me of its possibilities.”

Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah to TRP.
Ezzaty while volunteering teaching primary school kids in a rural Sabah village.
(Credit: @ezzatyhasbullah/Instagram)

There’s three ways she plans to execute her dream for an equal-opportunity Malaysia:

  1. Enhancing Malaysia’s data collection mechanism to be more grounded and people-centric through the incorporation of qualitative data.
  2. Create data-driven and contextually specific public policies.
  3. Represent the Malaysian people and, eventually, enter the Cabinet to create opportunities for disenfranchised voices.

Besides eradicating inequality for Malaysia’s children, Ezzaty also wants to help eliminate violence towards women, to create a society where even the very idea of violence against women does not exist.

While she may sound like an idealist, Ezzaty’s heart (and vision) is certainly in the right place.

“We can’t determine the circumstance a person in born into, but we can make those circumstances more favourable for many by understanding that equality is not the same as equity.

At the end of the day, I know I will be asked what I used my privilege for and I would like to be able to answer that I used it to uplift others. Everyone deserves the opportunity to realize their potential and to live a dignified life.”

Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah to TRP.

And to that, we wish Ezzaty the best of luck in achieving this noble goal and a great big congratulations on her achievement!


Are you inspired by Ezzaty’s story? Let us know TRP’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

(Penn senior and May graduate win 2020 Rhodes Scholarship)
( Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah)
(Study: 85% of school dropout come from poor families)
(Academic: National dropout rate on the decline, but still worrying)

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