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Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” –John F Kennedy  

Of all the profound changes now underway in our nation as a consequence of UMNO-BN’s electoral defeat, one of the most significant is the change of mood in the nation. May 9 liberated us of our fears and empowered our dreams. For the first time in a very long time, people are optimistic, confident and excited about the future of our nation.

A new sense of national pride and patriotism is in the air,  a wonder and awe about being Malaysian that was never there before.

The sense of national pride extends beyond our shores to Malaysians living abroad as well. They always loved their country; their country didn’t always love them. But Malaysia now beckons and many will heed the call.

As far as I can recall, the last time there was this much excitement and optimism was in 1957 when we gained our independence. I was just eight years old at the time but I remember well the euphoria of those days.

In the intervening years, a lot of unfortunate things happened that robbed us of our pride and confidence but we’ve rediscovered it now. We can finally start to build that best democracy in the world that Najib only teased us with.

Harnessing the power of patriotism

Many are now asking how they can help, what they can do to make a difference. They understand that we are at a crucial moment in our history, that there’s much work to be done, that we must seize the moment to  press in to take hold of all that we can be.

Almost 60 years ago, President John F. Kennedy summoned his nation to civic responsibility and public service with the inspiring words: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” One of the things that came out of that challenge was the US Peace Corps; thousands of young Americans responded to the call and went out to do their bit to serve the world.

I worked with the US Peace Corps shortly after graduating from university and I was witness to the passion to serve that those young American volunteers carried with them. I see that same passion to serve now rising in our nation.

This is our “ask what you can do for your country” moment. If we harness its power, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.

A Malaysian volunteer corps

Of course, Malaysians are no strangers to volunteerism. They’ve long been involved in all sorts of volunteer activities. The outstanding work of Rafizi Ramli and Invoke took that spirit of volunteerism to new heights and awakened us to new possibilities. We can build on that to mobilize the whole nation to help ensure that no Malaysian is ever left behind or neglected.

Perhaps, it’s time to consider the formation of a Malaysian Volunteer Corps as part of our effort to restore and rebuild our nation. There are, after all, so many needs across the nation; the government can’t do it all alone.

It has long been acknowledged, for example, that the poor language skills of our youth, especially in rural areas, are hampering their ability to find good jobs. Perhaps, the hundreds of very experienced retired English teachers might, with the support of the private sector and the encouragement of the government, be willing to offer free classes to help them improve their skills.

There is, in fact, no end to what we can do to help our fellow citizens who are in need – from drug addicts trapped in a life without hope to the urban poor struggling to make ends meet. If we are to succeed as a nation, we must all become our brother’s keeper. Those who have been blessed can be a blessing to others.

And isn’t about time that the nation honours those who have contributed meaningfully to improving the lives of the less fortunate? All too often national awards and honours go to business cronies (who have already been rewarded with big contracts) while many of those who make a real contribution to our society are ignored.

Partnership for a better Malaysia

The Pakatan Harapan government has, of course, a full agenda with many pressing priorities. I hope, however, that it will not let such an awesome opportunity go to waste. An army of volunteer citizens in almost every field of human endeavour stands ready to answer the call to work alongside government to help rebuild our nation.

Such a partnership, a partnership for a better Malaysia, will also help bring our nation closer together, heal the divisions, break down the walls of suspicion and distrust, and draw out the best in us to build that better, kinder, gentler nation that we have long dreamed of. Carpe diem!

[Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 28th May 2018]