Panthers Of ISKL #64 – Hong Ju L. – The Forward Thinker

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Hong Ju L. ('22) - Panthers of ISKL


For this edition of Panthers of ISKL, we get in touch with Hongju Lee – an ISKL Class of 2022 student who together with a group of like minded friends have created something powerful: A pay-forward system aimed at refugee healthcare. Together with Global Doctors Asia, a world class healthcare provider, she plans to roll out the pay-forward system as a way to alleviate the burden that so many refugees in Kuala Lumpur face with regards to attaining proper medicine and treatment.

“Refugees are much like us––they’re people. They’re just regular students, families, children trying their best to obtain healthcare or education possible. And right now, they’re in a situation where it’s incredibly difficult for them to attain these things, and quite frankly they need all the help they can get.”

In this Panthers of ISKL interview, we learn about the origins of the pay-forward program she has been creating along with her team, her history with refugee outreach at ISKL, and how her attitude has shifted throughout the years.

“Our team––called Relieve––created this project under the name of the ‘Pay-Forward Project initiated by Relieve in partnership with Global Doctors and UNHCR”. I currently work with refugees at my school (ISKL) as president of the Key Club, and have been doing it since 9th grade. When the pandemic hit, there was a lot of word about how the community was struggling, and I saw it with my own eyes, as I also work with the ZRCLC (Zotung Refugee Catholic Centre).” 

‘I’ve always had a passion for helping the refugee community, and I often browse the UNHCR website to better understand their situation and monitor any progress that has been made. So one day I came across an article that talked about this free refugee clinic in KL that helps refugees obtain better healthcare––especially during the MCO (Movement Control Order). So then I looked up the address of the clinic and discovered it was situated right in front of my house. I thought ‘what a coincidence!’”

‘Eventually, I visited the clinic and talked to them about my involvement in refugee community outreach, and that I really wanted to help them out––especially during the pandemic––to get affordable healthcare. This all started because I thought if other people are struggling to get healthcare during the pandemic right now, then the refugee community must be incredibly neglected.”

‘So then we came up with the idea of the pay-forward system. Many people have probably seen this in action; but for example, at Starbucks, if someone orders a vanilla latte and the barista asks ‘do you want to pay forward for someone else?’, you are given the option to have the next person who buys a vanilla latte receive it for free. When I discovered this, I thought about how it’s such a beautiful system and a great way to give to others, as well as how it can be applied towards other things, such as healthcare.”

‘I thought it was an idea that we could pursue together with Global Doctors, who are already partnered with UNHCR, which means we could get a lot of support behind this. And they thought the idea was brilliant! So then, I reached out to my peers, and I tried to rally a team of passionate, dedicated workers like myself. This was when I got together with Jimin L., DoKyung K., and Heonju H. who are the other members of Relieve. It’s a tightly packed team as I value communication, so it works out!”

‘Right now we’re trying to launch a webpage within the Global Doctors website, and from there we want to start our Relieve campaign and advocate for this pay forward system. And hopefully if we get further along, we want to apply for a government grant to further aid our project.”

‘I first started reaching out to Global Doctors at the beginning of the first MCO, more than 6 months ago. I initially thought they wouldn’t respond. I scoured their entire website looking for contact information––phone numbers, emails. I tried everything to reach out to them! I thought that after everything and telling them about my intentions, they would just say no. I thought of all the excuses they might have given me, like I’m too young–––what could I POSSIBLY do? But it surprised me when I found out that their attitude was the complete opposite! In fact, they empowered me, and made me feel like what I was trying to do mattered. So that really helped motivate us all further.”

‘I probably sent around 70 text messages at the beginning of the project to the refugee clinic, Global Doctors, and the UNHCR to communicate our plans. It was incredibly difficult to coordinate because they were also busy since it was the MCO, and the clinic was only open for four hours a day during school days! The MCO lasted a long time, and it was only after it was lifted that we all managed to get together and actually start planning things face-to-face. Mind you, all the planning and communications up until that point was all online!” 

‘Sure I had passion, and I knew I had the guts to do this, but would I really be able to get to the point where I can understand that I’m finally making an impact? Now that I’ve finally started this, I’m so glad I did. The first steps were hard of course, but we’re getting there. And I’m so proud.”

‘One of the people at ISKL who really helped me through this entire process was Chika Wilms, the IB CAS coordinator. She’s always providing me with wonderful insight. When I originally approached her I asked if it was possible–––and she really helped me look at the more feasible side of things. I could have vast dreams, but time is finite. I can only accomplish certain things in a certain amount of time. Chika really helped me set realistic goals, which I think is the most important part of this project. The steps that I had to take along the way to reach my goal were only realised through her.” 

“What does ‘Be All You Are’ mean to you?”

“Ever since I witnessed how fleeting and finite life can be, I vowed to always live in the moment. To me, being all you are means that you have the courage to pursue dreams that others label as “unrealistic”, and stretch the boundaries of everyday life to better fit your goals and aspirations. I find that life is too short to waste time regretting the things I could have achieved if I had given it my all!”

Do you know a student, faculty, staff, or alumni with a story to tell? Nominate them to be featured in our Panthers of ISKL stories by sending in your submissions here.

To find out more inspiring stories of our students, read about Lydia our Math/painter whiz or Shuang Shuang, the viola player and 4 year IASAS delegate!