Voices That Care
Say Hello to ... Leo
Every single person in Care2Run’s ecosystem is essential, and we’ve grown so much in three years thanks to all the different individuals who’ve played a part in getting us to where we are.
It is for this reason that we aim to hand this section over to our people – our participants, coaches, volunteers, parents, friends and loved ones – so they can tell you what Care2Run means to them.
This week we say hello to ….. Leo Selvaraj, a volunteer mentor and coach who tells us that watching Care2Run’s participants grow has inspired him to keep giving back.
ACCORDING to Leo, he used to be impatient and cynical, but the nearly four years he has been with Care2Run have taught him to be positive and believe that good things will happen … even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
He tells us: “When I first started my professional career, I found myself at a crossroads. I was not sure if the NGO path was the one for me. However, because I majored in psychology at university I thought, ‘why not.’ I was young and enthusiastic. I wanted to change the world. But I soon realised how difficult it is trying to actually change things. I was disappointed. It took me a long time to realise that change takes time and I only learnt that with Care2Run.”
Leo – a strategic communications professional in the medical technology sector – has been involved as a volunteer mentor and coach with Care2Run since 2015 and he shares that seeing young participants grow and thrive has motivated him to keep giving back. In fact, he was so inspired that last year, during the inaugural Junior Leaders Programme (JLP), he even got his mum to join in on the fun.
Anyway, here’s Leo to tell you more …
Hi Leo. You’ve been with Care2Run for a long time. Can you tell us how you first got involved?
Hello there. Well, in 2015, I met Karen Wong – who was a pioneer Care2Run committee member – while carolling and when we got to talking, she told me that she was part of a programme for children. I had some experience with non-profit work – having worked full-time with Protect and Save the Children and another NGO called Knowing Children – so I found it interesting. Karen then introduced me to Prem and that’s how it all started. I was involved in one cohort early on and then as a volunteer on and off, and last year, I was part of the Junior Leaders Programme (JLP).
As someone who’s been involved since almost the very beginning, you’ve witnessed and been a part of Care2Run’s growth. What’s been the biggest changes, in your opinion?
When I first got involved I thought that some of the activities and some of the approaches were a bit ad hoc. I felt the founding team had a very clear idea of what they wanted to achieve in terms of the programmes being based on research. But I wouldn’t say that all the volunteers understood the vision in the early days. However, when I got involved in the JLP last year, after a little while of being only an occasional volunteer, I thought, “Wow! They’ve done it!”
As a programme, the JLP was simple enough that everyone could understand it and do it – provided they committed the time – and it had a clear focus. To me, I think the pilot programme with SMK Kelana Jaya was crucial in restructuring our approach. Until then, the programmes were about working with children, but they were quite general and focussed on underprivileged children. Once we had done the pilot programme, however, I think it became clear that the focus was on impacting the lives of differently-abled children, to help them grow and thrive. To me, the JLP manifested everything we learnt from the pilot programme.
Can you speak a little about the young people you’ve watched grow over the years?
There are so many. Take Parthivan, for example. When he started, he was a really timid boy, and now, he’s become this confident young man. I worked with a lot of children when I was involved full time in non-profit work, but personally, I’ve never seen children grow and progress as much as they do with Care2Run. Timothy is another one whom you can see the growth. He was actually my mum’s mentee during JLP. Both he and Parthivan come from humble backgrounds and both lacked confidence. But both have grown so much. Other great examples to me are Max and Navaalan, who’ve both thrived through the programmes over the years.
Your mother was a mentor during the first JLP. Can you tell us how she got involved in the programme?
One of the things I love about Care2Run is that it allows for people of all ages, fitness levels and backgrounds to contribute. My mum is a housewife from a small town and she has had her own challenges. But she has a big heart. So when the JLP came along, I asked Prem if it was all right to get her involved and he was very keen on the idea. So I told her that we were going to be part of the programme and that we would have to be involved every Sunday morning. And surprisingly, she stuck with it all the way to the end. To me, it was not only beneficial for the children but for her as well – to show her that she still has a lot to offer at her age. It was also a learning experience for her. She learned to open up and speak in public and share her opinions, which she had never done in the past. When Timothy got his certificate and graduated, she was very proud.
It seems that you have a really great relationship with your mum. Has it gotten even better since the JLP?
I love my mum a lot but honestly, I wouldn’t say that of her three children, she is the closest to me. I’d always been a bit of a rebel. But about five years ago, I made a promise to myself that I wanted to improve my relationship with my mum. I did what most people do – I took her for movies, holidays, and went out for meals with her. But I still didn’t feel that there was a connection. Of course, there was love, but there wasn’t anything special. Then when we started the JLP together, we bonded on a deeper level. There were many, many times during the sessions when she talked to Timothy and I felt like she was talking to me. When she encouraged Timothy, it was as though she was encouraging me. When he pushed him to do better, it was like she pushing me.
Have you always believed in the power of sports to effect change in young people?
For me, I wouldn’t credit everything to sports. Yes, sports is the medium we use. And yes, we are called Care2Run, because the original idea was to use sports, and in particular running, to impact the lives of children. I admit I don’t know how the team sees it, but to me, the “run” in Care2Run means “to move” or “move forward” or “grow”. Within the programmes, there are sessions where you learn about fitness and healthy living. Then there are sessions which make participants think – like the Tic-Tac-Toe game, for example. And then, you have games like Medallion Match that make participants alert and more mindful of their surroundings.
Initially, I wasn’t too keen on Medallion Match because it seems like a simple treasure hunt kind of game where you find matching medals. But then I started seeing the game’s power to initiate conversations. Say a child finds a medal from the Osaka Marathon, he might not know where Osaka is. That is when you as a mentor tell him: “Osaka is in Japan”. His next question may be: “Where is Japan?” And you tell him that Japan is a country in Asia and give him a little bit more information about Japan. For kids like Timothy and Parthivan, for example, who don’t come from privileged backgrounds and don’t live in a bungalow in Mont Kiara and go for holidays overseas, they may not know all this. But through activities like the kind Care2Run does, we’re able to inspire them to dream. When I see some of these kids, I remember what it was like for me growing up. I come from a small town in Perak. I didn’t know what fine dining was until I started working and I certainly didn’t dream I’d one day be able to travel overseas. That’s one of the reasons, I find the activities so meaningful.
Would you say you’ve grown as much as your mentees from being involved in Care2Run?
Of course. I’ve definitely become less of a cynic and I’ve learnt to accept that for change to take place, you must sometimes allow things to take their course. I wasn’t always this way, but Care2Run has shown me that change takes time. And when you look at Amirul, Seng Joon, Max, Parthivan and Timothy, you can see that. Their transformation was not overnight. You have to be patient.
What are your dreams for Care2Run?
I believe Care2Run has the capacity to become the next Rakan Muda and part of the national youth agenda for differently-abled young people. I believe the programme, especially the JLP, is solid and I think we do many things very well and I think that’s something that would have a tremendous impact on a national level. Take the mentoring aspect of the programmes, for example. I wanted to be paired with Navaalan during the JLP, but Prem is amazing at matching mentors and mentees and he believed that Krish would be the better choice. And you can see that that was a great decision because Krish managed to unlock Navaalan’s potential and draw him out of his shell, which I may not have been able to do.