At just 27-years-old, Malaysian-born Tong Sheng “Thomson” Ch’ng has accomplished a great deal – something he says he owes to the tireless work of his late mum.
In July, the Curtin graduate was given the chance to represent Malaysia at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 14 Youth Forum, held in Nairobi, Kenya.
Themed “Shaping the World We Want”, the inaugural forum presented Ch’ng and other world youth leaders from developing countries with the opportunity to express their thoughts on education, employment, state accountability, trade and development, attend or even speak at some of the high-level events, and even meet Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon in person.
He also co-moderated the session on education, and helped produce a report based on the session’s recommendations, which was well received by officials at the main conference.
“From my perspective, it was a great move for the decision makers to include youth in their discussion and agenda,” says Ch’ng, who had never previously attended a UN event.
“It was incredible because our report was a product of selfless contributions from leaders around the world, who all gave their best ideas and input, yet were willing to listen to each other’s opinions.
“We truly came together as a team and nothing can beat that feeling of seeing our teamwork paid off by receiving positive reception from UNCTAD officials.”
Attending the event was the latest in a long list of achievements for the politician-in-the-making, who was a founding delegate and National President of the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), and began volunteering as the Vice President of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Youth Organisation at the start of the year.
However, having grown up in a humble household in Butterworth, northwest Malaysia, Ch’ng says that nothing was handed to him on a platter. Both he and his family worked hard for him to lay the foundations for his career, which began when he studied a bachelor degree in finance and management at Curtin Sydney from 2009-10, and grew further when he returned to study a master degree in project management from 2014-16.
“International students tend to be perceived as people with wealthy family backgrounds, given the fact that they can afford the cost of studying and living in Australia. Well, that’s not true in my case,” says Ch’ng.
“My parents saved up for years so that one day I could have the opportunity to study abroad – something they didn’t have the privilege of enjoying.”
In particular, Ch’ng credits his mother, who passed away from cancer when he was 16-years-old, for helping to shape the man he has now become.
“My late mum was the only one in our family who tirelessly worked across a number of charity organisations, in addition to her busy daily routine. Even when she was receiving chemotherapy treatment, she still did what she could to contribute,” says Ch’ng.
“I never understood why she spent so much of her life giving back to the community. But over the last few years, I have finally realised that the feeling of satisfaction you can get from creating a positive impact in another person’s life is absolutely incredible.”
Now, after returning to Sydney from the youth forum, Ch’ng has taken on another role: assisting the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education in strengthening the relationship between Malaysian and Australian educational institutions.
“I am humbled to be trusted by the Malaysian Government to apply my years of knowledge and experience studying, living and working in Australia through working on projects that will enhance the bilateral relationship between the two nations,” he says.
“Education and cross-cultural experiences certainly help change the way we see things. Self-actualisation will only take place after we are pushed out of our comfort zone: that’s when we can truly discover our purpose, passions and perspective about life.”