Felicia Tan, 26, shares with us her journey into humanitarian work, why faith matters and the increasing burden God has placed on her heart for refugees and stateless communities.
Her cheerful smile lights up the screen as Felicia Tan, a campaigns executive with World Vision Malaysia (WVM), sits down for our interview. A quiet confidence exudes from her, but it is this Gen Zer’s heart for the poor, marginalised and suffering that speaks loudest.
“As a Christian, I believe God did not call us to be comfortable, to live in our comfort zone. We are called to be part of something bigger than ourselves. If we see poverty or conflict and it makes us angry or sad, if we want to see change happening around us, I believe we’re not called to just sit there, complain and do nothing.”
Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Felicia graduated in 2018 with a degree in psychology from Monash University Malaysia. While her coursemates applied for jobs in the corporate world (it’s tough to get a job in psychology without a post-graduate degree), Felicia felt a deep, gnawing desire to do something more with her life.
“We spend eight hours a day working, and that takes up most of the time in our lives. For me, I didn’t want to do something just to earn money; it felt a bit pointless. Of course, money is important to feed yourself and your family, but to give eight hours a day, I wanted to do something more meaningful.”
Catching a vision for the world’s most vulnerable
Upon graduation, Felicia sent her resume to most of the NGOs she knew, hoping one would bite. World Vision Malaysia did, and in January 2019 she joined the Campaigns team, and this year her main portfolio is supporting the annual #RunForChildren and overseeing Save Fragile Lives, a global campaign raising awareness on children affected by conflict and disaster.
At present, she works part-time with WVM since starting her Master’s in Public Policy at Universiti Malaya last year. She’s also active in her church and serves as a youth leader. It’s a lot, and she let out a laugh when asked what she does in her free time. Her limited free time, she says, is spent on rest, miniature buildings and puzzles.
“[Balancing it all] is not easy. But when I first realised my calling, I prayed, “God, if this is the journey You call me to, You have to pull me through.” If not for knowing my calling, it would just be struggling, trying to stay on top of so many commitments. And for me, working in a Christian organisation makes a big difference. I’m able to share my struggles with colleagues who in turn encourage me with the Word of God.”
The young humanitarian also honours her mother, who raised Felicia and her younger brother alone, for allowing both children to obey God’s call upon their lives. In the same year Felicia joined WVM, her then 19-year-old brother decided to give up university and enter full-time ministry.
“So you can imagine my mother, a typical Chinese parent. She also to deal with so many questions from colleagues and friends, who said things like, “Aiyah, you sure or not? One child going to NGO, another going to church ministry.” It can be hard for people to understand. But my mother just made sure this was truly something we were certain of. When we said yes, she gave her full support. Until today, I’m so grateful for that.”
When something breaks our heart, then only do we feel the need to do something
In recent months, the refugee crisis and issue of statelessness, especially in Malaysia, has buried its way into Felicia’s heart. Amplified by global events such as the Russia-Ukraine crisis, she notes the social stigma they face, often branded as job-stealers and miscreants of society.
“But this life was not the life they chose. And I often imagine how any of us could turn into refugees in an instant. Yesterday, we could be hanging out with friends. Then, a bomb drops and today, we’re refugees. It could happen to any of us. Stateless communities in Malaysia, on the other hand, have no access to many basic rights. It breaks my heart.”
She then discusses the influence of World Vision founder Bob Pierce’s iconic statement, Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God and the lyrics from Brooke Fraser’s Hosanna, Break my heart for what breaks Yours on her life. To her, it’s only when our hearts break will we move from apathy to action, from sympathy to stepping up.
“In my generation, among my peers, whenever we come across issues, we’re just like, “Oh yeah, ke? Oh, so sad lah.” For example, many of my friends resonate with the Russia-Ukraine crisis but only to the extent of, “Oh, yeah lor. It’s very sad.” And it stops there,” Felicia shares. “But I do believe that if we want to see change happening, we have to get up and be the change instead of sitting there and waiting for durian runtuh (something exceptionally good to happen). It’s not going to happen if we don’t do anything.”
Looking to God, we won’t lose hope
When asked if she had anything to say to her generation, Felicia was clear: do not lose hope. In the midst of conflict and crises happening in our country or around the world, it can be easy to feel helpless and hopeless. But if we trust that God is working, we can hold onto hope.
The young humanitarian remembers something a World Vision Vietnam field staff told her during a work trip there pre-pandemic. He said, “Thank you so much for what you’re doing; because of you, our children have learned how to laugh.” That sentence, she says, affected her deeply.
“For so many of us, we may feel our contribution is small and insignificant, like a droplet of water. But when we gather many droplets together, it turns into a fountain of hope. So it doesn’t matter if we give a lot or a little, because just giving itself creates impact. And it’s not about what we can give, but what we choose to give. It can be time, financial support or even prayer. But for all of this to matter and make sense, we have to trust that God is definitely working. If God hasn’t given up, neither should we. Looking to God, we won’t lose hope.
Felicia doesn’t know where she’ll be in five years’ time, but she hopes to still be in humanitarian work and possibly working with refugees or the stateless. Her prayer is that others her age will rise up and be the change they want to see, impacting communities and bringing God glory.
If you want to hit the ground running in making a difference, sign up for World Vision Malaysia’s #RunForChildren — where you’ll run for 42 minutes to raise awareness on the 42 children’s rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child! To sign up, click here.