By Julia Pong
In the midst of Malaysia’s monsoon season, as relentless rain and looming flood threats gripped the nation, Juwita Suwito found herself grappling with an unexpected concern – the safety of her car in the face of rising waters. However, amidst these worries, an unexpected inspiration sparked.
She thought about the patch of green on the otherwise-empty piece of land on the grounds of YWCA KL in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
“In the moment of inspiration, I suddenly thought about how nice it would be if that piece of land could be transformed into a community space,” she said.
She pictured a thriving community green space where families could bring their children and the elderly their grandchildren to play and be surrounded by nature. If her dream came true, the 1-acre-plus land that sits right next to the iconic Merdeka 118 building would be a testament to the regeneration of green spaces in the city.
The idea continued to fester in her mind, but the starting point was still clueless. “It’s like God dropped the vision in my heart, but I didn’t know where or how to start!”, she said.
She started to put pen to paper and from the seed of an idea sprouted an ambitious plan: the creation of the “YWCA Community Oasis.” The blueprint outlined four key sections — a Food Forest, Recreational Park, Community Space, and Urban Farm — aimed at nurturing holistic well-being within the community.
With the endorsement of YWCA KL’s Board of Directors and initial funding, the project officially commenced in October 2023.
Current collaborations driving the “YWCA Community Oasis” include Think City Downtown Kuala Lumpur which provided seed funding, Free Tree Society which will supply trees for planting, Canopy for Earth in partnership with SEEDS Malaysia will plant the trees for the Food Forest and Eats, Shoots & Roots spearheading the Urban Farm.
While the total investment needed for the project is estimated at RM1 million, YWCA KL has secured less than 10% of the required funding as of now. However, it’s still early days, and the project holds promise for a transformative impact on the community’s well-being.
Stewarding her singing career while steering the call to build the nation
At first glance, it might seem unlikely for the singer-songwriter to spearhead a nature-conservation and community-building initiative. Juwita’s journey has primarily been about influencing the nation through music, infusing the airwaves with Biblical worldviews since 2004 through her songs and multiple albums.
Her musical career took off swiftly, with her voice resonating on national television as she sang the theme song for the vocal competition Akademi Fantasia, coinciding with the launch of her first album. Simultaneously, she served as the vocal coach for the inaugural season of Malaysian Idol in 2004.
More recently, her involvement in producing The Malaysian Blessing in 2020, a viral anthem and declaration of blessing upon Malaysia sung by 120 singers from 80 churches presented an opportunity to stir in her a greater appreciation for diversity and inclusivity.
“When producing the video, our team was determined to sing the entire song in different languages, featuring various traditional musical instruments. We wanted the many ethnic elements of Malaysia represented in the song,” she said.
The video garnered over 710k views, and the anthem resonated in churches nationwide, spreading extensively on various social media platforms.
Reflecting on this, Juwita said, “Even though it’s been more than three years since the release of the video, it still moves me to see the Malaysian Church blessing the nation in our very own heart languages — and I cannot help but join in the ‘Amen!’”
Yet, alongside her musical endeavours, Juwita pursued social work, finding an unexpected calling at YWCA KL in the late 1990s after completing her A-levels.
“You know how they say that music chooses you? I could almost say the same thing with YWCA,” Juwita chuckled.
She landed the role of supervisor in the then-new Vocational Training Opportunity Centre at YWCA. Under her leadership, she created a haven for underprivileged young girls, offering a safe space for education and skill development.
Reflecting on this, Juwita shared, “Seeing the girls happy to attend tuition classes taught me not to take simple things for granted.” It taught me not to take things for granted.”
While carving her path in the music industry and excelling in the local worship music scene, Juwita actively served in various roles at YWCA KL, including Executive Secretary and National General Secretary for YWCA Malaysia. Her involvement extended to advocating women’s rights, pursuing grants, and rallying support. Just before the onset of the pandemic, she assumed the role of Vice President at YWCA KL.
“I grew up quite sheltered and didn’t notice people who have gone through a lot of hard knocks. This role showed me that we can do a lot more for people who don’t have the same opportunities. It’s about putting faith into action – to love our neighbour and give them water to drink,” Juwita shared.
Being a responsible steward of the land
When the idea came to transform the land on YWCA’s grounds, Juwita thought about the lessons learned through her music career and social work. She wanted greatly to steward this fresh vision well.
“I asked myself, what is the best way to use the land, with ongoing climate issues. We did not want the space to be just a jungle to generate oxygen but nobody could visit it. We wanted to build a space for community that is relevant for all,” she shared.
To help realise this vision, YWCA KL is inviting corporations to adopt different elements of the project, such as the integrated playground, outdoor gym, multipurpose courts, tree house, jogging track, gazebos and other facilities. The Community Oasis also intends to house a café, with the Merdeka 118 tower as a majestic backdrop.
In addition to making a positive Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) impact, corporations would enjoy special privileges for hosting events at YWCA KL, and other benefits to be unveiled. One-off donations to YWCA KL are tax-exempt.
YWCA KL also welcomes individual contributions of RM1,000 each, to fund the planting of a tree in the Food Forest and facilitate preparatory works for the project. Contributors would also have priority access to events at the Community Oasis for two years.
YWCA KL targets 110 individual contributors to plant 110 tree saplings, commemorating the organisation’s 110th anniversary.
The YWCA Community Oasis may still be in its seedling stage, but Juwita does not discount the possibility of replicating the concept in other parts of Malaysia.
“It’s about ensuring proper stewardship of the land. In Korea, people plant vegetables on road dividers. Here, we need to think about how to use our land responsibly, and for the community. It can be done if we see the opportunity,” she said.
In the interim, Juwita wants to spread the word about the YWCA Community Oasis. She laughed, “I don’t preach, but I can share the vision at women’s groups or any platform. Just like the little patch of land, we should do what we can.”