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Youth perspective from Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Darussalam or Brunei, a small wealthy nation in ASEAN is known but perhaps less spoken about in global affairs. AASYP Sub-editor Ashley Ramachandran spoke to Farhan Jafar Ali, a recent Bruneian university graduate about young people in the world, and how COVID-19 has affected his country. 

Could you please tell me about yourself and where you are from?

My name is Farhan, I’m from Brunei Darussalam. It’s on the island of Borneo which is the third-largest island in the world. I studied media and communications and I am currently a part-time barista. I am hoping to find something else in world affairs, perhaps within ASEAN relations, or work as a teacher, as I believe in youth and would love to inspire others. I have previously taught a few kids in a rural village as part of a community outreach program, tutored students, and volunteered in Malaysia applying the Sustainable Development Goals at a local level. 

What do you think is important for people to know about Brunei?

I’m a patriot and love my country. I think we are underdogs in the world and have a lot of potential to offer. For example, the creative and entertainment market in Brunei is full of passionate people. Other challenges include being on the world stage such as in sports World Cups and singing competitions. The limitations in reaching the world stage may be from a lack of support from higher authorities and relevant agencies, as well as even ourselves. Also, our own image/brand is a little weak. We only have a handful of prominent icons and celebrities, and we are less relevant in world news. Regardless, I know that someday we will get there. 

How does Brunei fit within ASEAN? What do you think about the relationship between Brunei and ASEAN?

I love ASEAN, I just wish more people would know about it more and be involved. ASEAN tends to be stronger with the ‘higher-ups’ such as Ministers or travel enthusiasts. I love that Brunei provides a lot of aid to other ASEAN countries, for instance, when Brunei offered assistance to stranded Malaysians studying and working in the Middle East who found it difficult to fly back home due to the ongoing pandemic.

How is COVID-19 affecting Brunei?

We are doing great and life is returning to normal fast. We had de-escalation phases that ran in four stages. It has been about 90 days (as of this interview) in maintaining zero cases, except for a new case that was imported. Our government was very strict in the beginning, primarily when we had our first case. We in the nation accepted it for the greater good. Normally, Brunei finds it hard to accept change. However, COVID-19 has forced us to compromise, such as the shift to online learning in schools. We had to adapt and we did.

Also, in the first 3 months, there were a lot of people facing unemployment, particularly in the travel industry and small businesses. However, we rose to ‘get back up’ and everything is evidently returning to normal. 

As we remain in this bubble (super strict border controls), Bruneians are discovering a lot about nature in particular in our country. We are discovering waterfalls, we go hiking, and on adventures. We are forgetting about social distancing rules as life returns to normal. Nonetheless, we have a mandatory tracking app, for instance, everyone needs to scan in and out if you enter premises that hold gatherings such as restaurants, banks, and department stores.

Do you think young people are affected by COVID-19? If so, how? For instance, mental health and employment.

Mental health has been an ongoing issue globally. It used to be a stigma, it used to be ignored, ‘hushed’, and looked down upon. Now, my friends who are greatly affected have support circles of friends, albeit they rarely consist of family members. I think our generation can relate more to each other.

Personally, I feel unmotivated in finding a job. I have worked hard all through school and activities, so I want to take a nice break before I commit to something.

What do you want to say to young people in ASEAN and Australia?

In this day and age, for us young people, we must be there for each other. It is nice to have a support system with friends and with people we care for. There are a lot of events and happenings going on which can get overwhelming. Mental health issues are increasing, we have more exposure to social media, and more. We overthink everything; friends, romance, drama, family, careers, news, life balance. It is important to take breaks when necessary and know our strengths because we are stronger than we think.

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