Dayana Azmi commenced her internship at the Malay Heritage Foundation (MHF) in January 2022 while pursuing her undergraduate studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Dayana recently completed her internship, and we got in touch with her to find out more about life as an MHF intern.
Q: Why did you choose to intern at MHF?
I chose to intern at MHF as I’ve always had a passion for learning.
Q: Before embarking on the internship, how well do you know about issues/matters relating to Malay arts and cultural heritage?
I did not know much about Malay arts and cultural heritage issues.
Q: What have you discovered about Malay heritage at MHF that you didn’t know before?
After completing the internship, I’ve learned about the identity of Kampong Gelam better. During my first week in MHF, I went on a guided tour carried by docents. Before this tour guide, I frankly had no clue regarding the history of Kampong Gelam. I used to see Kampong Gelam as just a foodie paradise. I was embarrassed that even the docents, who were not Malays, were much more knowledgeable than I, a Malay who is an intern at Malay Heritage Foundation and expected to know the basic history of Kampong Gelam at the very least. I felt that it is a shame that I know many others, such as myself, who are not aware of the rich history behind Kampong Gelam as well. The tour showed that 14 heritage markers were strategically placed around Kampung Gelam to share untold stories with the community.
These stories are concise enough for passers-by to read and experience the stories behind the streets, the shophouses, and many landmarks of Kampong Gelam. Furthermore, the docents showed how Kampong Gelam was the national center of Muslim culture and activity, such as maritime trade, a commercial center for textile products, Muslim-related products, and many more. This shows Kampong Gelam’s rich and vibrant history, which highlights a different narrative from the usual portrayal of Malays as being lazy fishers and farmers. The skewed colonialist description is a common topic of concern across my Malay studies modules. Thus, this tour has given me a chance to re-imagine Kampong Gelam and show me the history and culture of the Malays that were being robbed due to the perpetuation of colonialist writings and ideas.
Furthermore, I was also better able to deepen my understanding of culture and heritage through attending various talks conducted by MHF as well as conversations with Mdm Julina. Before I entered MHF, I was somewhat skeptical about programmes that they offered, such as the Cendekiawan Lestari Series (CLS) and Wacana Warisan Series (WWS) and their publication of books. My understanding of culture and heritage was limited to more tangible aspects such as clothing, food, and performing arts. I felt that lecture series and books did not appeal to the broad audience as it was too dull.
However, the lecture ‘Warisan untuk Siapa‘ conducted by Dr. Azhar Ibrahim, ‘Impact of Historical Realities on the Future of Malay Heritage in Singapore’ as well as conversations with Mdm Julina allowed me to understand that culture and heritage are also concerned with evaluating, challenging, redefining or reproducing ideas, modes of thinking and the social setting of the contemporary Malay society. There is a need for discourse in the community to negotiate the present’s multiple identities, values, and meanings. Thus, I understood better and appreciated that discourse and capacity building for cultural leaders is a gap in the Malay community that MHF aims to fulfill.
Q: What are some of the skillsets you’ve learned at MHF that apply to your future?
I had the opportunity to learn more about social media analytics from Elyna, the main person in charge of marketing in MHF. I briefly learned how to collect and interpret data from social media sites, such as Facebook and Youtube. I knew that social media analytics is essential to discover and communicate meaningful patterns to check how the social media platform performs, which content is shared more, the number of visits each post, and how many people converted to subscriptions. The use of social media engagement is relatively new for MHF. Thus, these analytics are essential to show whether MHF is on the right track to utilising these social media platforms to their full potential. Positive results have motivated them to update their social media content more regularly and intensify their efforts toward the best channels. I feel grateful for the opportunity to pick up such a skill. I can better appreciate the importance of social media analytics, especially for cultural organizations whose primary purpose is to engage the community to see the importance of Malay heritage.
Additionally, I learned the importance of strategic planning during corporate advancement to achieve the company’s overall long-term goals. It focuses on integrating various departments such as accounting and finance, marketing, human resources, and event management within a company to accomplish its strategic goals.
Firstly, a strategic plan helps build a sense of unity in the direction and vision for MHF, which is essential in establishing realistic objectives and goals that align with the vision and mission charted out for it. A specific vision offers a much-needed foundation for MHF to plan programmes, evaluate their success, and establish boundaries for efficient decision-making. During the corporate advancement, there was some confusion regarding the role of MHF as it often seems to overlap with the Malay Heritage Centre (MHC). Through discussions, it was clarified that the role of MHC is to promote culture to people of various ages. However, MHF has decided to take the part of promoting a discursive culture and building capacity for future Malay thinkers. Once that was established, there was a more meaningful discussion on what kind of programmes should be continued or formulated according to the vision and mission charted out for it. Thus, one significant benefit of strategic planning is creating a shared vision that can align the organisation and the board of directors, allowing for more meaningful, focused, and efficient discussions.
Q: Could you share your experience and role as an intern in MHF? Some memorable moments?
One of my main tasks was helping prepare and executed the various events conducted by MHF. I attended lectures for students, guided tours of Kampong Gelam, and museum tours guided by the curator themselves, the CLS. During these events, I would usually help to take pictures to be uploaded later on MHF’s social media, help with the book sale, ushering of guests, and presentation of slides. Additionally, after the event, I would help produce article write-ups of the programme highlights published on the MHF website for online media publication coverage of the past events. I have also been tasked to transcribe Mr. Zainul Abidin’s CLS lecture.
Next, I was allowed to conduct a needs assessment and ground sensing of the Kampong Gelam landscape. For this assessment, Mdm Julina required me to find out the types of retail and services found in Kampong glam district, what kind of goods they sell, the concentration of stores that are still active, etc. This is to help Mdm Julina’s project in the collection of data of the current businesses in Kampong Gelam so that MHF can find out if there is a good tenant mix that meets the needs of the customers and if there is a gap, as well as inform the state of traditional businesses in Kampong Gelam which seems to be gradually diminishing. I initially went around Kampong Gelam for three straight days by foot and manually took down each shop for this project. However, I found alternative methods to collect data through existing secondary data online and used Microsoft Excel to filter through the abundant information found.
Finally, I was tasked to shadow Mdm Julina in her meetings. I had the privilege of attending the corporate advance meeting, meetings with potential partners MHF wanted to work with, and meetings with lawyers and the National Heritage Board.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face at work, and how do you overcome them?
During the internship, I was tasked to do a needs assessment which required me to note down all the different units and shophouses in Kampong Glam. Mdm Julina suggested that I go down and walk around for ground sensing. However, it was time-consuming and tiring for me to walk around the whole of Kampong Gelam. Despite walking around Kampong Gelam for five hours for two straight days, I could barely cover the entire Kampong Gelam. Thus, I decided to try and find alternative ways to get this done. I used existing Singapore’s public data and found information on corporate entities. Afterward downloading the data, I used Microsoft Excel to filter out the postal codes and the companies still operating and get the data set required by Mdm Julina within a few hours. And it taught me the importance of problem-solving skills to get tasks done most efficiently. This opened my eyes to the need to equip myself with more skills such as coding or excel and motivated me to go for workshops in the near future to make full use of the advancement of today’s technologies.
Q: As an NUS Malay Studies student, what sparked your interest in furthering your studies in this area?
I have always had an interest and passion for learning more about Malay heritage. In Junior College, I participated in Dikir Barat, which piqued my interest in the Malay culture. At the National University of Singapore, I have also played roles in events that promote the Malay language, such as ‘Bisikan Pena‘, which aims to encourage interest in Malay Puisi and Cerpen. I joined Malay studies in hopes of learning more about my roots. But Malay studies are more than that.
Malay studies helped to dismantle many stereotypes I had about the Malay community. Narratives I hear about Malays often originate from colonial masters and their captives. I love hearing and learning narratives from indigenous and local sources.
Malay studies have also opened my eyes and made me aware of issues in religion. I can better understand my Malay-Muslim identity and think critically regarding such matters.
Q: Going through the internship, does it help shape and further reinforce your interest in learning more about our Malay Arts, Culture & Heritage?
Yes, it has helped reinforce my interest in learning more about Malay arts, culture, and heritage as I became more aware of the local arts scene and artists. I was also able to attend the Cendekiawan Lestari Series and corporate advance meetings with the board of directors of MHF. I can listen to the Malay intelligentsia regarding their opinions, vision, and concerns about the Malay culture and heritage.
Q: What do you intend to do after your graduation?
There are many pathways I could take as I major in both social work and Malay studies. I do see myself in the social work sector and hope to be able to advocate policies for the community, especially Malays, who are the marginalised community in Singapore. I hope to help dismantle specific complex ideas regarding the Malays and help build capacity in the community. I also hope to be involved in the Malay arts and culture scenes and contribute in any way.
Q: Describe yourself in three words.
Q: What do you envision the art scene moving forward?
There will be an expansion of the art scene in the digital space and technology sector. Digitalisation would be an essential tool that complements physical events and performances. Digital space would also likely have a greater outreach to youth.
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