Overcoming the Fear of the Unknown

Overcoming the Fear of the Unknown

  
Sharon Pereira Sharon Pereira

Sharon is an executive producer at Our Better World. She believes ideas have the power to impact how we think and play. Sharon’s favourite thing to do is collaborate with others to build on ideas. The Force is strong when people gather, share honestly and believe.

When I was first assigned to cover the story of Yusra, a Yemeni refugee living in Kuala Lumpur, I was slightly apprehensive. As I packed my bags, I realised that the last time I had any real interaction with refugees was more than 25 years ago when there were “Vietnamese boat people” in Singapore.

The Rohingya crisis was going on but those atrocities were images on my TV screen and that put a safe “emotional” distance between what was happening and my reality. But this was in Malaysia, a country that is separated from Singapore by a small body of water. Yet I knew very little about the refugee situation next door.

So I googled the refugee situation in Malaysia and was surprised to learn that there are over 170,000 refugees there, and that they were not allowed legal employment or formal education.

Sharon with Hasan, the person featured in Our Better World’s first refugee story.

Knowing this, however, didn’t stop the “what ifs” from coming up. What if there are sensitivities I’m not aware of? What if I offend someone? What if it isn’t a safe situation?

Yusra lives in a low-cost housing area of Kuala Lumpur that was unfamiliar to me, and I was travelling there with two men, the filmmaker and the fixer, whom I’d just met. What have I gotten myself into, I thought.

Her home was not what I expected. It is well lit, cozy, sparsely furnished but inviting. They say a person’s home is a reflection of themselves, and it’s true in this case. The soft-spoken lady was warm, friendly and generous to a fault.

I learnt very quickly that Yusra’s home was the epi-centre of the refugee community. In the short time I was there, ladies came seeking advice, NGOs arrived with donations for Yusra to distribute, friends came for a visit. Her door was open to everyone who needed help or a listening ear.

Yusra’s generosity and openness have endeared her to many in the community, including Hasan from Syria and Saleh from Afghanistan, two people whose stories were told by Our Better World, and who agreed to be part of the camera team for Yusra’s story. It was great to take our team’s friendships with Hasan and Saleh from telling their own inspiring stories to now helping us tell stories of other refugees in Malaysia.

The bond is strong among them. They are like a family unit, assisting a fellow member where they can. Despite being tight knit, they accept strangers like myself with warm, welcoming arms. For a community that is so often misunderstood, they embraced my presence. I am so grateful for their kindness.

Sharon bonding with Spidey Shahzad, Saleh’s son.

During filming, we spoke openly about Yusra’s life, her son, their struggles, their joys, their parent-child squabbles and the work she was doing in the community. She is a single mother who came to Malaysia with nothing but the determination to forge a life for her son, herself and her community.

Her story is sad yet empowering. And despite the obstacles she faces as a refugee, she bravely faces each day with hope and a sense of humour.

We laughed and became fast friends.

“I love playing basketball,” she tells me quietly. “We are not allowed to play in Yemen. But I love the game.”

That stuck with me. A fearless rebel with a cause. Malaysia has given Yusra a voice. To be herself. To be heard.

I learnt so many things that day. The main lesson I take away is that the fear of the unknown is a powerful thing. But when you get to know a person or situation, compassion, understanding and respect can fill that space instead. So as human beings, let’s choose to sit in that space. Right next to Yusra.


Sharon executive produced the story of Yusra, one of the stories featured in Our Better World’s ongoing series Refugees: Displaced, not Discouraged.

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Sharon Pereira Sharon Pereira
Sharon is an executive producer at Our Better World. She believes ideas have the power to impact how we think and play. Sharon’s favourite thing to do is collaborate with others to build on ideas. The Force is strong when people gather, share honestly and believe.