RAUB, PAHANG, 2 MARCH :Some 400 students who are participants of the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC)’s empower Academic Skills Training programme, experienced an opportunity of a lifetime today as they met with Malaysia’s first astronaut, Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, during a special programme organised here by ECERDC

The students from 12 local schools, together with their parents, gathered at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Dong, Raub to meet the astronaut at a motivational session aptly themed “The Sky is the Limit”. Also present was Y.B. Dato’ Haji Shahiruddin bin Ab Moin, Member of State Legislative Assembly for Dong.

“We firmly believe that students learn best from example, and have therefore introduced a towering Malaysian to the community to inspire them with his life experiences,” said Dato’ Jebasingam Issace John, Chief Executive Officer of the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC). “Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar is a stellar example of someone who has achieved his dreams by setting his mind to it. Of the many barriers he had to overcome, the hardest probably was self-doubt and personal limitations.”

“That is the point we are making here today. We are convinced that every one of our empower participants in the East Coast Economic Region (ECER) has the potential to shine, and motivation and encouragement goes a long way in ensuring their future success. Being able to meet someone like Malaysia’s first astronaut who is considered a hero will definitely serve as an inspiration for them to excel not only in their respective UPSR, PMR and SPM examinations this year but also beyond,” he said.

While Sheikh Muszaphar’s appearance was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, the students also participated in interactive activities and games conducted by a team of motivators led by Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar himself.

Sheikh Muszaphar shared his life experiences with the students and the difficult choices he had to make to achieve his ambition. It was motivating and meaningful, and the students were delighted with the chance to meet him face-to-face and hear first-hand accounts of his out-of-this-world experiences. They also had a chance to view the astronaut’s special space suit, gloves, parachute, the mini Qur’an and other personal effects that were part of the historic space mission.

The participating students consist of Year 6, Form 3 and Form 5 students from SK Raub Jaya, SK Sega, SK Ulu Dong, SK Batu Talam, SK Satak, SJK (C) Chung Ching, SJK (T) Raub, SJK (C) Sg Klau, SMK Mahmud, SMD Datuk Shah Bandar Hussein, SMK LKPT Tersang and SMK Dong respectively.

empower is a twin-pronged human capital development initiative introduced by ECERDC which focuses on Academic Skills Training for examination-year students and Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for adults in the ECER. Human capital development is vital for the rapid transformation of the ECER economy and in this context, empower targets academically weak students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while its adult reach is the unemployed or underemployed, single mothers, those in low-paying jobs and aspiring entrepreneurs. empower aims to improve the grades of students and introduce or enhance the skill sets of adults so they have better employment and business prospects. Programmes offered reflect the needs of the job market as well as that of the community.

First launched in Bentong in 2010, empower is currently being implemented in nine ECER districts namely, Bentong, Temerloh, Raub, Cameron Highland, Lipis, Kuala Pahang in Pahang; Bachok and Jeli in Kelantan; and Kemaman in Terengganu. As at end-2012, a total of 11,426 participants, comprising 6,776 students and 4,650 adults have benefitted from the empower programme.