Participation units gain PACE
Participation units gain PACE


Participation units gain PACE

Macquarie’s Participation and Community Engagement (PACE) program gives students the opportunity to put their academic knowledge to practical use. But not only do they develop capabilities and skills that employers value, the experience can also change the direction of a graduate’s life.

Macquarie alumnus Ryan Zahrai took up a PACE unit when he was in his fourth year studying Law.

“I had been involved in other programs offered by Macquarie including the Global Leadership Program and was very attracted to the idea of spending a month working in a village near Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah, in Borneo,” he says.

In July 2011, Zahrai worked with the PACOS Trust, a non government organisation, to identify ways to help the Malaysian indigenous community become better informed about native customary land rights.

“We wanted to help them understand how to protect those rights under the Malaysian constitution and stop their land being appropriated by multinational corporations,” he explains.

“After two weeks of talking with local community groups we found that the primary obstacle facing indigenous people was complacency, and the feeling that they were powerless to do anything about what they saw was the inevitable loss of their land.

“It was clear that our report on the situation [required to gain academic credit for the PACE unit] wouldn’t do much. So we decided to create a DVD that could be shared among the communities and watched by villagers at their chief’s house,” he explains.

The DVD provides simple instructions on how communities can protect their land rights and register native title. It also contains interviews with stakeholders, land rights advocates and a barrister who was willing to represent indigenous communities in class actions.

On the 8th of August 2011, to coincide with World Indigenous Day, copies of the DVD were distributed to villages all over Sabah and screenings organised with local people.

“It was the beginning of an awareness program of Native Customary Rights (NCR) among Sabah’s indigenous population,” says Zahrai, adding that a second cohort of Macquarie University students in July 2012 created other supplementary materials to build on the DVD.

“While no data has yet been captured about how many villages have taken action as a result of the DVD, this project helped them understand that they could take measures that would put them in a much stronger position when negotiating with big corporations.”

Zahrai says the experience didn’t only benefit the indigenous communities of Sabah – it also dramatically changed his outlook, and his career path.

“Prior to going to Borneo, I was swept up in the commercial allure of law, but this was not why I had wanted to study it in the first place.

“It was the perfect reminder of why I started law, and my passion for assisting human rights advocacy is one reason I am now working in Samoa, as a Civil Litigation Clerk at the Office of the Attorney General.

“My future career aspirations have been shaped by the month I spent in Borneo as part of the PACE program.”

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