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First AVP in Kuala Lumpur in 2019. Siaw is in the red circle.

She left a promising career in Singapore to serve God in Malaysia

Vocations Sunday this year is on April 25. This is a dedicated day for Catholics around the world to offer special prayers to encourage vocations from families and parishes to the priesthood and to religious life. Here is the first of a three stories of people who are doing their part in furthering God’s Kingdom. Marietta Mu earlier wrote a personal testimony How Catholic Students’ Society changed me.

By Marietta Mu

APR 24, 2021: Melanie Siaw is from Kajang. She studied pharmacy in Malaysia and then worked as a clinical pharmacist in several government hospitals for four-and-a-half-years before she pursued her doctorate in Health Outcomes from the National University of Singapore and worked there.

Siaw, who was not happy with the way things were run at her workplace, and wanted overseas exposure. So she applied for a few countries and eventually, Singapore offered her an opportunity. 

Even after getting her doctorate, Siaw continued to feel restless and gave up a career as an academician. One day while doing her Eucharistic Adoration, she started worrying about job security and her future. At that very moment she felt God assuring her with the Scripture verse, Jeremiah 29:11. Siaw said this gave her peace and she decided to move back to Malaysia from Singapore in 2018. 

A friend invited her for a trip with Young People for Development (YPD) program in Nepal, where she met people from the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) and Friends Peace Teams. She experienced an unexplainable energy that was full of peace and love when she was with them. 

The YPD is an international program offering young people a network to share experience and ideas, within youths of different nations. The AVP Malaysia is a grassroots peacebuilding initiative that enables participants to deal with conflict and violence in new and creative ways.

Two months after meeting them, she decided to say yes to the International Peace Training which was a chance to live in a community in Pati, Indonesia, where they put peace to practise such as listening, making friends with people who are different from themselves, and taking care of each other.

When she was there, people of different backgrounds gathered and lived in a community for almost two weeks where they practiced peace and saw each one as brothers and sisters. She was blown away by their attitude and realised that it was something Malaysia needed as ethnic tension and polarisation have been rising like during the Seafield Temple Riot and Kampung Medan Issue.

One of the challenges she faced in making the switch was financial stability. In the medical field, she used to earn quite a substantial amount. But she had faith that God would provide when she put Him first. She gave a Scripture verse, which was Matthew 6:26-34, which resonated with her and she explained, “We could plan out our lives, but following God’s Will and dreaming with Him will always bring the greatest joy and fulfilment in life”.

“Creating a culture of peace is a way of life for us in AVP Malaysia. In fact, one of our guides is to be willing to suffer for what is important,” she said.

She wishes that all Catholics like Jesus, the Prince of Peace, would become peace-makers and to protect peace in order to extend it to another person. “This starts by recognising subtle violence in our society in the form of humiliating, manipulating or coercing others, gossiping, bullying, and even polluting the earth,” said Siaw.

Violence even in church circles, such as the way we speak and do things need to be acknowledged and addressed. We cannot fully experience deep internal peace if we are excessively busy in the rat-race trying to score As in exams or accumulate wealth and material things.

Despite everything, her parents always believed that she would make the right decision and supported her move to switch careers. 

 “Initially I wanted to, because that is why I did my doctorate, but I prayed to God to close doors that were not meant for me. I am happy with what God has given me,” said Siaw when asked if she ever wanted to go back to the medical field.

Melanie, is a young Malaysian passionate about peacebuilding. She serves voluntarily as country coordinator with Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Malaysia and Friends Peace Teams Asia West Pacific as well as works part-time with Caritas Malaysia. 

Caritas Malaysia is the official arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia engaged in works of relief, integral human development, care for creation, and social services. Within Caritas, she is also involved in a study group called “Dialogue, Inter-ethnic relations and Peacebuilding”. It seeks to help Caritas understand and respond to the issues related to nation building through dialogue and encountering the cultures and peoples. This will be important areas for the future to move the mission of the Church beyond our traditional charitable works.