What makes someone a leader? What comes to mind when you think about one?

Right now, you may be imagining important and powerful people, like politicians or successful businessmen. However, anyone can become a leader, as long as they have something that drives them: a mission, a cause, or a value. Leaders have a vision of how things could be better, and they inspire others to work with them towards this vision.

This was how Ulisaa Euvaraj, a student from SMK Convent Kajang who at the age of 16 led a team to create a Kindness Project. The project, which aimed to promote a culture of kindness and positivity in their school, became a winning entry in the #StandTogether Competition in 2018. The team won an RM1,000 cash grant and a celebrity school visit.

But more importantly, the project helped make Ulisaa’s vision of spreading more kindness in her school a reality.

Ulisaa was driven to lead this project because of her own life experience. When she was three years old, she developed cancer and had to take harsh medications. As a result, she struggled to put on weight. She was verbally bullied and was told that she looked “anorexic”, “too thin”, and “bald”. Watch her tell her story in this video.

However, she says these painful moments taught her an important lesson and gave her a purpose. “Being a girl who was once bullied, I realised the importance of having a voice and speaking up for what is right,” said Ulisaa. 

“I knew that I could speak up for those who are too afraid to speak up. That’s something that motivated me throughout the project,” she added.

Their project, “Boxes of Positivity”, aimed to encourage students by writing uplifting messages to each other. 

The team left five boxes in each classroom, each labelled “Why You’re Not Alone,” “Words of Kindness,” “Words of Bliss,” and so on. All students were encouraged to put in and take out kind messages from these boxes every day.

But it wasn’t a smooth journey. According to Ulisaa, they faced a lot of difficulties convincing students in their school of the importance of the project, and its potential impact. 

To combat this, the team decided to lead by example – they started practising empathy towards others themselves. They tried their best to explain the project’s purpose using different examples to make it clearer to them.

Eventually, many students found the project meaningful. “Some of [our peers] shared that they were happy to know they could rely on someone and that someone was there for them,” said Ulisaa.

When asked for words of wisdom for future student leaders, she encouraged students to have a positive mindset and to create an environment that is safe and fun for everyone. The end goal, according to her, should be to give back to the school and the community.

Her main takeaway, however, was a reminder to be kind to everyone, as we don’t always know what someone is going through.

This project was a stepping stone in Ulisaa’s journey, as she hopes to lead more campaigns and projects like these in the future. 

“Even if I’m not leading, I just hope to impact people around me by being kind,” said Ulisaa.