Knowing Our Identity in 2015: My Experience in AYVP

From 11th August-15th September 2014, 50 youths from across ASEAN countries came together to try their best to settle the problem of heritage issues during a gathering in Malaysia. During the course of the gathering, this group of volunteers learned a lot as they interact with each other. Indeed, I feel so fortunate to be a part of the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme (AYVP): Young Heritage Leaders group.

In the first week of the programme these 50 young people gained lessons about ASEAN and its vision and functions of the regional bloc. In that opportunity Mr. Ky-Anh Nguyen, the representative from ASEAN Secretariat, told us that defining an ASEAN identity is a complex issue, as each country will argue for their own definitions. In the end, he believed that ASEAN community does not have a proper definition for its identity. He also delivered his idea that a true community is not decided by its identity, but by its vision. Similar idea was also brought forward by one of our heritage leader from Singapore, Charmaine, “that ASEAN move towards a shared-vision, rather than a shared-identity.”

When the time came to discuss ethnic, national, and ASEAN identity, every participant voiced their mind. One participant’s idea, from my friend Isti Toq’ah, was particularly interesting for me. She believed that it is important to highlight the fact that ethnic identity cannot be changed and is difficult to deny. For example, I am half-Acehnese and half-Javanese and I cannot change this factas it was inherited since I was born.  This led to the next question, what is national identity?

Indonesia was seen to have a strong national identity as was pointed out by my fellow participants during the event. That understanding was based by our definition of national identity as the union of ethnic groups, recognized by a single citizenship status and sharing the same vision as a country. However a unique perspective came from Malaysia, a multi-ethnic country. They stated that from wherever and whoever you are, as long as you love the country, being proud of one’s nationality, then you have that national identity of that particular country. However, even with that understanding of identity, the many differences between ASEAN countriescan still understandably raise a question, “If we are that different with one another, why should we form a regional community?”

If your answer is to better compete on a global level, you might be right but not one hundred percent right. If so, then why should we include Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia? According to World Economic Forum (WEF) those countries are still building their nascent financial system which led them to not even be a part of The Financial Development Index 2012 rankings tabulation. And why should Singapore join this regional association in the first place? Singapore ranked 4th on the tabulation as this country possesses highly developed financial system which is complemented by a good legal and regulatory framework. Singapore is just too far ahead from most ASEAN countries. There is such a stark contrast in term of economic development within ASEAN.Nevertheless, these ten countries decided to still form a community and start the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI)  and IAI Work Plans to narrow the gap.

Even with so many differences we have more similarities. As Indonesians we might be different to Vietnamese or Cambodians, most of us never even visit their countries or truly know their customs and traditions.Neverthelessas we getting toknow each other better, we will find that there are similarities between our countries and nations. Most of us eat rice, play similar games, and sing similar tunes. And personally, I was quite surprised tofound that Thai cuisine has that is familiar to Indonesian cuisine. Maybe it is because of those similarities that I automatically feel more comfortable mingling around my ASEAN friends.

My experience shows that not only our geographic,political, and economic factors that are important, but our similarities in tradition and culture also play core part in binding ASEAN countries together. The shared-valuesamong countries hadpreviously led solidarity to come upon during its initial stage. And now, it is important that we should not leave anycountry behind, and instead we shall move together as a strong integrated regional community.

Sometimes the countries within ASEAN seem so divergent that integration seems to be difficult to construct. However,   solidarity between countries can be a start to build a melting pot between countries. ASEAN citizens are encouraged to own the feeling of solidarity over each other. This feeling can lead to active participation by the ASEAN citizens towards the ASEAN community itself. Indeed, the vision of bringing the community to the prosperity, peace, and harmony is impossible with each ASEAN countries standing alone.

In 2015, ASEAN community will be formed, and a new identity as ASEAN citizens will be a part of our daily lives. Some people see it as a threat to our national identity.I believe it is because they donot comprehend ASEAN well enough. The idea of integrated community is not to eraseour true identity, butto enrichour identities itself. The vast gathering of manytraditions and cultures that belongs to individual ethnicitiesdistributed across ASEAN countries is the identity of ASEAN. Once we lose this rich understanding of identity, we lose ourASEAN. Our role as citizens are important because who else can define and construct the identity if not its own people? This is the reason why protecting and preserving our cultures and traditions are important to all of us, because now we are all ASEAN Citizens.


Written by Muhammad Iqhrammullah

Student of Chemical Science Department, Syiah Kuala University


15 December 2014

Knowing Our Identity in 2015: My Experience in AYVP

From 11th August-15th September 2014, 50 youths from across ASEAN countries came together to try their best to settle the problem of heritage issuesduring a gathering in Malaysia.

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