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The Z List: Sherry Amin on the power of authenticity and empathy in activism

Sherry Amin helms SKRLWN, the non-profit volunteering society that seeks to inspire change within the nation, whether small or big, and to prove ‘Gen Z’ naysayers wrong. Meet The Z List 2022, spirited humanitarian Sherry Amin. 

Oh, to be young and politically-charged… that’s the life that 24-year-old youth activist Sherry Amin leads. Having formed the SKRLWN Volunteering Society back when the pandemic first struck, Sherry is more than devoted to helping the world heal, along with the help of people who share this passion with her. After all, we are the world’s dwellers — and so, Sherry presents the question: who better to take care of it, than ourselves?

“I think in life, everything is a collective experience,” Sherry says, of community. “Whatever it is you’re experiencing, chances are someone out there is experiencing the exact same thing. So, I love to do things where there is a community feel. I love teamwork. Even through the trips that the SKRLWN team creates and the events we organise, I love meeting new people. It just feels good. You feel like you can find yourself in a lot of different people.”

A fun fact about Sherry is that she used to be a competitive figure skater up to the age of 18. “I stopped when I got into boys,” she jokes. “Just kidding! I did join competitions and all that, but I wouldn’t say I was super great. I just enjoyed it.”

Spurred on by her family’s background — her grandfather was a politician, and her mother a lawyer — Sherry went on to do politics in university. Social sciences has always been something she was interested in, but she admits that the journey has been a struggle. The jump from a diploma in communications to the world of politics has been a big one, and it intimidated her in the beginning — which is why Sherry considers finishing her degree with a top grade being her biggest life achievement to date.

“It was a difficult process for me, because I had a lot of personal issues that came up during my degree,” Sherry opens up. “At one point, I considered dropping out. So, when I finally got my degree and graduated, I felt so good. It was touch-and-go for a while there, so the fact that I made it is incredible to me. I’m still very proud of myself for that.”

During university, Sherry also got involved in Model UN with her friends; though hesitant at first, she realised it was very exciting. She found her calling through the topics they discussed, such as global environmental issues and human rights issues. “I love topics like those. It’s all so much broader than I expected. I think what drove me to study politics was the hope that I could do something to help people. I was exposed to a lot of morally strong people, like my mum and my granddad, so I just wanted to be able to do something as impactful as they have.”

Sherry Amin
“When you study something that involves learning about every nation in the world, you come to realise that a lot of the world’s problems are man-made, and sometimes their solutions can be man-made too.”

On her dedication to helping the community

The SKRLWN Volunteering Society is a ‘pandemic-born baby’; it was first created in 2020, and its name, ‘SKRLWN’, is derived from the Malay word ‘sukarelawan’, which means ‘volunteer’. It was formed with the sole intent of bridging the gap between volunteers and organisations, regardless of the size, cause and number of years of establishment — which means SKRLWN doesn’t limit itself when it comes to the cause.

Since the pandemic, the organisation has been tackling as many issues as the movement control orders have allowed, but the team does intend to pace themselves. This year, SKRLWN has three events coming up, all centred around the local environment: sustainable fishing, working with the Orang Asli community, and wildlife shelter. One of SKRLWN’s first successful campaigns was when it joined forces with the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) for the Children’s Home of Hope movement, which seeks to provide accommodation for children with cancer.

Before SKRLWN was formed, Sherry expresses that she has always wanted to create a volunteering organisation, because she came to realise the growing demand for volunteers from local non-profit organisations, as well as an interest among the youths to volunteer.

“The idea was always there, but I never got around doing it,” Sherry says. “Then COVID-19 happened, and I was forced to come back to Malaysia — I realised there wasn’t much I could do here. I has a lot of time on my hands, so a bunch of my friends and I got together and created all these little events. And by the time we know it, it eventually grew into something bigger!”

With SKRLWN, Sherry also wants to capture a feeling she treasured very much in her youth. Her love for the sense of community first sparked when she began doing volunteer work during her schooldays, and so she aims to recreate that same enthusiasm, especially since the youths of the newer generations have become more inclined to help the community.

“When you study something that involves learning about every nation in the world, you realise that there are so many problems that are man-made, and sometimes some solutions could be man-made too, you know. I guess in my head, it made things a little bit better,” she explains.

She also notices that when she puts something up on social media, she’d get a lot of people asking about it and whom they should contact. But she isn’t convinced that the volunteering culture in Malaysia is as big as she’d like it to be. The demand, however, is there. 

“With SKRLWN we want to create opportunities for people to volunteer. You know how when you were in school, you went on these field trips with your friends, and you learned about helping the community? That’s what I want to recreate in my adult life, too,” continues Sherry. 

“I think nothing is ever really personal. When people mistreat you, it’s never really about you. Most of the time, it’s usually their own experiences being projected onto you. Don’t take things personally, it helps in being positive.”

On ‘Gen Z’ versus the world

Sherry is the epitome of the ‘Gen Z’ fighter: pragmatic, valuing individualistic expression while still upholding a strong sense of community, and willing to mobilise herself for a variety of causes. What defines the current generation of young people is how politically progressive they are, and for good reason, as Sherry points out: “I believe our predecessors have created an environment where it’s difficult for young people to succeed. Compared to 30 or 40 years ago, the amount of work we have to do now just to be able to buy our own house is crazy. Back then, our parents and grandparents lived in their own bubble. Their own version of success was measured by those around them, which wasn’t much. Now, with social media, we see everything all the time. I think that’s why there are so many people who constantly feel lost, even in their 30s and 40s, because it’s become an art of comparison. That’s our struggle.”

Sherry also notes another stark difference between previous generations and the ‘Gen Z’ advocates of today, and the main factor is empathy. Trying to understand one another should be the basis of any kind of activism, yet things like Jim Crow laws in the US and segregation laws in various countries became the defining traits of generations past. With so many issues being brought to the forefront, especially with social media as a tool, people have learned to be more open about matters that would have been considered taboo in the past.

“I don’t think people were as considerate of each other back then,” Sherry quips. “I think now, everyone is able to look at each other as people, as human beings. Issues get highlighted more easily compared to back in the day, thanks to social media. I think people are able to relate to each other a lot better now. Plus, the sort of things that we do for a living today is so broad. It’s not just standard 9 to 5 corporate jobs anymore — we encourage each other to work in the creative field, and be more individualistic, and to find our own way. The generation that’s coming up is a lot more innovative, and I think it stems from the fact that we’re all able to look at each other as people now, compared to how it was 40 or 50 years ago.”

A common misconception that older adults tend to have about ‘Gen Z’, according to Sherry, is that they are politically apathetic, and she affirms that it couldn’t be further than the truth. If anything, she claims that young people care a lot more — just in a much different way than it had been done before. ‘Gen Z’ don’t love authority, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about how it affects them.

A lot of their efforts are being projected towards initiatives that are self-run instead of government-run, hence why Sherry chose to helm SKRLWN in the first place. People want to be able to trust who speaks for them, Sherry affirms, and the unfortunate truth of the matter is that youths of today have simply lost faith in the traditional way.

Sherry Amin in Hermès

On being a role model for young women who want to change the world

Who run the world? Girls, indeed! And Sherry certainly has one simple piece of advice to young women out there: keep it real.

There’s nothing better than being unapologetically yourself, and that’s what Sherry aims to do. “The one trait about me that I feel like people have noticed is that I have absolutely no shame. I’m very shameless,” Sherry quips. “When I come onto the set or when I do the work that I do, I always approach it with no ego. If I make mistakes, I own up to them. If I make a fool of myself, I enjoy it. So, I think that’s the best way that I can ‘influence’ other people — by encouraging them to be as human as possible.”

She continues: “With social media, everyone is always trying to project this idea of themselves. But I think the ‘realer’ you are, the more actual personality you have. And the more ‘you’ that you are, people will be able to relate to you a lot more.”

As someone who has established a strong social media presence and used its powers for good, Sherry breaks it down to its pros and cons. The main power of social media, according to her, is that it’s a lot easier to get the messages that you want out there, obviously. It opens up so many doors — especially if you’re seeking to get involved in the industry that she’s in, too.

Sherry recounts from experience that thanks to the connections she’s made through social media, she has found herself surrounded by many like-minded, creative people that she might not have been exposed to otherwise. The cons, however, extend to a nasty breach of privacy, and how easily the words you say or the actions you make can be misinterpreted. People assume a lot of things, Sherry affirms, but she believes it’s a drawback worth having if it means you’re able to influence people the right way.

Driven by her own will to ‘right the wrongs of her world’, Sherry presents herself to be difficult to offend. Criticism follows you wherever you go, so Sherry has a word or two to offer so you can keep your chin up: “I think nothing is ever really personal. When people mistreat you, it’s never really about you. Most of the time, it’s usually their own experiences being projected onto you. So, I don’t take things personally, and it helps in being positive. I just think that the keyword in my life is always, ‘Why not?’’ When I have these goals for myself and self-doubt comes along, the thoughts I have are always something like, ‘What makes me think I could do it? Why would it be me?’ But the thing is, why not? Who’s to say that I can’t?”

Moving forward, Sherry’s ready to get the full adult experience. Now that she’s out of uni, she’s just excited to see where the journey takes her in her career. Whether it’s content creation or fashion, music or art — she’s willing to try just about anything. “I don’t know where I’ll be in five years, but I think she’ll be really cool,” Sherry jokes. “I’m excited to see her!”

editor MARTIN TEO | interview PUTERI YASMIN SURAYA | creative ANDREW LOH | photography ERICJ LOO | makeup KEVIN LEE | hair CODY CHUA | wardrobe  HERMÈS

In its second year, The Z List continues to be a platform that celebrates outstanding Gen Z talents who are successful, influential, and remarkable in their respective fields. Together with our authoritative voice in digital media, we hope that The Z List will inspire other Gen Z stars in the making out there to live their best life, with purpose, grit, and authenticity.

Puteri Yasmin Suraya
Brand & Partnerships Writer
As a literature buff, Yasmin has a deep love for fiction and poetry. When she’s not writing or café-hopping, she enjoys binge-watching period romances, (badly) belting out show tunes, and curating Spotify playlists to match her mood for the week.
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