GEORGE TOWN, July 24 — While he is well known for his consumer advocacy work, Datuk Anwar Fazal is also involved in many organisations and issues.
This amiable 75-year-old has founded over a dozen local and global citizens networks covering a whole host of issues from baby food to pesticides to breastfeeding.
Though he studied business management at University of Malaya, Anwar has a deep passion for geography, a subject that he believes is connected to everything in the world from weather to social politics to even astronomy. Career-wise, he has been an economics teacher, worked in the City Council of George Town among other jobs and also served for 12 years in the United Nations.
Today he is the chairman of Think City, the director of The Right Livelihood College — a platform that brings together 160 winners of The Right Livelihood Award from over 60 countries — and a whole host of other organisations.
Due to his advocacy work, Anwar himself is a Right Livelihood Award recipient, popularly known as the “alternative Nobel Prize” and a multitude of other awards.
Anwar sat down with us for a chat about his life and passions.
In his own words:
I grew up in a small town called Taiping which means “everlasting peace.” Growing up in that town was personally special... it had a world-class lake garden, a mountain to climb, a wetlands forest area and aeroplanes. I took my first plane ride in 1953 to attend my cousin’s wedding in Kelantan. Can you imagine there was a direct flight from Taiping to Kota Baru in 1953?
Growing up, the one subject that was my strength all the time, the one that taught me most was geography. So, if you are a geographer, you are interested in climate, you are interested in climate geography, you are interested in economic geography, the whole history of geo-politics and so on... the history of coffee, the history of tea and how foods move.
I once picked up a book thrown away by the British military and it was a handbook on meteorology, how lucky I was. I grew up reading that book and I became like a specialist on climate. When I finished Penang Free School, after Form Five, the headmaster interviewed us, I said I wanted to be meteorologist. He told me, “I’m sorry young man, you can’t, you are in the wrong stream, you are in the Arts stream, to be a meteorologist, you have to study physics.” Just like this my first ambition in life vanished but never mind.. I’m interested in everything.
My second lesson is when I finished Sixth Form and I was among those with the best results in Penang Free School and I applied for scholarship and I didn’t get a single scholarship. This is the reality of the world, sometimes unjust. My father had to borrow money to send me to university. Then I got a letter at the end of the first year from the university that I was awarded the senior university scholarship which was awarded to the best student in the faculty. I didn’t even know there was such a scholarship.
My philosophy in life? You do the best and good things will come your way. I’m a very positive person, I have hundreds of things still to do in life. I’m not going to waste time and energy on negativity. I’ve got books to read, new organisations to be part of... I share interesting lessons from my many journeys.
I started the Consumers Association of Penang in 1969 and we were looking for a president. I was in government, I couldn’t be the spokesperson so I asked (S.M) Idris... he asked me what is this consumers association. I told him we needed a president. His first reaction was, “What is this, about shopping? You should get a woman to be president, this is consumers, it’s all about shopping isn’t it.” I told him, no, it’s different.
After the first year, he got so involved and over five years I shared with him to a whole range of local and global issues, not just value about money but also value about people and the value about the environment. He then spent his whole life in it. In three years’ time, it will be 50 years he’s in that organisation.
I was an advocate for breastfeeding because breastmilk is the first food. We look and see how the whole natural way was completely undermined by persons who wanted to make money. Women were caught in a trap, one, their whole support system were undermined and, two, the products are there.
It’s convenient, it’s Western, all tins had white babies on them. You know, now, no pictures of babies are allowed on infant formula tins... it’s because of our campaign. We fought for it, we got an international code. I was a breastfed baby. If we want to talk about crimes against humanity, the undermining of breastfeeding is one of the biggest crimes that I would include in my list of sins against humanity.
This year, I’m working on 75 things to do on my 75th birthday. One of the things I plan to do is the Penang diary, a this day in Penang diary. To use the occasion, such as “This day, one of the best short story writers Lee Kok Liang, died” and then we have a little bit information about him. Or “This day, Francis Light landed” or “This day, riots happened in Penang in 1967” because we are forgetting such things and I’m a person, who in my total kind of thinking, I always look at things as a stream from the past to the future.
I believe in the power of the dead, the power of remembrance. When we do this story of the dead, they remind you of the struggles, of what was possible, of the great things that were done without technology. History and dates are very important. I’m enjoyably busy with my 75 years of age, I have four grandchildren. I’ve decided to give 75 people something. For my birthday, I don’t want to get presents. I am giving gifts to 75 people. I enjoy being a multiversity. A change maker.