[Event Coverage] Choi Siwon and Lisa Surihani talk cyberbullying and kindness at surprise school visit

The students of SMK Tinggi Kajang had a massive surprise when K-pop superstar and actor Choi Siwon (of Super Junior fame) and Malaysian sweetheart, actress Lisa Surihani turned up at their school on 28 June 2019.

During the private event, the two UNICEF ambassadors had both teachers and students (and some who were neither) screaming at the top of their lungs when they visited the school as part of the nationwide #StandTogether campaign that supports UNICEF’s goals to End Violence Against Children.

Answering questions about how to promote kindness and their own experiences of bullying, Siwon (in English and through a translator) acknowledged being cyber-bullied in the past, and even now – but that he chooses to forgive netizens instead of getting angry.

“As a celebrity, we expect negative comments online. I try not to judge the people behind these comments, and instead try to understand them. They don’t know the real me and perhaps they are scared, or going through something. Instead of getting upset, my solution is to forgive them,” said Siwon, UNICEF’s Special Representative from the Korean National Committee.

The Sorry Sorry hitmaker cited his parents as his role models when it came to being kind, saying that they always understood him.

When asked if he had ever bullied anyone, the My Fellow Citizens actor said that rather than bullying, he usually bothers/annoys his staff with constant requests to do good (Siwon has been busy traveling around Asia since 2010 for UNICEF).

“I always say ‘Let’s change the world’ and they always reply ‘The world has changed a lot already!'” he laughed.

Lisa, UNICEF National Ambassador in Malaysia, was also asked whether she had ever faced discrimination in the film industry as an actress, and the audience was relieved to find out that she hadn’t.

“In the Malaysian industry, thankfully no. Rather than gender bias, I would say getting casted depends on how relevant you are – however I know that overseas there is a lot of gender bias within the industry,” said Lisa.

The actress (who recently returned from the Hajj) urged schoolchildren to live in harmony, chase their dreams and ambitions, and to lead future generations with kindness.

She also talked about her experience with cyber-bullying, saying that she normally experienced it whenever netizens took offense at certain words in her social media posts.

“There are different levels of hurt and anger – we’re all human. In the beginning I let these words hurt me, but as time passed I grew stronger. Some of these comments are meant to cause hurt and provoke a response – should I allow it to activate a chain reaction (or hurt) or just nip it in the bud?” said Lisa, adding that she deletes and blocks such people.

“I think we have the choice as to whether we want to live positively or negatively, and I believe it should always be positive,” she said, adding that people shouldn’t judge those who choose not to wear the hijab.

“I hope that you view the term ‘hijab’ in a wider context, and that you are kind in thoughts and words.”

The two cracked jokes during the students’ Q&A session, taking selfies with each student and even a wefie with the whole crowd. They also watched SMK Tinggi Kajang students perform a short play about bullying (although some girls were paying more attention to Siwon).

Later on when it was time for the media session, students eagerly followed Siwon and Lisa as far as they could, crowding outside the door of the media room, phones in hand, for a chance to spot their idols.

Talking to reporters, Siwon said UNICEF was a great way of raising his voice to the world and was grateful for all the work he was able to do with them.

“The Super Junior members always ask me, ‘Can you help me first instead of helping the world?'” he joked.

On a more serious note, he said the #Standtogether campaign was important in instilling kindness in the next generation, and urged everyone to do their best to make the world a better place.

Lisa agreed, adding that the number of bullying cases in Malaysia (both online and offline) have skyrocketed in recent years.

“We need to provide a safe environment online and offline for children, and I’m happy to see how big this campaign has become, and how motivated the schoolchildren are.”

Launched in 2018 by the award-winning R.AGE team and SP Setia Foundation, with the support of UNICEF, Digi, IMU Teach For Malaysia, Study Hub Asia and the 100% Project, #StandTogether has seen over 2,250 students from 750 schools across Malaysia organising “Kindness Projects”.

Various celebrities have taken part in surprising students at their schools, promoting a culture of kindness. Who knows, perhaps Siwon will turn up at your school next!

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