Many might associate the name Charles Mohan with NTV7’s news, but the journalist has been carving a name for himself in another area over the past five years, humanity.

Charles sits down with Varnam to talk about his journey through media that has taken him to serve his true purpose, a life of service.

“I’m from just another Indian Catholic family in Klang,”

Charles reveals that he comes from very humble beginnings. His father was a lineman in Telekom and his mother, a housewife. “My background is very very simple,” he says. “I studied in Klang up to Form 6 and then went on to pursue mass communications in Universiti Malaya,”

Charles tells us that he was lucky because the moment he graduated, he began his career with NTV7 in 1999. “I was interviewed by NTV7 and they immediately hired me as a junior broadcast journalist. I then went on to become the assistant assignment editor who also anchored the news,”

But he never imagined he would be appearing on millions of Malaysians’ television screens every evening. “I’ve always had a yearning to work in television, but I just assumed I would end up behind the scenes. I didn’t expect to end up a front liner!” he gushes.

“I noticed that I had a chance to champion the plight of people, to highlight cases of those who need help,”

Charles says that it has been a real learning curve for him. “I learnt a lot, being a broadcast journalist, I got the chance to put myself in front of many prominent figures,” Charles has interviewed numerous Malaysian figures including Tun Mahathir, Datuk Lee Chong Wei and the late Nik Aziz.

A sudden realization dawned on Charles. “I noticed that I had a chance to champion the plight of people, to highlight cases of those who need help,” As a result of his efforts, he began seeing many success cases. Charles learnt something valuable. “Life becomes very meaningful when you change another’s life for the better,”

“Life becomes very meaningful when you change another’s life for the better,”

Charles was hooked onto the sweet nectar of service. “After some time, I longed to start my own non governmental organization (NGO) to help even more people. “In 2014, my dreams came into fruition with Institut Onn Jaafar,” Charles is the CEO of Institut Onn Jaafar (IOJ), and helms their office based in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Institut Onn Jaafar – Soup kitchen by day, learning centre by night.

IOJ runs their Jom Bekpes programme every Wednesday. “It is a breakfast soup kitchen. We currently serve 250 students from Sekolah Bimbingan Jalinan Kasih, Keren Myanmar refugee home, and children at the Pusat Transit Gelandangan,” This same system has been adopted by Univerisiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, according to Charles.

“Every Friday evening, our Chow Kit office is transformed into learning centre. We collect the children from the back lanes of Chow Kit, and university students come in to teach the them basic subjects like English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mathematics,”

IOJ has a tie up with 68 universities across the nation, and has been conducting programs with the support of the students, according to Charles.

“Largest participation of youths in a run,”

“IOJ organizes a bi-annual run, the Malaysians United Run. In 2015, the run hosted 17,000 participants. Two years later a whopping 40,000 participants took part in the run. This was recognised by Brand Laureate as the Largest Participation of Youths in a Run. With the funds raised, IOJ allocated RM 250,000 towards 50 needy families who come under the purview of various universities,”

“We channel the funds to the university who then deploy their students to keep the cases under view. This is so we can empower our university students to be guides for the children, and it is also easier to mobilize the volunteers. We are then presented with a report at the end of every visit,” Charles tells us.

However, it was not easy at the start. “I went to register the NGO, and the authorities asked for the family of the late Onn Jaafar’s approval,” Luckily, Charles had maintained a good relationship with Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin bin Hussein. “I approached Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin and he gave me the green light. We also decided to appoint him as the patron of Institut Onn Jaafar,”

“When you do good things, that itself will make more noise than the naysayers,”

Of course, naming the NGO after a former Prime Minister and then appointing a political figure as a patron will lead to whispers about IOJ being politically motivated. Charles, however, doesn’t give two hoots. “When you do good things, that will make more noise than the naysayers,”

“Any establishment will always have an anti-establishment.

“Any establishment will always have an anti-establishment. I cannot be responsible for what people think. To those questioning us, you can judge us based on our programmes, how it is run, and the outcome of it. It is for this very reason that numerous universities across the nation have a tremendously strong bond with us.

If I do take it the political slant, I would be cheating myself,” Charles continues. “If I need to choose between going on with this or going to the political way, I wont hesitate to leave,”

“It all began with RM15 in Klang,”

So how did all this philanthropy start, we ask Charles. “When I started working, I would contribute monthly to the Good Samaritan home in Klang. I couldn’t afford much then, just about RM15 to RM30 every month,”

The same children Charles supported are all grown up now. “The children are now flight stewards, nurses, accountants and lawyers, and I share a strong bond with the these kids, because I have seen their struggles first hand,”

“It is very interesting to see such a small contribution changing their lives at a much larger scale. It is so special to celebrate the achievements of these children who are now successful adults,”

“Everyone does good, it’s just that we are on different scales. Ultimately, the scale itself doesn’t matter, as long as you know that you are helping someone out,”

“My bond with NTV7 is very strong,”

“To be frank, I wouldn’t have had the skill and aptitude to manage IOJ without my experience with NTV7. My bond with them is very strong,” Charles tells us that he has been approached by other media outlets, but he knows where his heart lies. “I want to stay with this station, this is where I started, and it has taught me everything i know,”

The changing media trends in Malaysia

Due to Charles’ long stint in journalism, he is able to see the change in media trends with the change of each premier. “Before the change of government, government linked companies that owned media outlets blatantly used them as weapons to further strengthen the position of political leaders. It was a very controlled setting,”

“The changes that came with May 9th 2018 are many. News is finally reported as it is. Even my journalist friends are happy as they are ‘free’,”

“I hope the media industry players understand that with this freedom comes responsibility,”

But Charles doesn’t want this newfound freedom to wreak new havoc. “I hope the media industry players understand that with this freedom comes responsibility,” Charles is candid about the field. “Of course, we need to take into consideration that ultimately, media is showbiz. And henced is something that needs to balance financial stability with the output,”

“It goes without saying that sensational news sells, but it isn’t right to take take someone’s lowest point to sell your news,”

“It’s not always about increasing the ratings,” Charles warns journalists not to be swooned by the viral craze everyone is looking for. “Don’t fall into those traps. News needs to be treated as news. It goes without saying that sensational news sells, but it isn’t right to take take someone’s lowest point to sell your news. Not only is that a weak angle, but it also shows that the journalist isn’t doing their best at their job,”

“Why not take a spin on it, don’t you want something interesting to go viral, instead of just taking a half truth and spinning a story based on one line?”

“Journalists are the fourth pillar of the nation, after the executive, legislative and judiciary,”

“Journalists are the fourth pillar of the nation, after the executive, legislative and judiciary.  You are responsible to the people, people who don’t even know you will be listening to you. Shouldn’t you be giving them the most accurate info?” he questions.

His book, Sebenarnya

“Sebenarnya is my first book, It took me 6 months to finish with the writer. It is actually a compendium of my anecdotes with the personalities that I have met,”

“Tun Samy Vellu is one of the personalities in my book, and i talk about a side of him that people would not know. Sebenarnya is an easy read. You can have a coffee while reading it and have a laugh. It’s very ‘santai’,” Charles tells us that he is looking into translating Sebenarnya into English, and he is working on another book.

“Children and the elderly are my passion, but I am not a person who loves kids,”

Charles handing out ang paus during the Jom CNY celebration

“I’m not a person who loves kids and looks forward to playing with them. Instead, I’m more of the architect who enjoys designing programmes for them. As for the elderly, I easily connect with them. I understand that a programme with a good structure will benefit both these groups in the long run,”

“No need to go on a mission to Palestine or India, start by helping your parents and siblings,”

When asked for some advice for the Malaysian youth, Charles is quick to reply, “Charity and loyalty starts at home. You don’t need to travel far to help people, start by helping your parents and siblings. If you have a heart to do that at home, you will shine in the outside world,”

“When you have empathy for your family, you will have the empathy for people everywhere. And honestly, there is no point changing the lives of people in another country when the people in your house aren’t happy!

“Set your priorities, live happy and make people happy,”

“It is sad that Malaysians are still divided by race,”

“We only appear to be Malaysian cosmetically, for advertisements. But do you really cultivate the value of being Malaysian? Even our Prime Minister has said that we need to stop addressing ourselves by race, and start calling ourselves Malaysian instead.

We only appear to be Malaysian cosmetically, for advertisements.

“There is a need to give chances to people everywhere, without oppression, so everyone has an equal opportunity for greatness,” Charles tells us. “For me, I don’t care what race I am serving, I just want to serve humans.

“The more I earn, the more I need to give back,”

Charles is humbled by his current position. “Honestly, I never imagined having my own NGO. And my thinking is just this – the more I earn, the more I need to give back,”

Charles mentioned that he looks up to Mahatma Gandhi. And sure enough, he embodies Gandhi’s famous saying, be the change you want to see. Charles Mohan is the change he aspires to see in every Malaysian.

Keep up with Charles’ activities on Instagram here.

If you’d like to volunteer or contribute to Insititut Onn Jaafar, drop them a message on Facebook here, and they will be in touch with you.