Friday, August 6, 2010


It was Monday morning, and I rolled out of bed WAY late for my 11 am class (yes, I'm aware that it's a late class, but heck, late class means sleeping later and waking up later, no?). Then I remembered that I wasn't having a class because my Gender Identities lecturer had invited a guest speaker to give a talk about women empowerment, and it would be held significantly further away from my hostel than my usual class was.. Which meant that I would be EVEN LATER, since I had to walk further. FML

Got there just before the talk started, thank god. The speaker was Chong Sheau Ching, the former columnist for The Star: You may remember her, she wrote the 'Stories for My Mother' column every Monday.

Anyway, she wasn't there to talk about her days as a columnist. She told us about how her husband left her, jobless and with a 2 year old, for her friend. She told us about how the depression almost drove her to suicide. She told us how she was alone and ostracised by her family for being 'chucked out' by her husband, and for her decision to not get a 'proper' job because she wanted to care for her child.

Then she talked about her project, e-Homemakers, with which she reaches out to the women in society who are alone in the world, who struggle to make ends meet, and who are considered 'handicapped' or 'a burden'. 

But I don't want to just talk about Ms. Chong, fantastic speaker and all-round inspirational woman though she is. You see, she brought a woman with her - Justina - who is one of the organization's success stories. Justina is both bipolar and a SLE patient. She, like Ms Chong, had been ostracised by her family and on top of everything, had almost no money. Ill, unwanted, and broke, she attempted suicide twice (suicide is illegal in Malaysia, by the way) and almost ended up locked up in Tanjung Rambutan. 

If my life was anything like that, I would've just lain down, waiting to die.

But Justina came out of it, and is now working with e-Homemaker's Salaam Wanita branch, where they make baskets for sale. 

In adherence to the Fair Trade stipulations, everything is non-toxic (even the shellac!). The basket I bought was RM12, which is very reasonable, considering that they have to source for paper of a particular colour in order to make the basket. The women weave art in a practical form, which is amazing given the fact that they are mostly underprivileged, and until e-Homemakers, had no skills that they could market. 

You know, there was one part of Justina's speech (yes, she was a speaker too, but only spoke for a few minutes, detailing her background and how e-Homemakers helped her turn her life around which was a bit propaganda-ish to me but it was a real eye-opener nonetheless) that really got to me. She looked me right in the eye, this cheaply dressed, middle-aged woman who had almost nothing in life and said 
"Life is good."

She continued, "You are really lucky - you have health, youth, education and a family. Please treasure everything you have, and hug your parents when you see them."

And I couldn't help it - I started tearing up. It was really embarrassing but I really terasa because I always take everything for granted and there are times I've been harsh towards my parents (and I can be pretty darn caustic when I'm really riled up) and there is a woman whose own family members wouldn't accept her disabilities, telling me to love mine.

Thanks Justina for helping me put things in perspective.


Liz ^^, said...

Why is this making me tear up too???? :'(