Empowering girls: Maharani camp prepares girls to lead
The quiet night at a camp set up in a remote area of Kuala Kubu Bharu, a small town in Selangor, Malaysia became alive as some 50 young girls gathered for their night walk.
“It was about 10pm, really dark and I could not see much of where we were headed. There was no torchlight and we only had the moon light as a guide. We had to watch where we were going and rely one hundred percent on the instructions given by the facilitators,” one of the girls, How Suh Yiun said.
“In my mind, I kept thinking that I might spot a snake or accidentally step on it, but luckily I did not see any,” she said.
Sun Yiun was among the young girls from Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) who were part of the Maharani programme, which targets young women from marginalised communities in Malaysia. The camp at Kuala Kubu Bharu was the third phase of the programme which focusses on leadership.
As the girls gathered around for lunch which comprised of vegetarian meal of stir-fried cabbage, lentil curry, appalam and spicy tofu which the participants cooked themselves, each had a story to share.
“My mother is a single mom who works as a security guard to provide for us. I hope to complete my studies and work as a hair dresser to help support my family,” K. Pavithra, 16 said.
An indigenous (Orang Asli) girl Amisha Rudin who also aspires to become a hair dresser said the Maharani programme gave her the opportunity to meet people outside her community.
“I made a lot of friends through this programme, people of different races and religions,” said Amisha who is from Kuala Betis, Kelantan.
“I learned about first aid, what to do when someone is hurt. That was very informative for me,” the 18-year-old said.
Another indigenous girl Rohani Yok Mis who came from a family of 12 siblings said she hoped to pick up tips on survival from the camp.
“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow older. I have not decided. Maybe with this camp and the guidance given, I can decide better,” the 18-year-old said.
Another girl, V. Nitiyah, 20 said she was excited about the camp and the activities when she found out about it from a YWCA counsellor.
“I have always wanted to roll on mud and get dirty. I had applied for the national service training programme after finishing school but I was not selected. So, I am really happy with Maharani, I get to do all that activities at the camp.
“If I were to talk about this 20 years later, I will definitely remember the games we played outdoor and the people who were with me here. I really enjoyed this experience,” said the youngest of five siblings.
There was never an idle moment during the three days of camp, said Tiffany Chong, 18, from Masai, Johor.
“I am studying to become a beautician and I have started doing facials and manicures for RM5 to RM10. Through Maharani, I learned to mingle with the other girls who share similar interest. The activities are fun and I participated in all of them,” she said.
C. Subhadra Devi, 18 said she had only finished her Form 3 education and dreams of becoming a beautician.
“I grew up in an orphanage home. The camp activities and programme teaches me on surviving out there in the world and helping me to achieve what I want,” she said.
While most of them were eager to talk, some preferred to stay quiet.
“The programme is good, I like it,” said one of them, who quickly pulled her hand from a handshake to cover old, cut wounds on her wrist area.
Programme coordinator M. Krishna Kumari who started off as a volunteer for Maharani said most of the young girls there came with personal issues such as abuse and neglect.
“In many cases, the girls have been suppressing their anger, hurt and sadness for so many years that some turn rebellious and bitter later. These girls respond very
well to the programme and we see a lot of positive changes in them after taking them under our wing,” said Krishna.
For someone who did not have a good support system at home, T. Yogeletchumy, 17 said Maharani coordinators were helpful in guiding and charter their lives into a better direction.
“Ms Krisha for example, spent a lot of time talking to me, advising and helping me to make better decisions. I know I have been angry in the past but I am learning to become a better person now,” she said.
“All my life, I hear family members saying that I will not go far in life, or that I will be a bad apple because of the kind of people I spend time with. The programme coordinators helped me realise that I have choices, and that I can be whoever I want to be.
“I know now what I want and how to be the person I want to be. I believe I can go far in life, with everything I have learned from Maharani,” she added.