“From the Maharani programme, I learned about taking care of my body, physically as well as health-wise. I learned about personal hygiene and positive body image. We also learned about good touch and bad touch and the boundaries for a relationship with a boy,” she said.“These are things no one spoke to me about, I am glad we have someone to teach us about this,” she said. As she has to stay at the YWCA hostel till she finishes her one-year course, Vanessa misses her family. “I always think of what they will be doing at home. I know they miss me too as we are always together,” she said. “Every time I go back home during breaks, I will go back to the daycare centre to work so that I can make some money for my family,” she added. Vanessa is part of the group of girls from YWCA KL’s Vocational Training Opportunity Centre (VTOC) who are being trained under the Maharani programme as part of a partnership between RYTHM Foundation and YWCA KL. Through the Maharani programme, the girls learn about gender equality, sexual and reproductive health, ethnicity and culture and the importance of physical and spiritual wellness, giving them the tools to develop into confident, responsible and civic-minded women.
The eldest of three siblings, Yee Huei Thung, 18 who prefers to be called Vanessa, loves make-up and is currently doing a beautician course at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Kuala Lumpur. Vanessa has learnt to be independent and responsible from an early age. “My father is a taxi driver and my mother works at an accounting firm. Due to the nature of my father’s job, we hardly see him at home. He works very hard to provide for us all,” she said. To lessen her family’s burden, Vanessa started working at a daycare centre at the age of 13. “The centre is owned by my mother’s friend and she got me the job to help my family. I was paid RM20 per hour and I would teach the three-year-old kids nursery rhymes and basics such as colours and alphabets,” she said. Vanessa was not academically-inclined and failed all the subjects in her high school examination. But she was happy to enroll in YWCA’s beautician course and become a participant in the Maharani programme.