“When the Maharani programme was first introduced in Sungai Siput, it was tough to convince the parents to let their daughters attend the camps as they were very protective of them since they didn’t know what to expect,” he said.“Fortunately, the parents know both my wife and I very well and trust us, as we are school teachers who have been living here for more than nine years. In fact, the students would come over to our house to study or do their homework if their home environment was not conducive for peace and quiet,” he said. The parents’ trust and confidence in the couple helped Jegatheesan persuade them to send their daughters to join the Maharani camps. “Many of the girls are from poor and broken families and some had serious attitude and discipline problems. After the camp, many of the parents gave us positive feedback and spoke about the obvious changes in the girls who now had a better attitude and outlook to life. The girls were also able to set ambition and goals in life,” he said. He said even years later, some of the girls who participated in the camps would talk to him about the positive things they had learned at the camp.
“I am happy that I was able to contribute to the growth of these girls. The camps gave me great satisfaction and the girls treated me like a father, often referring to me as appa or acha, which was very touching especially because I don’t have children of my own,” he said.Soon, the boys at the SMK Methodist, Sungai Siput (U) where Jegatheesan teaches, began asking for their own camp. “The boys kept telling me that it was unfair that only girls were given the chance to participate in camps and asked to conduct one for them. We finally gathered some teachers and organised a one-day camp for the boys,” he recalled. “Maharani is a good platform for students and parents to gain awareness of the importance of education. Education is not just about academic qualifications but a tool to become better individuals in their lives. It was also a good exposure for the girls who had never been to any such camps in their lives,” he said.
“It is very rare to find this kind of initiative aimed at helping out the marginalised segments of our society. The programme also received good support from teachers, parents and other relevant organisations,” he said.The Maharani programme, initiated in Malaysia by RYTHM Foundation in 2010, has helped over 7,500 girls from poor and marginalised communities. It provides the girls, aged 13 to 16, with the skills and knowledge to enable them to achieve their full potential. Through the Maharani programme, girls learn about gender, sexual and reproductive health; ethnicity; culture, and the importance of physical and spiritual wellness. This gives them the tools to develop into confident, responsible and civic-minded women and members of society. This article is part of the series to share the journey of Maharani’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2020.