Social activist Mangles looks back at her days with the girls from the Maharani programme, back in 2017 when she was among those instrumental in revamping the programme and the way the camps were run.
“I was brought in to create a new module for the Maharani programme, something that is more gender-sensitive in nature and to address the gaps in the previous module,” she said.
“We also wanted to have our own set of trainers, equip them to train and guide young girls to express themselves and dream big.
During one of the camps that she supervised in Klang, Selangor, Mangles was shocked to find the influence of street gangs among some of the girls.
“One of the girls was bragging about the gang that she belonged to and this soon prompted another girl who is from a rival gang to start an argument about which gang was better. Soon the group split into two and the situation escalated quickly and we had to intervene,” she said.
The girls were from Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang, two areas notorious for their rival secret societies.
“The cold war between the two girls continued to the second day when physical activities were carried out as part of the camp. One of the activities involved crossing a small water body. One of the girls from gang A tried to swing on the monkey bar but failed and fell into the water. She was reluctant to try again and refused to cross over,” Mangles recalls.
“Then expectantly, a girl from the rival group got into the water and told the girl to climb on her shoulder and cross over. Everyone was shocked but the episode became a turning point for all the girls as they began to leave behind their issues and started to interact more freely,” she said.
Mangles met the same batch of girls in the third phase of the camp.
“On the first day of the third phase camp, we held a sharing session where we encourage the girls to speak about their personal experiences, feelings, achievements and failures. During the session, the girl from the original argument spoke about her earlier desire in life which was to participate in illegal motorbike racing and to die in a road accident before she turned 21 years of age.
“She said she only knew about illegal racing and dying young as that was the environment she grew up in. But, after joining the Maharani programme, she realised there was more to life and decided to do something meaningful with her life. She also shared that her change in behaviour has even surprised her mother,” Mangles says.
Mangles recalls that the batch of girls in 2017 Maharani programme mostly came from troubled backgrounds and lived in areas where the influence of street gangs was high.
“With three camps, we were able to change the girls’ behaviours and outlook towards life. We cannot blame them for who they became because they did not have the right role models to begin with. And because of their backgrounds, nobody looked out for them or provided guidance,” she said.
“I am glad that I was part of the process to bring changes in the girls’ lives,” she added.
The aim of first phase of the Maharani camp is to help the girls identify their dreams and change their perspective. In the second phase camp the focus is on physical activities and the third phase camp is focused on leadership building.