Maharani camps help Malaysian girls to come out of their comfort zone
Maharani camps, held in three phases, aims to instill in adolescent girls between the ages of 13 to 16, a sense of purpose, self-confidence and open their mind to possibilities allowing them to achieve their full potential.
S. Priyadarshini was a senior project executive with RYTHM Foundation (then known in Malaysia as Vijayaratnam Foundation) in 2010 when she was put in charge of one of the Maharani camps being held in Kulim, Kedah, a northern state in Malaysia.
“When we announced the programme and camps to school teachers, they were very receptive to the idea and eager to participate. The teachers were then put in charge of identifying the students to participate in the camps,” she said.
“What happened was the teachers mostly targeted those who were in the bottom of the class although that was not the criteria as it was supposed to be for those who are in the mid-range and needed a little encouragement.
“In the end, we had many students who came from broken homes and those with disciplinary issues,” she said adding that previously, those who had issues at home or at school would be referred to the school counsellors.
As a programme officer, Priyadarshini was put in charge of safety of the camp participants, their well-being, and food throughout their stay in the camp.
She conversed with the girls in English but since most of them were from the lower economic backgrounds with only basic understanding of the language, the girls were quiet in the beginning but they soon opened up after the physical activities.
“They understood what I was saying but were too shy to reply, but later they started talking and opening up after gaining more confidence,” she said.
Recalling the girls who came for the camps, Priyadarshini said many of them had passions and interests but they were left frustrated because of the lack of opportunities.
“The Maharani camps were aimed to serve as an eye-opener to these girls that there are bigger things in life and they should know that they can achieve them if they are on the right path,” she said.
She also recalled attending to a tall, big-boned girl who fractured her ankle during the jumping activity in the camp.
“She could not walk and one of the teachers had to take her to a clinic. The doctor who attended to her sent her back with crutches. A few months later, when I saw her again for the next phase of them camp, she had lost almost 10kg and was a healthier version of herself. The girl told me the camp helped her to lose weight after learning about healthy eating and physical exercises to keep fit,” Priyadarshini said.
Another unforgettable experience for Priyadarshini was having a set of twins as participants at a camp in Kulim, Kedah.
“I was instructing the girls to climb over the wall and one by one the girls did it until I saw the same girl twice. I went to her and asked her why was she still standing there while the rest of them have crossed over. That’s when she told me that she had a twin and it was the twin that had crossed over while she was still waiting for her turn,” she recalled with a laugh.
Getting the girls to join in physical activities in the camp was a challenge in the beginning as they had never been exposed to such training.
“We encouraged them to overcome their mental barriers. We used examples from nature to educate the girls about having self belief and facing obstacles,” she said.
The first day of the camp covered physical activities and games meant to serve as an ice-breaker and to get the girls who came from different schools to interact and open up. After that, the girls joined a motivation session where the coordinators helped them to reflect on their past and their parents’ sacrifices.
“The sessions were very intense and deep. We wanted the girls to do some sort of soul-searching. During the session, some would burst out crying, some became hysterical and there were also instances when they fainted. After they calmed down, we tell the girls to throw away the junk and negative things they carry with them and instill confidence and new, positive thoughts,” she added.
Priyadarshini who was part of the training team in close to 30 camps throughout the country said the camps were a great way to reach out and connect to the girls and give them the exposure needed in life.
“I believe the Maharani camps and its programme structure have impacted many people’s lives as it not only improves the lives of the girls but also improves their families with differing impact and stages. Some were immediately felt while others may take a longer time to show results,” she said.
“The initial theme of the programme was that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, and with that theme, we wanted to ensure the girls bloom into wholesome women who will lead fruitful lives.
“We wanted to see the girls be able to uplift their family, as well as nurture their children in the future and break the cycle of poverty and inequality in life,” she added.
About 80 to 120 students participated in each camp. To date, 75 camps have been held throughout Peninsular Malaysia.
This article is part of the series to share the journey of Maharani’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2020.