An interview with a community leader
All I knew about her were just bits and pieces here and there until the recent interviews conducted with two groups of seminary students during their digital missions with ElShaddai in August 2021. Here’s her story …..
BL: When did you come to Malaysia?
I came alone to Kota Baru, Kelantan in 1999 from Kampung Cham, Cambodia when I was only 14 years old. I was supposed to study in an Islamic boarding school in Kota Baru but I could not get a sponsor to support me. So, I learnt how to sew instead.
BL: What about your family?
My parents were separated so my mum had to take care of all of us. My older siblings have passed away, so I became the oldest. Mum also had to take care of my maternal grandmother who was blind.
BL: What happened next?
One day, mum told me that she had arranged to marry me off because she needed money to pay for my grandmother’s medical fees. I was 18 years old at that time and I did not consent to the marriage arrangement.
BL: What did you do then?
After considering the situation back home, I agreed to the marriage. My husband gave mum the money for the medical expenses for my grandmother; and the school fees for my younger siblings.
BL: How do you look at your life now?
22 years have passed and I am blessed with 6 wonderful children who could attend regular school. I now help my husband in breeding guinea pigs, parakeets or parrots, to sell as pets and the patin fish we breed are also sold to generate income for the family. I am a cutter for clothes contracted to be sewn. I usually distribute what I have cut to the ladies in my community to sew and to help them make a living for themselves.
BL: How did you get involved in community work?
I started helping the Champa community through referrals of friends or relatives because I can speak Kelantanese Malay. I was an interpreter for Champa patients visiting the hospital and a mediator or negotiator with landlords. Then, just before the first MCO in March 2020, my mum passed away and I ‘inherited’ the condolence money from friends and relatives. I somehow felt uneasy holding on to that money and I kept thinking of mum during those times. So, when I knew of the needs of families in my community during the first MCO, I used the condolence money to purchase foodstuff to distribute to them. This was the beginning of my community work.
BL: Are you still doing this?
Yes, over the months following the first MCO, more and more needs came to my knowledge so I called the Cambodian Embassy for help. The Embassy gave me Mr Andrew’s number, the founder of ElShaddai. I thought Mr Andrew was from the Cambodian Embassy! Through Mr Andrew, I was connected to Mrs Peggy who helped me with food distribution. With this partnership, we are now able to help many more Champa families all over Kelantan and other communities too.
BL: What are some things you are thankful for?
I praise and thank God for sending people who have come forward to help me during my times of need – my husband and friends; Mrs Peggy, Mr Andrew and teacher BL. Their gesture has inspired me to help my community, as well as others who are in need in Kelantan. Sometimes, I feel that my life is hard but when I am out helping others, I realize that their problems are much bigger compared to mine. This makes me feel contented.
BL: What are your aspirations for the future?
I wish to see my children successful in life and to have a sound education. Education is close to my heart so I hope that the learning centre can start soon for the community children. As for myself, I like to read in my free time to increase my knowledge. The other thing that would help my community is to enable the people find work to make an honest living and be self-sustaining and independent.
We are thankful to the Lord for this close partnership with our community leader and our Kota Baru partners which has taken ElShaddai to many Champa communities all over Kelantan otherwise unknown to us.