During the second week of March, we (communications team) had the privilege to visit Sharifa at her home, along with Jenny (social work team) and Dr. Ng (director). What was so special about this was that Sharifa is the first person ever who managed to pay back the money she borrowed from ElShaddai Centre.
Sharifa welcomed us to her home with a big smile and warm hospitality. She made sure her eldest daughter served us cold homemade drinks, while she prepared a special ‘Mee goreng’ for us. ‘Mee biasa sahje, kami selalu makan ini kat rumah’ (Just a simple fried noodle, we always eat this at home), she said. Slightly sweet from the tomato sauce, with a hint of spicy from the chili, it was really good. While we ate, we had a chat with Sharifa to catch up with what’s going on with her and her family.
Sharifa and her husband came to Malaysia almost 15 years ago from Myanmar. They have two daughters (age 12 and 5) and had a baby boy last year. During the start of MCO 1.0 (March 2020), when Malaysia went into our first lockdown, Sharifa’s husband couldn’t go to work and therefore has no income. Back then, they found out that she was pregnant with their third kid and not long after, her husband and kids fell sick. It was a tough period for the family and she reached out to teacher Hoe, who was teaching her daughter via online classes that time, for help. Teacher Hoe then informed Jenny about Sharifa’s situation and Jenny sprang into action.
Jenny, on behalf of ElShaddai Centre brought food + life essentials for the family throughout the MCO (Movement control order) period. She maintained contact with Sharifa throughout the pregnancy to ensure both mother and baby are healthy. When it was time for Sharifa to give birth, it was found that the baby was in a breach position, therefore requires an emergency C-section. The procedure had increased the hospital cost significantly and it was beyond their budget. So, ElShaddai Centre loaned Sharifa some money to cover the cost. In Malaysia, non-Malaysians and refugees are charged full price in government hospitals as they have no access to the special rates that Malaysians get to enjoy.
Despite the hardships, Sharifa’s husband worked hard while she stayed at home to take care of their three children. They paid ElShaddai a small portion every month and managed to pay back their loan within less than a year! It was a proud achievement and a big milestone for Sharifa, and we couldn’t be any prouder and happier for her.
When asked about her hopes and dreams for herself and her family, Sharifa says that she’s very thankful for where she is now and that her family is healthy. She doesn’t want much but she really hopes that she and her family will be able to go overseas soon for better opportunities, especially for her kids. Currently, it is hard for the kids to go to school as they are living far away from schools, even ElShaddai Centre’s schools.
Lastly, here’s Sharifa’s advice for other families of the diaspora community:
“We need to take good care of ourselves, because everyone has their own difficulties. If people give us money sincerely (donation), we use it. But if we borrow money from other people, we must try our best to return it. If it’s just some small obstacles, we handle it ourselves. But if it’s some big problems, then we can ask for help from the NGOs. No matter how hard our lives are, we must stand up for ourselves. We shouldn’t just sit at home and wait for help from the NGOs only. “
It was a great experience to sit down and talk to Sharifa face to face, and to learn about the challenges a refugee faces daily. It emphasized how important our work at ElShaddai Centre is, as we can give a helping hand when the diaspora community has nowhere to turn to. Despite the challenges, Sharifa and her family are strong and optimistic about life which many of us should learn from. Wishing all the best to Sharifa and family for their future undertakings.