Thursday, April 25, 2013

HOPE For Her Again

*The post below is written with the woman's permission. However, I prefer not to use her real name as to protect her real identity.

Besides being busy with University work (and procrastinating), I've been keeping myself occupied with this project called HOPE under Enactus Sheffield. HOPE is an initiative to empower vulnerable women (survivors of human trafficking, sexual and domestic abuse) via entrepreneurship. You can find out more about us here: HOPE Sheffield and HOPE blog.

For the past 4 months or so, I have been a mentor to one of the women, Wendy*. Wendy is from a neighbouring country in Malaysia so, when I first met her I was surprised to see someone so close to home as one of the women we would be working with. But seeing as how we spoke the same language (Malay language) and came from very similar culture, we hit it off immediately. I remember her being a little shy at first as she got to know the HOPE Community group for the first time. But that was about to change in the months to come.

As her mentor, I was tasked to find out what were her interests and what would she like to do in the future. Usually, the women we work with can choose between the enterprise route or the employment route. We will do what is necessary to prep them with the needed skills and training while they wait for their 'leave to remain' permit or asylum status. Wendy has a wonderful eye for arts & crafts. She is so unbelievably talented, she kept wow-ing us with handmade bracelets, pillows and handbags that she did on her own! It was clear she's interested in taking the enterprise route and hopefully open her own business some day.

Over the next few months, the both of us came up with a business plan and timeline for her. I did some market research and design research on her behalf followed by material-hunting with Wendy. The rest, I could count on her to take care of. We would meet almost every week, about 2 to 3 hours per session. She was so easy to work with. Every text and call was replied/answered, every meeting was punctual, every deadline was met.

During the sessions, she would talk about her past and her stories. From experience (and the training we received before working on the project), vulnerable women have trust issues and the feeling of paranoia would be haunting them for quite some time. But I was genuinely moved when she was already opening up to me about her past just after a few weeks of getting to know each other.

I listened to her stories which she narrated with a calm face and sometimes sprinkled with her sweet smile as she recollected her memories of her dark past. As if they were just some fictional stories. I only sat down and listened intently, occasionally adding some remarks of my own. There I was a 21-year-old girl who never went through any hardship other than the torturous 1-hour spent in the gym doing cardio and weight training, listening to Wendy's stories from the time she was back home to how she got to the UK. I was supposed to be her mentor but at that point of time, I felt she she should be mine!

"Wendy, how do you stay so strong and sane despite what happened? If I were you, I don't think I would have lasted this long!" I asked. She simply answered,"Because of God and my son. I've not seen my son for 10 years. The hope of being reunited with him once again keeps me going."

Wendy continued to charm the other members of the project who had the chance to meet her. Her warmth, kindness, creativity and diligence were reminders why this project is so important. Why it's crucial to do our best to ensure these vulnerable women find their footing again in the community and start afresh with their lives.

A month ago, she received news her request for 'leave to remain' and working visas have been approved. Soon after she was offered a job at a Bed & Breakfast just a little distance away from Sheffield. There is even a souvenir shop at the B&B so she could still be making her pillows, bags and bracelets to be sold there. I'm amazed at how these great things moved very quickly for her. It was as if God has decided enough is enough, it's time for her to enjoy a good life for herself after all that had happened.

Today, we went on a shopping spree to get her stuff for her new job and new place. Enactus Sheffield paid for them as a form of 'leaving package', to thank her for her involvement in the project. She was telling me how the B&B is a family business and the family likes the same things she does: arts, music, children etc. I can already see herself fitting in well as she makes her living there. So excited to see what becomes of her in the near future!

In an interview to record her testimonial for Enactus Sheffield presentation for the Nationals competition, Wendy said,"Zafirah is the best mentor for me. Thank you for sending her my way."

No Wendy, thank YOU for being my inspiration. The project is a lot of work and it can be daunting sometimes but when I think of you and your strength, I only want to do more, knowing that there are other women out there like you who need our help.

Best of luck, Wendy. You are no longer a vulnerable woman. You are your own woman.

Pillows Wendy made for Valentine's Day

And these are her sample designs. She designed and made these all on her own! 

The video that sums up our culture at Enactus Sheffield. If you are interested in helping the cause or buy the products made specially by the women, check this website out! HOPE Sheffield

Monday, January 14, 2013

Stories From the Kitchen

When I first came to the UK, I HARDLY cook. Hardly is probably an understatement. My 'bibik' would always do it for me even when I wanted a bowl of Maggi mee. The only dish I could proudly claim to cooking it well would be spaghetti bolognese.

Living alone and far away from home would teach you a lot of things. One of the things I have learned to do in my first few months here is cooking. At first I was content with cooking using those Brahim packets my mum packed from home. For beginners, they are God-sent. Have your chicken/beef/fish ready, pour in the paste and voila, Malaysian food cooked within 10 minutes! 

I remember the first week in Sheffield when Hanna and I wanted to make scrambled eggs in the kitchen for the first time. Don't know what was up with us back then but we were unsure what goes into the pan. *facepalm* Tu laa, mak suruh rajin masuk dapur dulu, tak nak. 

Our cooking skills were non-existent but we somehow managed to feed ourselves without having to eat out very often. Think we were on fried rice every day for the next few weeks to come. Whatever kind of fried rice you could think of, we had it. Veggie fried rice, chicken fried rice, seafood fried rice, anchovies fried rice. Those and Brahim meals, of course.

But after a few months, we got bored of eating the same thing day in, day out. And it was decided, we HAVE to learn to cook properly. I can't imagine eating all these for the next 3 years. I was on the track to start losing weight too so, I had to find better food alternatives than fried rice and processed meals. 

Cooking can be fun. It is both science and art. The science of mixing the right ingredients and their measurements to get the right balance of tastes. The art of making your dish appetising and appealing. The only thing I find agitating about cooking is the time it takes up and of course, the cleaning up afterwards. 40 minutes to cook and only 10 minutes to finish up everything. Heh.

I love my food baked. It's healthier and hassle-free. I've been getting creative with my marinate sauces and mixes too. Sometimes I just throw in whatever is left in the fridge and hope something good would come out of it. At times, that works and other times, well...still edible la. 

I would sometimes email my parents photos of the meal I've cooked and they couldn't be prouder. Yahh, from not knowing (or refusing) to cook at home, I'm cooking my own food every day now. Guess they expect me to do the same when I come back for summer break soon. Haha.

The thing with cooking is that it is a skill you CAN pick up. That's why I don't believe it when people say "I can't cook." or "Cooking is the one thing I can't do." It requires a bit of time and effort, yes. But it's not rocket science. Take it from me, someone who wasn't sure how to make scrambled eggs in the beginning :p

Some photos of what I've cooked here. They are far from great but for baby steps, they are not too bad. Next on my list is learning how to cook Malay food from scratch. They prove to be more of a challenge since they require more ingredients, time and patience. 

Soon soon.

Sambal sardin. So simple yet so satisfying. Prepare your sambal beforehand and cook it with whatever you want.

Roasted soy-garlic chicken and caramelised sweet potatoes. Since I'm trying to be on a healthier diet, I've substituted potatoes with sweet potatoes. They are packed with better and more nutrients.

Made my own chocolate hummus spread. It's chocolate spread with a twist and definitely a healthier option than Nutella (though admittedly, not as good).

 Would sometimes do some baking with Hanna especially when we have guests over or dinner parties to attend. Our specialty: muffins! We call ourselves 'Muffats'. Hehe.

Friends from near and far would sometimes come over for dinner. This dinner had Hazman from Glasgow, Amir from London and a few other Sheffield peeps. I made lamb teriyaki while Shaz made his famous ayam masak merah. 

Shrimp-Mushroom Carbonara using only cottage cheese and egg. Yes, another healthier option compared to the thick, creamy, cheesy carbonara pasta.

Light meal of baked mushrooms stuffed with cottage cheese and cinnamon powder.

I love salmon! So I always try to figure out new ways to cook the fish so I won't get tired of it. This is baked salmon with cottage cheese and mint sauce.

Brown rice, stir fry veggies and baked haddock. Nothing too hard but they pack a punch in my stomach. 

Baked salmon with sour cream and onion.

One of my proudest moments; homemade burger (yes, I made the patty myself) and creamy broccoli soup.

Another favourite of mine: Aglio Olio

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Merdeka Photos

Right, so first things first, to fulfill my promise of putting up photos from the Merdeka Appreciation Day in Krash Pad. Yeah, yeah that was so 4 months ago.

But the photos are here! Special thanks to our awesome photographer, Megan for the lovely photos. Looking forward to work on a similar project with my team on our next summer break, insyaAllah :)

In no specific order. 

The Krash Pad children, the team and Tunku Abidin giving a big 'Merdeka!' cheer for the camera.

The children listening intently to our special Merdeka talk and video viewing

L-R: Alia, Kist, Elena, Alia, Tunku Abidin, me, Arvind

The judges of the Merdeka plays

Elena listening in to her group's ideas for their short play

Tunku Abidin giving his special Merdeka address to the children

The team with the programme coordinator of Krash Pad, Hasrul

Replica of Tugu Negara by them

That's all of us again. Till next year, hopefully! 

Thursday, November 08, 2012


I was recently locked out of my blogspot account for a couple of months. Terrible, I tell ya. But all is good  now!

A lot has happened and I will write as much as I can. When I find the time and energy. Looking at the graphs of this blog, I still have some loyal readers who still visit this space. Thank you and you shall be rewarded with more stories in the near future ;)

I'll leave you with a couple of recent photos of mine. Speak soon! 

Where I'll be spending my next 3 years at.

KY peeps on a visit to Sheffield

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Merdeka Story

I was never big on Merdeka. Always thought it was just another public holiday. Can't even be bothered to switch on the television to watch the big parade on the morning of Merdeka.

But I decided on something different this year. I've not been back in Krash Pad for quite some time and recently saw the opportunity to organise something for the kids. Merdeka Appreciation Day! That's right. Managed to rope in a few of my friends to help out and they turned out to be such pleasure to work with.

When we planned it, we were thinking hard how to make the day educational yet exciting for the kids. Nothing too heavy or else we risk turning the day into another Sejarah lesson. So, we decided on a few activities; Merdeka charades, screening of old Merdeka advertisements, sketches by the kids on how they view Merdeka and a session on traditional costume designing.

I loved the sketches by the kids. They were divided into 3 teams and were given 20 minutes prep time to come up with a 5 to 7 minutes sketch. The first team's sketch was on how young people these days are so consumed with the modern life that they have forgotten old history and how much our ancestors have sacrificed for us.

Another team's sketch was a replay of the things that happened during pre-Independence. The violence by Japanese army, the Malayan army fighting hard against the enemies despite the lack of sophisticated weaponry, the hard lives of Malayans before Merdeka etc. The final team's sketch was divided into different eras; pre-Merdeka, during Merdeka and post-Merdeka phases. How our lives have changed for the better with each phase but a lot still has to be done.

So nice kan? There were some errors in their historical facts but that aside, I was amazed with these kids' creativity and confidence. They came up with the whole plot, script and acting within 20 minutes! Incredible.

We were also fortunate to have Tunku Abidin Muhriz (IDEAS founding president and one of the trustees for Yayasan Chow Kit) and his cousin, Tengku Munazirah (founder of Hope Factory) with us. I first met Tunku Abidin at McKinsey YLA dinner a month back and we discovered our common ground: Krash Pad. He told me to let him know if I was coming down to the centre anytime soon and there he was yesterday. Tunku Abidin gave a speech on Merdeka to the kids, stressing on the importance to appreciate our History better and hope the kids would study hard and contribute to the nation one day.

We brought chocolates, cupcakes and even a hamper for the winning team! These kids are such joy to be with. As usual, when you're doing a project with them, they're not the only ones who will learn something, we (the organiser) are also on the receiving end. Forget the 'Janji Ditepati' theme, the ridiculous notion we have to be thankful for what our politicians have done when it is in fact their job and put aside the politicking that goes on within our nation.

Yesterday was so innocent and pure. The day spent with kids who have nothing but love and good thoughts for the country. Despite being at-risk children, like what Alia Astaman said on her Twitter, " whose love for the country was unconditional and untainted by political agenda; simple and trusting." If these are the kind of youths we have then perhaps all is not lost.

Kist also shared this very interesting inside story on Tunku Abdul Rahman; how he was badly treated by the British when he went to London to get the independence agreement. He was put in a room where if it rained, the water will seep through the ceiling, he was served food on plates that had cracks. Basically, he was treated no better than the man on the street. But this man swallowed his pride for the nation and clinched the independence for us in the most peaceful manner. THIS is the kind of leader we can be thankful for especially when he did not go around asking people to thank him for his significant work.

Can't thank my team enough; Alia Astaman, Alia Ezannee, Arvind, Elena and Kist. I'm glad you guys had fun as much as the kids did. Definitely our most meaningful Merdeka so far, yes? At least to me. 

Another thing we realized, we are horrible at speaking formal Malay! Especially in public. There really is a difference between speaking the conversational Malay and the formal tahap Dewan Bahasa Malay. Though I've to say, Tunku Abidin had the worst Malay among us on that day. Hehe sorry Tunku! But really :p

Will post some photos from the day. As soon as our wonderful photographer, Megan pass them to us. Thank you, Megan for being such a great sport too!

Selamat Hari Kemerdekaan yang ke-55, kawan-kawan :)

Friday, August 10, 2012

D-day is coming!

So, A-level results will be out this coming Monday. Am I nervous?

Heck yeaahh!

It's nerve-wrecking that all those 2 years in KY boil down to this one moment. Kinda like SPM but this is even more crucial. Imagine, 2 years of our lives which we will never get back, our future and where we will go for the next 3 to 4 years, RM400,000 worth of scholarship/parents money are at stake. All will be revealed this Monday.

I can't say much of my chances. Will I strike my straight As or will I walk away with less-than-impressive results? People keep telling me, "Ahh, I'm sure you'll make it!" or "You'll ace them la, no worries." or "Insyaallah, mesti dapat semua As kan". Very kind of them to say it and I think most of them sincerely meant what they said. But I've to be honest, the last 2 years have not been a walk in the park for me.

I never had a moment of surety where I could confidently say, "Yes, I'm gonna make it!" There is always a "But what if...?" echoing the thought right after. One thing I was sure of was that I definitely worked harder in my last year in KY. My AS results was the much-needed wake up call, calling me for a change in my game plan.

But I can't be sure if it was all enough, enough to guarantee me my scholarship and university place in Bristol. Which led me to think of 101 different back-up plans if I happen to miss my AAA mark. My parents have assured me they WILL send me to university this September. If not in the UK then perhaps a twinning programme somewhere locally first. I suggested a gap year so I could apply to the US but mehh, I'm already so old! It'll take me half a decade to get my undergraduate degree.

At this point of time, all I really want is to make my parents proud and at best, not to burden them in any way. But I think I've to accept that whatever happens after this is, it is by Allah's grace.

If I do meet my scholarship and university requirements then alhamdulillah, this is the path He wants me to walk on.

And if I don't meet the requirements then I'm sure Allah will lead me to another path. A detour or a different route but He will get me there, Insyaallah.

All the best for Monday, friends!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The McKinsey experience

This post is one week late. I've been busy and lazy. Mostly lazy. Hehe.

Anyhow, I applied for McKinsey Youth Leadership Academy, got interviewed and got into this year's programme! In the next 7 weeks, we'll be divided into teams and we're supposed to come up with a social entrepreneurship initiative which will be presented to our mentors at the end of the tenure.

But first, we had to go through the first workshop which was about a week ago. Got to rub shoulders with some of the impressive industry leaders and learn a whole lot from their stories and advice. 

First half of the day, we had 3 guest speakers who came to share their experiences in their respective fields. Mark Chang; CEO of Jobstreet, Khairy Jamaluddin; UMNO heartthrob and MP of Rembau as well as Azran Osman Rani; CEO of AirAsia X.

Mark Chang talked about his humble beginning as he hailed from a poor family in Kampar, Perak. Today, he is the CEO of a company worth more than RM700 million. Mark said the 4 pillars he holds to when managing his business are 1) Make sure the company is profitable 2) Create a happy working environment 3) Leave an impact on society 4) Humility

These are not magic recipes, by any means but they are noble pillars to hold on to and clearly, it has paid off well for Mark Chang. 

Next up was KJ who spoke on his leadership experiences in politics. A politician with one of the best oratory skills around, no doubt. Some of the points he touched include the need to diagnose a problem thoroughly before initiating any actions. Also, as a politician, one must be relevant not only within the party but outside of the party too. KJ also stressed on the need to have policy-oriented politics instead of politics based on people's dirty laundry that we often see these days.

Which led me to ask him some very touchy questions at the end. Since he doesn't believe in championing just the Malay rights (or so he claims), I asked if he thinks race-based politics are no longer relevant in Malaysia and if we could do a way with it in the future? On top of that, despite having great vision for changes, many top leaders in UMNO do no agree with him, so does that mean his leadership is not the best fit for UMNO culture?

And he went, "Haah, I might as well go back home now." Hehe. He did answer them, in a very round-about way. Good boy. I'm not a fan of UMNO but I'm certainly a fan of KJ. There, I said it. 

Then we had Azran from AirAsia X. Out of all our guest speakers, I thought Azran had the most exciting, colourful life stories. He was jumping from one job to another but they're all so interesting! While the other 2 speakers before him kept telling us to have a vision, to plan for the future yadda yadda, this guy came in and broke all the rules! 

He told us it's impossible to plan for the future when the world is changing by the minute. Taking example from his job at AirAsia, he said there isn't a point of having a 5-Year or 10-Year business plans in an industry like aviation because there are so many variables that you can't control. Like oil  prices fluctuating every day, unforeseen natural phenomenon like the Iceland volcano eruption that put a halt on Europe air travels etc etc. How do you plan for these things? 

You can't! What you can do is learn to analyse and make decisions quickly but most importantly, not be afraid of making mistakes. He said, "Ask 5 level of Whys for a problem and Why Nots for an idea" every time you're about to venture into something new. Impressive stuff.

We spent the evening working in our teams alongside our assigned McKinsey consultants. We learned first hand how these people work while they impart some of their invaluable tips and guidance for our projects. For free! McKinsey consultants working with you for free, how cool is that? Outside, their consultant fees would cost some serious bucks we would not be able to afford. 

Then we had our dinner with our mentors at KL Hilton. This year, we have 23 mentors who will help us with our projects and gosh, they're such amazing people! Some of them include Johan Merican from TalentCorp, Dzameer Dzulkifli from Teach For Malaysia, Tunku Abidin from IDEAS, Dr Habibah from Ministry of Education and many other astounding industry leaders.

Each team gets 3 to 4 mentors and I'm excited to have this unique access to these people who clearly have done some amazing stuff in their lives. My team has come up with a project on the table but more on that later. Still in the planning process and I hope it goes well. 

Some photos from the day.

KJ speaking on his leadership in politics. 

Clockwise: With Johan Merican; CEO of TalentCorp (he's also one of my mentors, yay!), Dzameer; co-founder of Teach For Malaysia, Azran; CEO of AirAsia X and Tunku Abidin, Chairman of IDEAS

Of course I had to take one with this man too.